Conversation Pieces: Interview with Spencer Charles who wants to put Black girls in the MoMa
Art is a journey into the unknown. We sit down with emerging and established Black artists to learn how they explore their creativity and what they have discovered...
In this installment of Conversation Pieces, watch our pop-up video to give you some behind the scenes snippets about Spencer Charles' image, Beautiful Skin. Then read the interview about Spencer and his photography practice below.
What is your photography about? Why do you create?
SPENCER CHARLES: Beauty of urban culture and Black culture is what I'm passionate about displaying. I'm motivated to shift the culture in a positive way. My goal was always to have a positive impact on urban culture, the question was always, in what way? Before I was doing photography I was creating music, then I was writing... I wanted to work for a hip hop magazine and be an editor like Elliot Wilson. That didn't work out either. So when I landed on photography, the goals remained the same but the medium just changed.
Elliott Wilson is an American journalist, television producer, and magazine editor. He is the founder and CEO of Rap Radar. In the past, he has worked as editor-in-chief of XXL Magazine.
What are the issues that require a positive impact?
SPENCER CHARLES: For me, what I wanted to focus on was the image of Black women. That's where I wanted to start and my initial inspiration. I wanted to turn everything into artwork to shift the places that Black women occupy. I'm shooting Black women from Decatur and Southwest Atlanta so it's on some Kanye flow of "Put Black girls in the MOMa"
What lead you to photography?
SPENCER CHARLES: To be honest what got me into photography was depression. It was my senior year and I was trying to finish college. I started going through depression and wanted to stop everything. I quit music. I quit writing. Stopped going to class. I couldn't get up to do anything but I had a camera. When I was writing, my editor needed me to take photos at the concerts I was reviewing. So I started taking photos to feel better. I took photos of people I was hanging out with, girls I was hanging out with. It just brought me out of that moment in life.
Were your trained, self taught or had a mentor?
SPENCER CHARLES: I was working on a project with a photographer friend, Eric, he actually showed me a lot in terms of how a camera works. He pretty much had me shadow him on shoots as a way to get out the house and get active. I would take photos while he shot his own projects. At the time, I was just posting them on Tumblr and people responded to it. They started appreciating my eye.
When did you start calling yourself a photographer?
SPENCER CHARLES: People started calling me one first. My friend Skye started telling people that I was a photographer and introducing me as such. She was the first person to really push me into that belief.
What prevented you from giving yourself that title?
SPENCER CHARLES: Insecurity played a major part of me being hesitant around calling myself an artist. Insecurity is what drove my depression at the time. It's something I still deal with...as an artist you deal with all the time. I didn't really belief in myself or my work. I would be like, "I can't call myself a photographer, I'm not that good. I'm just playing around." After awhile I had to learn to be confident in my work.
Is that a constant artistic challenge?
SPENCER CHARLES: It's definitely a cycle. It's easier to deal with now. I still get in those periods of insecurity but I know how to get out of it. I have to get out and focus on my work.
What gets you out of the cycle?
SPENCER CHARLES: Music is my biggest inspiration. I always go to music. I search for songs and go down a rabbit hole. "Oh this is sampled by so and so. And then let me listen to their whole discography. and then somehow i made it from Lil Uzi to Miles Davis and Red Garland and then on the Led Zeppelin". It doesn't matter, I listen to everything. It takes me away and it's the biggest thing to find inspiration. I also call my mother. We have a really good relationship.
What skills do you borrow from your previous writing that influences consciously or subconsciously your work?
SPENCER CHARLES: I'm not sure how much you can see in the work...it's all inspired by it. Music inspires every photo I take. All the way down to the captions and titles. Inspiration also comes from stories that I've read. What I want to do is use both music and writing to tell a deeper story...full projects that go beyond just photography. I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare and James Baldwin. A lot of my work is inspired by lines from Shakespeare plays. Different things I've read to get ideas for photos.
Why do you shoot nudes?
SPENCER CHARLES: For me it's about shooting to represent high art. I'm a really big fan of Impressionism... as a artistic movement. I like the idea of capturing a moment...with nudes there is something really honest about it. All of my photos shoot the body as landscapes...not a person. I'm shooting the soul inside the person. Focused on the curves of the hip, instead of the actual hip. The lines on their body and how the light hits it. How their skin tone plays with the photo. I like working with bodies as works of art and landscapes.
What was the most rewarding thing about your photography?
SPENCER CHARLES: People's inspiration. That's why I look to just shoot people...not just models but everyday people. Being someone that has dealt with insecurity, I love being able to show someone themselves in a photo and they are taken back by how someone else sees them. How beautiful they truly are. That's the great part, something you create can change their mindset. Shooting someone with stretch marks, that they hate...and I don't edit it out. Then they move to a place of seeing their stretch marks as beautiful. That's the most rewarding thing for me.
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