WORDS & PICTURES///SNEEK PEEK: KEHINDE WILEY’S FORTHCOMING “BLACK LIGHT” PHOTO BOOK

February 9, 2009  |  art, News, Photography, Reviews

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Renowned for his old master style oil paintings of modern black males in renaissance poses, NYC based artist KEHINDE WILEY makes his first foray into photography just as memorable with a new series of stills replicating his instantly recognizable fine art aesthetic. Created for "Black Light," a forthcoming book by Brooklyn-based publishers POWERHOUSE set to debut in May, the series consists of 17 images of subjects Wiley recruited during a day of scouting at Brooklyn's Fulton Street Mall. Back at Wiley's studio, they were allowed to choose poses from reference images in art history books to be photographed in, and their clothing from racks containing fresh new gear from the likes of Nike, Nom de Guerre, and aNYthing. Central to the theme of the book's title, Wiley made his manipulation of light upon his subjects the central aesthetic concern of the shoot, a process author Krista A. Thompson explains in her introduction:

"For his first photographic series, the artist invited young black men to pose for him in his studio, where he basked them in a bright and luminous light. His studio was especially equipped for the Black Light series with visual technologies that “blasted out,” as Wiley describes it, “a super rapturous light,” reminiscent of the dazzling shine of Hype Williams’ Hip Hop music videos. The resultant photographic prints present viewers with young black men in a brilliant light that appears to burnish their brown skins and to highlight their facial features. Light, in particular, draws viewers to their eyes, which emit a halo of white light and reflect the source of their illumination. A crisp white light also accentuates the contours of the models’ lips, making them appear simultaneously angelic and sensual, imbuing them with the soft aura of Pierre and Gilles’ photographs. If Hammons immerses his subjects in a cavernous darkness to get them to see their own constitutive role in the social construction of blackness, Wiley floods his studio space with light to highlight how this seeming source of illumination hinders certain forms of perception. Light blinds viewers to constructions of whiteness and eclipses its role in the visual production of power in painting and photography."

Wiley then added colorful floral backgrounds inspired—surprisingly enough—by home décor magazines from the 1950s and Martha Stewart’s home collection of 1999 that he manipulated to encompass and occasionally partially envelop his subjects further mimicking the composition of his paintings. Given that modern photographic technologies were  initially developed using the white female face as the representational norm against which standards and values were calibrated, black subjects in modern amateur photography have often been relegated to overly-dark and detail-less portraits at the mercy of a camera's mechanical standards. Wiley’s new series addresses this issue head-on, and the portraits presented here offer, in the words of Thompson, "an immediacy and intimacy with his subjects not evident in his paintings." HAVE A LOOK:

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All images from Black Light: Photographs by Kehinde Wiley, Essay by: Brian Keith Jackson, Krista A. Thompson, Powerhouse Books 2009

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