It was a profound experience photographing Curlfest 2018 for Teen Vogue. As a woman who always holds her curls in a tight bun in order to shoot, I couldn't help but let my curls fall and join the fun.
In April 2018 I embarked on a seven day solo trip to New Orleans to celebrate my 25th birthday. An itinerary was not planned and being a spiritualist, I looked forward to how the universe would unfold for me. On my first day I met New Orleans local and celebrated photographer Patrick Melon (@melontao) on an isolated bridge by the French Quarter. That meeting sparked one serendipitous moment after another,ultimately changing my life forever. He introduced to me to everything local and genuine that is Black, New Orleans culture, including intimate areas that most tourists could never imagine experiencing. For locals, that is almost intentional. There is so much love and energy for this city, and locals are keenly aware that they live on a cultural gold mine at risk of exploitation.
Music, food and art fuel the city. With a tremendous amount of passion, Melon explained that NOLA gives life to the South. There are three-year-olds who can already perform drums on the streets because they are surrounded by performers since birth. The talent is raw and this is a city where love and creativity come before anything else. It's enticing for outsiders to move into a city with such a loving foundation, however, like many others, the city's culture under threat from the negative impacts of gentrification.
The photos presented are from Easter Sunday. Melon ensured that I steer clear of the tourist second-line in the French Quarter and instead brought me to the 3rd Ward - 17th Ward, from where the authenticity of Black brass music stems. After a spectacular crawfish feast and champagne toast to celebrate the occasion, we followed the second-line parade through the neighborhood, passing one colorful home after another, laughing with the crowds, climbing on roofs, and taking portraits of adults with their kids. So much warmth stems from the New Orleans community and these photos, try as they might, still don't give the city its justice.
I must mention that there are lot of outsiders like myself who travel to New Orleans to capture the magnificent energy and cultural significance of the city and its locals, but who then sell those photos to publications. Although it’s not wrong to build a career in travel photography, many publications, agencies and independent artists exploit the culture of black and brown people in cities like New Orleans while overlooking the same black and brown artists for creative job opportunities in those very cities. Melon told me that he is regularly asked by publications to either photograph or source areas to photograph for free, but that those same publications will then pay an outside photographer $45,000 for the same or similar job. I want to emphasize that you can enjoy the city without exploiting its people. You can enjoy the mixed culture of minority communities and celebrate it through art (because let’s face it - it’s intoxicating) without stealing jobs and opportunities from them. My photographs are presented here to celebrate this experience, and I want to thank Patrick Melon, his friends and community for their kindness, love and generosity. This was a trip that I will never forget.
My heart exploded from the pureness of Afropunk. It was a peaceful, loving, soulful event for all ages. Love is love, and our identity is human. Any negative stereotype of blackness was eradicated in that space, and only the positives remained. It was more then a musical festival. It was a breath of fresh air despite the hate that constantly surrounds us. Hate that tries to trap people who are male, female, trans, gay, queer, gender non-identifying, young, old, all whom happen to be Black or allies of Blacks. AfroPunk is unapologetically Black. If you want to celebrate our patterns, our style, our grace, humor, dance, creativity, food, music, and culture, you will also hear us when we raise our fist and say “Black Lives Matter,” and “Support Black Businesses,” “Love is Love,” and “We deserve all prosperity.”
You agree to these terms when you enter AfroPunk. You agree to drop any prejudice you have toward another, and allow your body, from your toes to your crown, to be covered in gold. You speak up against the hypocrites who find AfroPunk a rowdy, thugish party that disturbs the neighborhood. Because you know that the real message of AfroPunk is love for your fellow Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, and White sisters, brothers and non-gender identifying siblings as we celebrate Black life.
What do you embrace about yourself? Speak to me. Show me. Tell me how you define yourself, and show me who you want to be. This is a series on women who were asked to identify what they see as extraordinary, unique and eye-catching in their physical appearance. The objects incorporated are used to show what defines their souls as warm, illuminating, and courageous. It's time for women to embrace themselves for what they are: beautiful. #EmbraceYourEssence