When we first covered Lawrence Agyei, we knew he was a talent to watch. His new book, Drill, has proven what we always knew about him: he is an exceptionally talented photographer.
The publication covers Chicago’s famous Drill Team, an all-dancing marching unit that performs routines based on military foot or exhibition drills since the 1980s. Lawrence first came across the team in 2018 when his friend Rodney Lucas was directing a project featuring them. “I was awestruck by the Drill team's moves, outfits and stories as I photographed them for the project,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I knew I wanted to make a full-scale project with them, but I wasn't ready at the time.”
Flash forward to 2020, and Lawrence is being commissioned by Apple to work on a project that emphasises Chicago and its culture. “I was immediately clear that I wanted the Drill Team to participate, so I contacted them again and let them know that I wanted to take photos of them for a personal project,” Lawrence explains.
The rest is history, as Lawrence followed the Drill Team over the sudden shock of the Covid pandemic, documenting how they changed and adapted over the following two years. “After a few phone calls with the team's head manager, he decided that I could accompany them and spend time with them while they practised,” Lawrence explains. “But the summer of 2020 felt different because all they had known prior was performing, getting together, practising and learning new moves.”
Thankfully, the city of Chicago reopened the Bud Billiken Parade, one of the largest African-American parades in the United States. The Drill Team resumed practice, and Lawrence was there to capture it all. That’s why the book has a dynamic mix of pensive, thoughtful portraits with joyful, exciting action shots. “I wanted to capture them specifically as they prepared to perform at the Parade,” the photographer tells us. “Seeing them perform for the community is something special.”
Each photo is shot in black and white, providing a tender, somewhat soft glimpse of life within the Drill team. Many hours of practice are distilled down in to shots dazzled by chiaroscuro, letting the members of the team shine through in their strength and talent. Every picture feels fully realised, and the project was, ultimately, a life-changing experience for Lawrence. “I would spend time with them without my camera, just listening to their personal stories of joy, pain, losses and why they joined the team,” he explains. “Joining the team saved many of those kids from the streets and gun violence. The Drill Team became a safe haven.”
GalleryLawrence Agyei: Drill (Copyright © Lawrence Agyei, 2023)
Lawrence Agyei: Drill (Copyright © Lawrence Agyei, 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.