My name is Othello Grey, and I’m a photographer.
I first knew I enjoyed taking photographs after I got back a few rolls of film from this catalogue of life – times with my friends.
I’d never felt anything similar to that – to live a moment, stop, and be able to look at it with those same people and say ‘wow, remember that?’
Zahra Siddiqui, Artscape Daniels Launchpad’s Curation and Community Engagement expert, sat down with Othello Grey to discuss his work – which was put on bold display at our recent Open House, and featured as part of our ‘Black Future Month’ exhibit this past February.
Here’s what he had to say.
How do you choose who you want to photograph?
I’m interested in photographing people that have looks outside of general beauty standards. I usually think of what I want to photograph first, and then I cast based on that…I have a strong focus of Black people, and People of Colour in general.
One of my good friends became a good friend though street casting. I saw this one guy at a coffee shop and I went ‘who is that?!’ Now we’re really good friends.
How much does the support of your family or the community affect your creative process?
The support of my family is really important. When I told my mom that I was dropping out of school to start this business she supported me so much.
She always knew that at that time in my life I didn’t really know what I was searching for, or what I wanted. After I dropped out they surprised me with a camera.
the support of my community is important too. Without people surrounding you, supporting you and building you up it can feel daunting, Every time you walk into the creative pursuit you’re on your own – it’s isolating.[My friends] are also artists – they understand I need honesty. One of my closest friends, Vince, is a producer. I’ll come to him with things I don’t understand about the production side, and he’s really helped me craft out how to approach situations. And vice versa, too.
What advice would you give photographers when working with big brands? We were talking about your experience with Louis Vuitton…I would love to know how you would advise someone stepping into this experience.
I would definitely say maintain your integrity. Within that be fluid. Understand you can’t always push boundaries with big companies like this. I remember I was shooting for Louis Vuitton and said ‘I have to go all out I have to do everything I have ever imagined’ and when I brought that to them they said ‘we can’t sell this.’
So maintain that integrity, but remember to be fluid. You are working within different kind of boundaries so learn that balance – I want to give you the best creative side of me but I also understand we’re selling products.
Know your value, though, and make sure you’re not being taken advantage of.
Is visibility and representation a part of your process?
My entire career as a photographer is built around visibility and representation – I exist as an enigma that’s changing overtime as the tide shifts and you see more Black photographers come into prominence, but the industry is dominated by white males.
I’m not someone who grew up around art. I’m self-taught. I really had this determination to become something outside of what i was destined for. I want to be that representation for other Black artists so they can see – maybe they didn’t know anything about this growing up…visibility and representation in terms of me as an individual is something i’m living, but it’s also in what I photograph.
I try and focus on Black people and other People of Colour – and showcase them in a light that they’re not always shown in.
We currently have our work in our Hallway Gallery…I would love for you to explain to me what the words ‘Black Future’ mean to you.
Black Future to me means a world where we as Black people exist outside of the structure outside of whiteness.
Where we can live in a world where our pursuits, our identity our ideas aren’t always under the thumb of what whiteness is prescribed.
A world where equity and the tides are equal…
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