The canon of Black queer experience is scarce, to say the least. Yet, what is scarcely there to celebrate is a cornucopia of beautiful art – from James Baldwin to Audre Lorde and Marsha P. Johnson to Rotimi Fani-Kayode. Now, photographer Eric Hart Jr. finds himself situated in great company with his new monograph When I Think About Power, a collection of photography which features intimate and exquisite depictions of a Black queer experience that is both empowered and tender.
“It all started as a poem I randomly wrote one day back in 2019,” Eric tells It’s Nice That. “I was getting older, becoming an adult, and found myself questioning what it meant to be a man in this world and I couldn’t help but recognise that I wasn’t going to be the man I was taught to be by my family or by society, which led me to a lot of confusion.” The poem’s central themes of masculinity, queerness and belonging eventually transmuted into When I Think About Power, a visual outlet for Eric’s questions and quandaries on identity.
“So much power is rooted in the Black queer experience but can often be overlooked because how this world will make you think you are less than,” Eric explains. “As I have grown and started learning to reverse some of these teachings, I’ve come to realise just how powerful it is to even recognise and claim who you really are in a world telling you that you are somehow flawed.” This fraught relationship to power is what has informed a lot of Eric’s photography, stemming directly from his own lived experience. “Many of these images [in the monograph] use a certain juxtaposition to showcase that notion of power’s presence at all times,” Eric says. “I think every frame feels strong and mighty even when they feel delicate or vulnerable.”
Interestingly, Eric’s photographs for the project are shot entirely in black and white. “Going into this series, I’d looked at a lot of popular contemporary Black queer series and found that many of them leaned into these colourful aesthetics,” Eric says. “Whether it be colourful beds of flowers, durags, glitter etc. – I think those works led themselves so easily to a queer reading because for so long we hadn’t seen Black men attached to those types of aesthetics.” While Eric celebrates this in the visual narratives of Black men, he opts to explore what a “new masculinity” can look like. “I think Black and white allowed me to focus more on the dynamic internal journey many queer folk find themselves in, as opposed to this almost utopian destination of queerness which I feel like I’d seen a lot of,” he explains. The black and white imagery electrifies When I Think About Power, playing off light and shadow to create a chiaroscuro that captures the “the beautiful tones of Black skin”, as Eric says.
With so much tenderness and work put into the monograph both behind and in front of the camera, Eric mainly wishes for the project to “foster consciousness” in people. “I want audiences to look at this work and think and engage,” he says. “In this current world of advocacy and allyship, I hope folks actually take the time to peek into the journey of a young Black queer individual and do some of the mental work.”
With questions such as “what is power?” ruminating in Eric and his work, there’s no doubt much of his audience will be provoked to think in the same way. “I’m still searching for that answer, but this book definitely can be a tool in further drafting an accurate definition.”
GalleryEric Hart Jr.: When I Think About Power (Copyright @ Eric Hart Jr., 2023)
Eric Hart Jr.: When I Think About Power (Copyright @ Eric Hart Jr., 2023)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. They were part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.