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Redefining the Image of Black Masculinity

In our recent Instagram contest, Aperture asked photographers to submit images that redefine the black male experience. Inspired by the prolific, Jamaican-born street photographer Ruddy Roye, who has collaborated on their #BlackMaleReimagined project, the contest was organized with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a national network that seeks to improve the lives of black men and boys in the U.S. In a recent interview, Roye, who was also featured in Aperture magazine’s “Vision & Justice” issue, spoke about the importance of complicating the visual narratives surrounding black men. “When I first came to this country, I met all of these stereotypes: That black men were never fathers, we were never teachers or educators,” Roye said. “By showing these images, I inspire other other black men to say, ‘I can be that person.'”

Here are the winners of the #BlackMaleReimagined contest, selected by Ruddy Roye together with Aperture’s editors, and accompanied by each photographer’s personal reflections.

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Ken McFarlane, Erik & Erik II, Philadelphia, PA, from the series From the Root to the Fruit, 2016
Courtesy the artist

1st Place: Ken McFarlane

“Despite the ongoing narrative that black men are absent from the home, I have intimate knowledge of a different narrative. My grandfather was in the home with my father. My father was in the home with me, and I am in the home with my son. I’ve known Erik, an entrepreneur and business owner in Philadelphia, for a number of years. When I met his son, Erik II, the reflection of father in son was so bright that I knew I had to add their reflections to my project From the Root to the Fruit. My mission was not to reimagine the black male, but to reclaim the image of the black male. We have the power to shape our own collective image in our own authentic reality. We can amplify our voices using images of strength, dignity, pride, and success to drown out the cacophony of negative imagery surrounding the black body.” —Ken McFarlane (@365ken)

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Christian Padron, blindé, Los Angeles, CA, 2017
Courtesy the artist

2nd place: Christian Padron

“My friend and I had been discussing the idea of masking pain. Tendencies toward denial, withdrawal, and self-isolation are common in reaction to deeply felt emotional pain, especially for black men at this current time. My friend—the subject in the image—even discussed feeling trapped in his house sometimes because of events happening across the country. I tried to capture a creative way of representing this isolation. The title of the photograph, blindé, translates to ‘shielded’ in English. I think these images matter today to provide more accurate context for the black experience. It’s important to debunk stereotypes and create new definitions of black manhood that include emotional responses to trauma and pain.” —Christian Padron (@gangitmo)

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Brandon Stanciell, Thinker of Tender Thoughts, Skid Row, Los Angeles, CA, 2015
Courtesy the artist

3rd Place: Brandon Stanciell

“The vision for this picture was influenced by a poem, ‘Thinker of Tender Thoughts,’ by Shel Silverstein. In the poem, a man appears to have flowers growing from his hair, and when he approaches society, they laugh at him. He then goes back home and cuts the flowers off his head. In this portrait series, I encourage the viewer to keep the flowers growing. It’s easy to have your ideas and yourself be tainted by the opinions of your peers, but don’t let it destroy you. People these days have this idea that all black men are hypermasculine, aggressive human beings, when we’re not. We feel, too. We cry, too. It’s okay to look soft, it’s okay to be soft. Images like this help people to see black men in a more sensitive and relatable setting.” —Brandon Stanciell (@themanwholovedflowers)


 

 

Honorable Mentions

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Craig Bernard, from the series #SWEATANDHYPE, Notting Hill Carnival, London, 2016
Courtesy the artist

“The picture is from a project I’ve been working on for a while called #SWEATANDHYPE. It’s from London’s Notting Hill Carnival, which has been going on since the early 1960s. I’m a chef by trade, and when I have time, I go out and make pictures. This past year, it’s been quite unstable politically and socially. I responded to this by taking my camera to various marches and protests in London. There have been several marches under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, antiausterity, anti-Trump, and many others. When I made this picture, I saw two people embracing. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was editing, did I realize that there was maybe a bit more weight to the picture—a relevance to the times, you could say, in terms of black men and black women coming together, and that fear of having that togetherness cut short because your life is seen as having a less-than-positive relevance. Maybe the #blackmaleimage can include black women.” —Craig Bernard (@craigobernard)

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Richard Louissaint, Okai and Naima at La Caye during BAM DanceAfrica, 2016
Courtesy the artist

“Okai is a friend and musician I have been documenting for a while. This picture came about spontaneously, as I had set up a photo booth as part of From Haiti to Africa last year during the BAM DanceAfrica street festival. He came by with his wife and daughter. Given that his daughter is a ball of energy, getting her to pose was difficult, so I just grabbed three frames and this one stuck out the most. This is the image of men I see in my life—cousins and friends with their sons and daughters enjoying their time. Mainstream media has shifted very little in its portrayal of black men. You have to look to alternative programs and online to find nuanced portrayals, or to a film like Moonlight that breaks through and was created by a person of color.” —Richard Louissaint (@haitianrich)

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Dana Scruggs, Vince Harrington, 2014
Courtesy the artist

“I’m enamored with capturing black men and the black male form. As a black female photographer, I thought that I would have a unique perspective to contribute. There aren’t as many of us working and being recognized in comparison to white male (and female) photographers that dominate the art, commercial, and fashion photography industries. The idea that black men are violent, lazy, and absent as fathers is a stereotype that permeates our society. The belief that they are different and less valuable is the reason why black men (and women) are being killed by the police at higher percentages than any other demographic. Creating positive depictions of black men is important because, essentially, we need to reimagine the black male experience for people who’ve only viewed it negatively.” —Dana Scruggs (@danascruggs)

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Joni Sternbach, 09.08.24 #4 Len, Montauk, NY, 2009
© Joni Sternbach

“In my series Surfland, I often go to beaches and randomly meet people who are curious about my project and agree to be photographed. Len was one. We met by chance at Radars, a surf break in Montauk, in 2009, and he agreed to participate. Images of black male surfers are scarce and rather unconventional, even in this day and age. In addition, breaking stereotypical molds of who is a surfer is important. So much of our world is defined by imagery, and beliefs are often reinforced that way. Creating ambitious and positive imagery of black men puts the word out there.” —Joni Sternbach (@jstersurf)

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