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A St. Louis Gallery Showcases Identity Through The Lens Of Young, Black Photographers

Justin Mikhail Solomon
In the piece "Wrestling on the Sunset sounds very romantic," St. Louis-based photographer Justin Mikhail Solomon looks at relationships and the power of language and love through brotherhood. Solomon will showcase his work along with seven other artists in the exhibit "Just Pictures" at projects + gallery beginning Sept. 10.

For Justin Mikhail Solomon, photography is like a time machine. He said photographs of his family that exude love and joy have provided him with a positive reflection of himself.

The St. Louis-based photographer is one of eight artists whose images will be on display at the exhibit “Just Pictures” beginning Thursday at projects + gallery. The exhibition pushes the traditional boundaries of what fashion and art photography look like outside of the constructs of a fashion magazine, said Antwaun Sargent, the exhibit curator.

projects + gallery
Justin Mikhail Solomon began taking photos as a child. Now, at 24, he has been featured in shows across the region and the nation.

The idea of “Just Pictures” is to grant space for young, Black photographers to represent themselves through beauty, struggle and desire, Sargent said. The work provides a fresh look into the African diaspora, he said, through the lens of Black photographers.

“Very often we define [photographers of color] as a monolith — as one thing,” Sargent said. “But in this exhibition, you have a diverse group of concerns.”

Photographers in the show explore themes of familial land, brotherhood and self-empowerment. The exhibit will include about five images from each of the eight photographers.

Solomon, 24, defines his work as an illumination of Black humanity. His most notable image, “Things We Carry,” is a silhouette of a Black man wearing a silver chunky chain and carrying a handheld, outward-facing mirror. The only features visible in the frame are the man’s eyeballs and some facial hair.

Justin Mikhail Solomon
Justin Mikhail Solomon's image "Things We Carry" represents humanity and the liberation of Black people.

“The silhouette functions in this way that it makes the subject anonymous, but those features being present also humanizes the subject. It can be anyone, but this is also someone you know,” Solomon said. “I feel like Black life is compared to the liberation of Black folks and the way we connect with each other, but also humanizing or championing new ideas about what it even means to be Black.”

“Just Pictures” grew out of Sargent’s 2019 book “The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion.” Sargent said the collection of images from 15 Black photographers can inspire a greater understanding of authentic Blackness.

Sargent said the highly styled images speak to the way Black people want to be seen today and fights against the stereotyping and vilification of Black life.

As for Solomon’s pieces, Sargent said he sees them as a new way of envisioning masculinity and brotherhood.

“I sort of see what young Black photographers are doing in photography right now as a movement,” Sargent said.

Though the exhibition was not created in response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests or in response to Black struggle, Solomon said his four images still relate to the movement because his work “manifests the freedom of Black people”.

“My work currently is really trying to address issues that exist for black people outside of their relationship to whiteness,” Solomon said.

Susan Barrett, projects + gallery’s owner, said fashion and art photography have historically been seen through the lens of white men. And with Black Lives Matter and civil rights movements of the past, galleries and museums are recognizing that the public wants to experience African American voices and ideals.

“I hope our community will rejoice in a culture that is having to fight for justice and its sheer existence,” Barrett said. “I hope people walk away understanding the sheer joy and beauty and pride of what it is like to be a Black person in America right now.”

The exhibition will also include art photography from Arielle Bobb-Willis, Yagazie Emezi, Joshua Kissi, Mous Lamrabat, Renell Medrano, Ruth Ossai and Joshua Woods.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.

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