Subtle, textured and revealing, Lawrence Agyei sees photography as a mechanism to tell the truth
The Ghanaian photographer, based in Chicago, feels most alive when making photographs. Here, he tells us about the ethos behind his practice.
- Ayla Angelos
- 12 June 2020
For Lawrence Agyei, a Ghanaian photographer based in Chicago, his subjects are what matter the most. His subtle, textured and revealing portraiture has garnered him recognition and an impeccable portfolio, with work that’s been published in The Fader, Apple, VSCO and The New Yorker. “Much of my work has a stillness to it,” he tells It’s Nice That, “and it’s also very raw and honest. I try to capture the rawness and authenticity of all my subjects in order to bring it across to the viewer.”
Detailing his path into photography, Lawrence explains that it’s his “consistency” that has enabled him to grow. Owning up to and embracing mistakes, while constantly learning his craft are two elements that he finds are most rewarding. “There have been many times where I’ve made mistakes during a shoot and I’ve had to embrace, learn and grow in order to improve,” he adds on the matter. To our surprise, he also exclaims how he’d never planned to become a photographer, more that it was destiny doing its thing. When he was 17, the photographer moved from Italy to Chicago and undertook a photography class in school. Unintentionally, this sparked an interest in the process of image-making – this curiosity was fuelled when he received Annie Leibovitz’s book and A Choice of Weapon, by Gordon Parks. “That soon turned into a desire to grow and master this craft of making photographs, and trying to tell a story,” he says. “I’m grateful for the journey.”
“Inspiration is everywhere,” Lawrence continues. Often he will locate his sources through mediums such as Tumblr and Savee while, lately, he’s been finding most of it through a YouTube channel called reelblack, “where they have tons of Black documentaries and interviews with Black creators and Black leaders from back then.” When it comes down to photography, he cites Gordon Parks, Deborah Willis, Annie Leibovitz and James Barnor as his main influences. “They paved the way for the work that I’m creating right now.”
Meandering through his eloquently framed and poised portraiture, you will stumble across a specific image of his good friend named Desmond, sitting alongside his daughter Indigo. “The image represents fatherhood,” says Lawrence, who marks this picture as one of his favourites. “It’s imperative that Black fatherhood is represented in a positive light.” Calling out the media and its various outlets, he refers to the perception of Black men as being unsupportive of their family, which is something that’s transformed from a stereotype into a belief. This is a notion that Lawrence strives to rebalance within his work, as he seeks to represent Black men and women in a rightfully positive light.
And that’s just it – Lawrence’s main goal and ethos as a photographer is that is he wants to capture his subjects with raw authenticity. “To me, the role of photography is to tell the truth,” he says. In his eyes – and in many others’ – photography has a responsibility to tell the truth. His camera, in this case, is an important mechanism that can be used to capture his subjects with honesty. “When I moved to the states,” he adds, “I kept on trying to find that one thing that would bring me peace, excitement and happiness, and I wanted to do it to the best of my ability.”
Lawrence feels most alive when making photographs, “like nothing else matters,” he says. He recently to a trip to Ghana, marking the first time as an adult that he’s gone back to his roots. “In the midst of visiting and connecting with family, I was able to create a series that I’m really excited to share with the world,” he concludes. “Photography has allowed me to see the world and its people in such a simple and beautiful way, and that’s why I take pictures.”
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About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.