Racism, Ignorance, and the failure to recognize the two - Why we as Artists need to change the Trajectory

Let's talk racism in America.

Today, I went on twitter to find a national debate about a white girl from the suburbs wearing a traditional Chinese dress to prom and receiving insane amounts of criticism for her wardrobe choice.

News flash: the criticism is correct. She has no place to wear this. 

White culture has taken from other cultures from the start. White culture is appropriation. Nobody is "attacking" white culture: they are addressing the fact that white culture's roots come from appropriation.

Relating this back to photography is really interesting to me. As a fashion photographer, I have seen countless photographers and brands appropriating. My favorite is when a photographer sticks a white model in the suburbs and for the same campaign, sticks the black model in the hood because it matches their "aesthetic". Who are you to say where someone of color grew up? The person of color may live a very suburban lifestyle just like your white model.  Further than this is the push in fashion to make people of color feel "exotic". They are not exotic, they are normal people just like the white model you're using. 

My purpose in photography is to represent other cultures, people of color, and different ethnicity correctly. To not make them "exotic", but to just represent them the way they want to be represented. I think this ties back to fashion again - many stylists, photographers, and MUA's in the fashion world also try to wash out culture. They put black models in very Eurocentric clothing, make them wear wigs that make their hair appear to be straight, etc. It goes both ways - fashion will either make a POC look exotic or like a white model. There is no in between. 

I recently discovered a portrait photographers page on instagram. With 10k followers and 3k likes on most photos, he had two or three portraits on his page with white women in scarves wearing the scarves like hijabs. He actually related the white model to the Afghan girl photo by Steve Mccurry, which he, since i pointed it out, has deleted and simplified to not compare the two. What was most frustrating about this experience was the photographer DMing me and asking what he did wrong, followed by a skew of DM'd photos from different photographers doing the same thing accompanied by the message "but they do it, so why can't I do it too?" 

That sentence right there is the problem. We are not educating artists enough. People genuinely, like the girl who wore a traditional Chinese dress to prom, really don't think they are being problematic based on ignorance. In many cases, nobody has even ever told them that the things they are doing are wrong and appropriate cultures. 

Our lack of educating as artists leads to the issues of appropriation we see in the art and fashion world today. Ignorance in art translates to the wrong illustration of cultural references, offensive styling, and appropriation through an image. 

The question that I don't have a concrete answer to remains: how do you educate someone from the ground up when they don't even see what they are doing as wrong?

In my own work, I aim to educate, illustrate other cultures correctly, and combat systematic racism in the art and fashion world. But I'm only one person. In order to make a change, artists need to understand that educating is important. If you see an artist appropriating, using incorrect or offensive cultural references in their work, or being inherently racist through their subject casting, call them out. Let them know what they are doing wrong. They may not like it, but it needs to happen.

If we bring attention to this issue, make it a point, and educate artists who need to be educated, we can start to see a change. Until then, we are going to be battling ignorance and racism within art. 


Instagram and the Over-Saturation of Photography - Why What is Popular right now isn't Helping our Ethical and Social Scene

I went to Art School.

This doesn't mean that I am any better, savvier, or more talented than a photographer that didn't go to art school. What going to Art School does mean is that I studied the History behind photography and really appreciate the art of it. 

Instagram hurts my soul, purpose, and my art right now. The over-saturation of the industry is so prevalent that it's apparent at first glance. Sorority girls that post nothing but bikini pictures get 10,000 likes on a photo while my favorite artists struggle to get 200. Photographers like Brandon Woelfel exist with 2 million Instagram followers, yet Woelfel's entire page is pretty white girls between the age of 18-25. I mean it, go through his page. 0% diversity. 

Fad editing and YouTube tutorials run rampant and get tens of thousands of likes a day, yet we are not paying attention to the artists that are making a difference.

Renell Medrano, one of my favorite photographers right now, grew up in the Bronx and shoots Fashion and Editorial work. She graduated from Parson's and her documentary and personal work highlights four girls that also grew up in the Bronx. She did a two year project highlighting these girls and their lives. Her inspirations line up with some of mine: Jim Goldberg,  Charlotte Wales, Nan Goldin, Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon. 

Renell is an example of what I want to see MORE of. She is a woman of color, appreciates the history of photography and those who came before her, and does personal projects that don't just concentrate on the 1%. 

Our obsession with likes for approval is a constant struggle that I myself feel like I'm always falling into. I feel like my photo isn't good if my likes are "sub-par", where in reality it could have been my favorite photo. Photographers that have cult followings will always get thousands of likes, while I struggle to get 100 likes sometimes. These things don't actually matter in real life, but Instagram makes you feel like you are inadequate based on popularity.

Photographers get famous off of exploiting and over-sexualizing women on Instagram now. A picture of a hot blonde girl in a bikini on the beach is going to get 500x the amount of likes I get on something more refined and tasteful. To make things worse, a lot of photographers that are famous on Instagram for these types of photos also have been reported for sexual harassment and assault. 

Most importantly, famous "fad" photographers are lacking diversity. They shoot skinny, white, blonde models and don't represent different ethnicity, body types, etc. The trans community is even less represented - I rarely see trans models (if I ever even have, to be honest) on these "fad photography" pages. 

I have no problem with someone wanting to pick up a camera and start taking photos. At nine years old I picked up a Camera and it literally showed my my life's purpose. I simply ask that if you are going to be a photographer on Instagram, work to change the problems that the platform brings forward, not make them worse. Shoot diversity within your subjects. Look at amazing artists that are not only making work for themselves, but for ethical purposes. 

Most importantly, don't be selfish. Don't be cocky if you get thousands of likes on your photos. Be humble, work hard, and literally just CARE about the art of photography itself. Make work that helps people, gives them confidence, and promotes positive vibes. Don't make work that exploits, over-sexualizes, and marginalizes. 


A Talk with Michael Latorella - Model and Member of the LGBTQ Community

Michael - you're an amazing model and Emerson grad. Talk to me about your modeling journey and career path.

Oh my God stop it! Thank you so much! You know what’s funny? I literally never saw myself as a model. I’ve always really struggled with body image and not feeling like “I’m good enough,” like so many people do on a daily basis. That’s totally one thing I love about you because you are so open and forward with your journey in regards to body image.  But I think a lot of that had to do with living a facade for twenty years of my life. I’m extremely happy with my life now that I came out almost four years ago. I think when you start to live your true life it kind of brings an aura of confidence. I went from being very self-conscious to kind of just owning my sexuality when I was ready to. I graduated from Emerson with my bachelor's degree in marketing communication. I am extremely proud to have gone to that school because it taught me so much about not just business, but morals and ethics, too. Right now I’m kind of sifting if I would like to do something with tv development or if I would like to model full time. I just moved to New York City so I think I’m in the right place to get things going.

What got you into modeling?

I would say I started to model to showcase that even though I’m different, I can still hang with the “big boy straight models.” Me being gay doesn’t make me any less than anyone else and I would like to show that! I think anyone who comes from a marginalized or misrepresented community have a lack of representation in this industry and I think it's important for people of all different races, cultures and sexual backgrounds have a chance to be successful too.

 What are your likes and dislikes about the industry? What would you like to see change?

Well I wanna be careful with my words because I don’t want anyone to take what I am saying as offensive. (laughs) But I think the lack of representation for any person of color or for any member of the LGBTQ community that owns who they are in this industry needs to change. Period. We can all sit here and play ring around the rosie about this subject but statistics are statistics and people of color are misrepresented in the modeling world. We need increased visibility and inclusiveness for people of color more than anyone else.

As a member of the LGBTQ community, how does your experience in the art world differ from someone else's?

Oh my god. Well, first things first, I may be a gay man, and that makes me a minority but it is extremely important to acknowledge that I am a white man. And that makes me privileged in comparison to anyone else who can't hide behind the status of a “white man.” But I live my truth every single day. I wear makeup. I wear crop tops. And guess what? I own it. I chose to be myself and I am gay. I refuse to pretend to be straight in order to blend in with everyone else. I think we need to see more members of the LGBTQ community who are bold and aren't scared to be themselves. I never had anyone to look up to as a gay man because there was such a lack of visibility. Sure you know, you have some people who came out after the fact that they went mainstream but at the end of the day, you shouldn't have to live a lie in order to be successful in this industry. I could hide behind my privilege but I don't want to do that. I walked into this industry day one owning myself and I want that gay kid from Ohio whose dad forced him to play football but would rather read vogue to have someone to look at and say “you know what? There’s nothing wrong with being gay!” I think that had I seen someone doing that while I was growing up I would have come out earlier.

What in the art world would you like to see improve for members of the LGBTQ community?

Again, I think just increased visibility. There are many men and women in this industry who feel they need to play a role in order to be successful. But why the fuck do you need to pretend to be straight or not discuss that aspect of your life to book gigs? Listen, if modeling doesn't work out for me, it doesn't work out. But if it does, I would like to be able to say that I owned my status as a member of the LGBTQ community from the day that I walked in. I would rather fail and know that I failed because I maybe made people uncomfortable with discussing my sexuality, but that is a projection of their ignorance and not mine. If I do make it, being able to show every man or women in this country that they can be whoever they wanna be would be way more fulfilling for me.

How does art benefit you in your daily practices? Does modeling have a physiological impact on your life, either positively or negatively?

I think art really makes the world go around. I think without art there would be zero substance in this world and that is why I love you! You create magic that is amazing to see and I think that is so important. But you know, I think there is pressure to be perfect because you see so many people who are and you're like “oh my god what can I do to be better?” But it's also important to do your own thing and ignore the outside noise for your own psychological well being so that is really what I try to do for myself. But seeing other people who you think have it all can totally at times make you feel negative about yourself. But you are you and it's important to remember that you are perfect being you!  And the people who you think are perfect, more often than not, have their own issues as well.

What are your hopes and dreams for the art world in the future? What problems do you hope are addressed?

Increased viability and inclusiveness for people of color first and foremost. That needs to be the priority right now. We need the future kids of the world to see all different types of people, so that will encourage them to feel like they can make it in this industry too. The modeling world is not just for white heterosexual people. Inclusiveness for all people, across all industries? I would say that’s my dream.


Only Photographing White Women as a Photographer - The Problematic, Everlasting Industry Flaw that we Need to Work to Change

"But if I don't want to photograph people of color, why do I have to?"

This statement is ignorant. I've heard it time and time again from photographers who feel that I am attacking them for primarily photographing only white, blonde, skinny women. 

News Flash - I am attacking you. I'm attacking you because this statement is extremely ignorant.

Here's why:

You should not feel like you "have to" photograph and incorporate people of color through your work. If you feel like it is forced for you to photograph POC, you are, inherently, in some way racist about an entire demographic of models and creatives based on their skin color. You are missing out on an entire world of talent because you feel "forced" to incorporate something you should ALREADY BE INCORPORATING into your work.

The industry has enough white, privileged male photographers taking photos of "hot, white girls". Photographing primarily white women is only adding to this statistic that doesn't need to be added to. Do something different, be creative, push creative boundaries. The basis of photography is not objectifying hot white women. If you are striving to be a photographer to simply achieve this - please rethink your mission and goals in the industry. 

If a model of color goes to your profile and sees all caucasian models, how comfortable do you think they're going to feel reaching out to you to shoot? Based on your Instagram or website, POC won't see a wide range of diversity represented - so why should you have the opportunity to represent them? 

The industry is problematic regarding this subject already. Many photographers are working to change this demographic and are working to spotlight POC in their work. If you photograph all white women, you are going against efforts to change this. I'm not saying to never shoot white women. But if all of your work, publications, and content features white women, how are you helping the industry rather than hurting it?

If you are reading this post saying, "shit, my profile is all white women", then make a change rather than shying away from the subject because you feel "attacked". Feeling attacked often stems from ignorance, and usually signals that you need to change your way of thinking and become educated on a topic. 

If you are not meeting POC through connections in your creative endeavors, then you need to work on branching out within your artistic community. Some of the most amazing, inspiring, and unbelievably creative people I have met and worked with are people of color, and it infuriates me that many creatives miss out on this talent because they are too wrapped up in their white-girl-is-the-only-attractive-beauty-standard bubble to see it. 

If, after reading this post, you still want to only photograph primarily white women in your artistic practice, go for it. I simply ask that you own up to it and acknowledge that you are a socially and ethically problematic photographer in the industry. If you can't acknowledge this and don't want your work to be viewed as such, work on changing and educating yourself, and ideally, becoming an artist that helps the problem, not contributes to it. 

A Talk with Farrah - Haitian American Web Developer, Actress, Model, and Creative Director

You're a web developer, actress, creative director and model! Tell me how you've gotten into everything and how it drives you creatively.

I wear many hats as I am a person who constantly likes to learn in different fields. To be frank, I get bored quite easily and require constant stimulation. 

Acting is something I've always been infatuated with. My first true love and hope to grow in this field tremendously as time goes. I would spend hours researching thespians that I admired and how they entered the field of drama. I would also watch tons of films, television shows and the behind the scenes of each movie. I could say I was a bit obsessive in that area and I eventually started auditioning as soon as I was 19 years-old for extra and principal roles.

I also started signing up for acting courses and courses teaching me how to film and edit my own material when I attended college and I am currently hoping to move elsewhere to take it to the next level and challenge myself. 

I then took a minor break to pursue more of my creative side. To maintain financial stability, I worked at two fashion start-up companies and that broke me into the fashion world. My visual eye became more fond of brands, color palettes and style overall. I dressed for myself and, often at events, many of my acquaintances and friends would compliment my outfits. It wasn't until my cousin Tamar said I should try styling folks as a side hustle-- that I actually pursued it. I chuckled but took her advice, so now I truly style models, creative and non-creative people as a side hustle. 

I also started taking modeling more seriously at 25 years-old versus when I started at 18. I didn't believe that Boston had a strong mecca for most of my interests but ever since I started taking it more seriously after a life-changing event, I have been happier since and opportunities have been fruitful and continue to present themselves to me. 

I incorporated creative direction within my package as a brand because, on my free time, I tend to vigorously research brands, artists, founders, directors and more as a way to educate myself on how to become a better person overall. I try to find the underlying emotions of what people may what or of what people like to see. It's a lot of psychology that goes into being a creative director but it is truly rewarding! 

I also just started doing graphic designing and web development-- about six months ago to a year. It's been probably the most challenging skills to acquire but I do enjoy a good challenge once I grasp the fundamentals. Plus these were skills that I always wanted to touch upon.

I also host creative shows throughout the city of Boston and I am now expanding to New York, so I am elated about that opportunity I received! I cannot wait to see what other opportunities are out there for me! 

 What is your biggest struggle as an artist? Why?

My biggest struggle as an artist? That's a tough one. I guess trying to have your family members believe in your vision. Also attempting to become financially capable off of your art and brand. 

What are your favorite artistic inspirations? Why do they inspire you?

My favorite artistic inspirations... Even harder! I like Herb Ritts as a photographer. I know-- super random but his photography is iconic and so heartfelt. I would have loved to work with him! 

For acting-- I have a few inspirations. I have Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Angela Bassett, Evan Rachel Wood and a few more!

I also admire IAMDDB, who is a urban opera jazz singer and rapper. Her mind, her vibes, her attitude and her creations are very raw.

I like an artist called Panther. Very unique mind and creations that constantly inspire me. 

Films inspire me a lot as well as magazines and Tumblr. Also whomever styles Cardi B-- I believe it's Kollin Carter at the moment! Pharrel, Gwen Stefani, and Andre 3000 inspired me immensely. 

What do you find problematic about the current art world? Why?

I find that the current creative world is not diverse enough. When I say diverse, I mean that not enough POC, minorities who have disabilities or whom identify as Queer or whom have mental illnesses are not given enough proper opportunities to financially support themselves. I feel like they are normally swindled and exploited for their labor and creations when most great ideas stem from them.

What has been your biggest adversity in your artistic career to date and why? 

My biggest adversity in my artistic career is trying to stick with one avenue. It's so difficult to focus on one when you still have bills to pay, transportation, etc. And that you also want to create meaningful projects and content however you have to grind and juggle a few projects in order to even get to that point. I'm truly trying to cut back and focus on the film industry hoping that I will become fortunate enough to nationally share my talents in that field. 

What drives and inspires you to create? What is the goal of your art? 

I am inspired to create because I feel like it gives me a voice when back then I felt like I didn't truly have one. So with my voice, I can use it to give others a voice as well that have been marginalized or shut down by their family members, peers, teachers and society. 

My goal with my art is for everyone that views it to feel like they're part of the experience or to feel like they can also remake similar pieces or work with me in regards to creating meaningful content. I try to work with as many artists and influencers so they can also use me as a vessel to feeling confident and to feeling like they gained new knowledge!                                             

As a Boston-based artist, what are some challenges you run into? 

Boston does not have as many bountiful opportunities as a Los Angeles or New York or Atlanta however there are so many dope artists here! We are overlooked but steadily rising in the sense of our creative capital. I just hope the world stops sleeping on Boston!

You are a Haitian-American Artist. Does your heritage influence your art?

In some ways coming from a Haitian household influenced my art however a lot of cultures influence me. I adore learning about cultures but I would say the most influence I have from my Haitian roots is particularly the fashion. In Haiti, people rock denim-like ruffled pieces called Karabela, a lot of colors or dresses that flow. 

What advice would you give to young artists trying to get their name out? 

My advice is to be consistent with your creations and don't limit yourself to one demographic-- unless that is your primary audience and goal with your art is to focus on one demographic. Also know why you're creating and know that your why(s) are liable to change overtime as you grow. You may want to become a business owner too! Who knows?! Life can throw you curveballs but be persistent with your energy and network whenever you can!

 What message do you want to get out to the world through your art?

I want them to feel included-- as if they could also be a part of my creations.  I also want to be able to give them a different perspective.