Responding to Zoey Grossman and Christina Aguilera’s Appropriation of #InfiniteEssence

May 16, 2019:

Looks like Christina Aguilera @xtina and her photographer @zoeygrossman took my #InfiniteEssence concept for their latest shoot. I guess this is how black labor is always treated. 2 and a half years of work, labor and conceptualisation creating something to celebrate black people in a hostile world just for a celebrity to come in and steal it without credit. 

As artists, these two should have even more appreciation for creativity and the sources it comes from - particularly when it comes from black artists. And to think they can get away with it is even more galling and says so much about the distortions of power in this world- especially when it comes to the work of black people.

May 17, 2019:

Black artists descend from a long lineage of both creative power and exploitation. A conversation concerning artistic influence and lack of attribution is just that - a conversation. To see fellow photographer, @zoeygrossman block me and every single person who engages in discussion about her shoot with @xtina is very telling.

To see some commentators reduce my work to “glitter”, shows just how dismissive they are of the art and technicality that goes into my work, reflective of my degree in Biomedical Engineering. There is a reason media like @npr wrote about my work as recently as March 2019, in an article widely shared within and beyond the photography community. The technicality, posing and framing, and the conceptual space #InfiniteEssence occupies reclaims the black body in ways deeper than the aesthetic.

As a photographer, I understand how artistic influences are complicated and boundary-less, leaping across time and culture, and that is why I asked for a conversation about the attribution and influences behind the shoot from @zoeygrossman. I am not the first black artist who has been denied public attribution for their artwork. I will not be the last. People are “influenced” by the work of black people all of the time and never mention the black artist. Is that really a legacy people want to perpetuate? Yes, this is @zoeygrossman’s choice–but is it a good one?

Lastly, I must add: seeing a concept intended for the reclamation and celebration of the BLACK body, so casually used on @xtina, hurts. A 60 year old black woman emailed me this year saying that every single day of her life she hated her body until she saw one of my images. THAT is the impact of work when it is created within and for the context of a community. And messages like these are what gets me up every morning to keep producing this art.

I am so grateful for the wave of support I have received over the last 24 hours from everyone who has commented, shared, helped and supported me in ways big and small. Thank you for all of your support. I send everyone love!

#InfiniteEssence: Uche

#InfiniteEssence: “Uche”

 I recently set up my own studio here in Pittsburgh and it has given me so much more flexibility to explore with this series. Room to grow, to jump, to breathe- more. We are all breathing more with each of these shoots. I also just feel so blessed that my friend Uche traveled 8 hours by bus to be shot for the project and in this new space. I really have such amazing people in my life and it just doesn’t get any better when you have friends andddd your own studio to explore this work together. Thank you Uche! You’re wonderful and limitless❤️❤️❤️

My engineering background

I was recently asked how my Biomedical Engineering undergraduate degree impacts my photography work. This was my response ! :D

“For me, engineering is creativity. The two go hand-in-hand, and I structure my ideation - in tackling questions of identity visually - around the scientific method. I ask a question - do research - construct and test a hypothesis around the visual outcome - troubleshoot the procedure until the visual hypothesis works - and then analyze my results. This has been fundamental for my photography, including in working with communities and refining my approach along the way. In my latest project, I use ultraviolet frequencies of light to construct alternative lived realities for the black body. This came out of the same scientific method approach and creativity of my engineering schooling; including the fact that I had to build my ultraviolet equipment by hand, myself! There are so many things that you can do with an engineering degree that transcends the field itself, and it forms the base of a new way of seeing the world.” 
- Mikael Owunna, Biomedical Engineering, Duke ‘12

Here is a cool graphic on the scientific method, I found, too!

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