A Conversation with Portraitnoire

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Meet Portraitnoire

Dallas-based creatives behind photography platform and The Fruit Issue 02: BODY visuals

Portraitnoire is a platform that aims to increase awareness of photographs of black people and highlight the community behind it. The platform is nurturing of all talents that encompass the making of photographs of people who identify as black.

We were so excited to partner with Portraitnoire to bring THE FRUIT Issue 02: BODY to life!

Black women's bodies are sexualized very early; often during adolescence. As such, young Black girls are not able to come of age authentically and freely. These young women are often robbed of their innocence and not given the opportunity to experience the full course of life’s natural trajectory.

We asked our community of storytellers to reflect on a moment in time when they have felt the most connected or disconnected to their bodies. With Issue 02, we introduced a conversation around Black womens’ passage to womanhood through experiences with their bodies including body positivity and shaming experiences. Portraitnoire was the driving force that helped us make those stories come to life visually.

We sat down with our visual partners for Issue 02: BODY to find out what sparked the creative duo’s mission to make portraiture photography searches on social platforms more inclusive.

Here’s what they had to say:

LRM: Most of us know that there are some incredible artists out here producing stunning images, however unless you know exactly where to look, they can be hard to find. Portraitnoire aims to increase visibility of images of black people on search engines and create a bank of black portraits that are easily accessible. This is an important, but not an easy feat. What inspired this mission? What do you see as your biggest challenge as you move towards this goal?  

PN Kwesi: In October of 2017, I’d just moved to Chicago and had been fortunate enough to be plugged into a vibrant creative community. I wanted to immediately start making portraits but I wanted to do something I wasn't already doing. So I started to look for inspiration online--the first place that I looked at was google and I simply typed in “portrait photography inspiration”. I was amazed at the results. Google pulled up some really amazing portraits but incredibly, it had a very poor representation of people of color. I then modified my search to “black portrait photography inspiration” but this time I got black and white images of people who were not black. I simply felt that should be more representation. How much more? Well how about 20%--a little over 1.3b people on the planet are and identify as black, that’s about 20%.

That was really the impetus for all of this. I posted about it on my instagram and a lot of people were having similar issues, so we set out to try to do something about it.

Our biggest challenge is and has always been our online presence. Trying to get the message out to our fellow brothers, sisters and everyone on the spectrum has been difficult. We also have had a difficult time trying to get google to uptake our images. Growing pains I suppose.

LRM: In the introduction of one of your shoots, Black Intimacy, PN explained that it was important that you captured black intimacy because it isn’t often photographed and when it is, it tends to be hyper-sexualized. A large part of LRM’s mission is to help women reclaim their narratives. How important is it for you to use PN to reclaim or perhaps redefine the black narrative through imagery? 

PN: There is an African proverb that says “Until a lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter.” I believe that proverb embodies exactly why we need to document our own narrative. A lot of our history is oral due to oppression, cultural beliefs and language barriers. With that, it’s like playing telephone, the original intent or message gets diluted. However, with us writing, photographing, documenting what we see and hope to see, it reclaims the messages that's lost in time. Now, we can see our process, our art, our stories in a way that amplifies our voice rather than suppress it. That’s why Portraitnoire is so important and powerful. 

LRM: In much of your work, Kwesi handles photography and Temi production; is this always your workflow? Can you share a little bit about your creative process and how a concept/shoot comes together? 

Temi: Well this is a fun one to answer! Kwesi is excellent to work with, and I’m not trying to flatter him. I’m a planner. Kwesi is more of a go with the flow and just create. I think when creating, both elements are important. My work starts long before the photoshoot. Although I spearhead production, it’s really a team effort. We both are very involved in choosing the models and locations we want. We also collaborate in creating a moodboard. I handle reaching out to the models and organizing the team, whether that be getting a stylist, MUA, a videographer and explaining the vision to the team and I act as the main point of contact. 

The day of the shoot is all about bringing what we envisioned to life. I really appreciate working with Kwesi here because he’s really in tune with what I see in my head as well as having great ideas of his own. So I don’t have to say much to him here. My focus then goes to the model and/or other creatives with direction in producing work everyone can be proud of. 

Kwesi: We are really bad at keeping delineated roles so we do a lot of things together and we have a great deal of trust in our team. I think for now it is probably the best way to do things since we’re are a very small team. But the fact of the matter is that Temi has been a blessing since joining the team. Please allow me to take this opportunity to give a warm shout out to Sofi who’s also been great since joining the team. These women make the team function like a well-oiled machine.

LRM: Can you tell us about your creative journeys — both individually and collectively? Did you receive a formal education? Are you self-taught? Have you had mentors? 

Temi:  I’ve always been a creative before I could admit it to myself. I sang in the choir, acted in plays, wrote poems and songs, learned a few instruments and lovedddddd taking pictures. I have been blessed to experience different outlets to be creative throughout my adolescent years. However, I considered them to be just hobbies. Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor and that was the path I took in school and through undergrad. When I wasn’t in the lecture halls I hated, or studying for tests that gave me anxiety, I was taking pictures or filming Youtube videos. Out of every creative outlet I’d explored, I was always drawn to visuals. This makes sense since I’ve always been a visual learner In school. I’m quite comfortable watching tons of youtube videos in my spare time, and to be honest, all day long.

I’m self-taught and learning as I go as I believe learning never stops. Kwesi is my mentor….. joking. I don’t have any at the moment, but i do intentionally follow or keep up with creatives that inspire me. 

Kwesi: Unlike Temi, it was my african parents who wanted me to become a doctor. I ended up being one but i doubt it’s the doctor they hoped for.

I didn’t really consider myself a creative or anything until much recently. I actually kind of stumbled upon photography and i was not in-tune with the creative community for a long time until I moved to New Orleans. But I've always loved design, which I exhibited in making websites, running music blogs etc. But it is photography that has captured my heart.

I got my BFA in photography on google and MFA on youtube. I kid, I kid, but I am not formally trained as a photographer, I learned and evolved on my own. I’ve had plenty of people who’s work informs/informed, inspires/inspired mine. I am yet to find a mentor.

LRM: How can other artists in the industry get involved with your mission, join your meet-ups, or potentially partner with you on future projects?               

PN: We’re so easy to find and get in touch with. We’re on Twitter and Instagram, both @portraitnoire. Feel free to send us a direct message through there. You may also send us an email [hello@portraitnoire.com].