Blog: Inspiration Between the Lines

Q&A with Photographer and Writer L. Kasimu Harris

IMAGE HEADER: L. Kasimu Harris

Kasimu Harris’ photographic practice spans fine art and photojournalism, as well as writing. Forging a path that constructs new realities through visual language, while simultaneously documenting the world as we know it, Harris’ work focuses on underrepresented communities in New Orleans, his home city, and elsewhere. In 2020, his imagery was featured in exhibitions across America, The New York Times, and National Geographic, among others. Read on to learn about his process and journey.

War on the Benighted, The Struggle Begins Before School. Part 3. The Struggle Begins Before School, 2018.

DUGGAL ART SCENE: Narrative as a visual strategy is central to your body of work. In your practice, what is the relationship between the capacity of a singular image to tell a full story and a series of images that reveals a multi-perspective view? 

KASIMU: Some images, inherently, are supporting characters and don’t carry the narrative on their own. But, they are vital to the story and examinations that I’m communicating with viewers of the images. So, innately, supporting characters uplift the main characters and in my visual work, they often provide added complexity to the narrative and overall visual story; they can be quiet moments or details that are strong--but won’t tell a complete story on their own. For me, a single image that tells a story usually answers who, what, when, where and sometimes why; a practice that is based in my introduction to photography, which was through photojournalism.

Issac “Ike” Dixon, left, is the longtime proprietor of Purple Rain Bar. He owns three properties, including the bar and they’re currently listed on the real estate market. This bar is home to the Golden Blades Indians, who dress there on Mardi Day and St. Joseph’s Night. The Monday Faithfuls (Purple Rain Bar), 2020

DUGGAL ART SCENE: The intersection of documentary photography and creative imagination, the act of dreaming or fictional storytelling, is present in several of your photographic series. What role does invention play in your efforts to push, deconstruct, reconstruct or counter narratives related to Black communities? 

KASIMU: Art has given me limitless freedom to imagine and create a world where I want to live, a freedom that is not possible while practicing ethical photojournalism or documentary photography. But, I have found ways to be inventive within the constructs of those pursuits. The intersection of documentary photography and my imagination has been dubbed as constructed reality. My bodies of work that deploy this strategy are all based in truth and rigorously researched.

Jessika C. Thibodeaux embodies Fox Rich for the (Per)Sister exhibition at Newcomb Art Museum at Tulane University. Myron Thibodeaux embodied Rob Rich, who was recently released from prison. Freedom Day, 2018

DUGGAL ART SCENE: In 2018, you wrote the essay, The Dismantling of Southern Photography, for the exhibition, New Southern Photography, at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the city where you are based. What is your critique of the idea of Southernization in the field of photography and how does your own practice intersect with or contribute to the evolution of this idea? 

KASIMU: In that essay, my contention was more about the lack of diversity within Southern photography--until recently, and even still, it has been stories told by white men that were uplifted, exhibited and published. And those celebrated stories by white men didn’t reflect the full picture of brilliant Southern photographers who are Black, people of color, women or queer. 

Interiors of The Other Place and portraits of Victor Dawkins’ nephew from Costa Rica. Mr. Victor’s Routine: Open the Door. Turn on TV. Jerry, Jerry!, (The Other Place Bar), 2020

DUGGAL ART SCENE: You have a successful career as a photojournalist and have been able to incorporate some of your passions – fashion, journalism, food, and music – into you work and the types of assignments you receive. Can you share a bit about how you've navigated this path so far? 

KASIMU: It has been a journey, one where I have had to do various things in communications and photography to earn money and that afford me a varied skill set. I started writing in 2001 for Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University. I wrote about sports and penned some opinion columns. Around that time, I’d also write some for The Journal, a publication of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. 

Then, in 2005, I started graduate school for journalism at the University of Mississippi; my goal was to become a features writer for a magazine. Classes started 10 days before Hurricane Katrina. I returned to my hometown of New Orleans about 45 days after the storm and started using photography as an additional means of communication. I worked briefly at a newspaper as an education reporter in 2008. Then, I found myself looking for a job in journalism during a recession--I was unsuccessful. So, I would photograph baby showers, parties, events, weddings, while also photographing personal projects in my community. I started entering group exhibitions in 2007 and was consistent about exhibiting yearly, and the profile of the exhibitions and venues continued to get bigger. 

My “big break” came around 2012 when I started writing and photographing a fashion column, Parish Chic, for the Oxford American. I’m a self-starter; I don’t always wait for opportunities and am very comfortable instead creating them. But, it has been the relationships that I have built over time that have been invaluable to my career. I can look at big moments in my career and I can tell you who provided that opportunity. Most importantly, though, is that I have done the work and have the confidence of people in my network that I can achieve whatever task that I’m given. 

This year, I’ve been in four different exhibitions across America, wrote and photographed for The New York Times, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, photographed for National Geographic, The Wall Street Journal and wrote profiles on Chef Leah Chase and RaMell Ross.  

When I was in graduate school and even for a while afterwards, people would tell me that I had to decide if I wanted to be a writer or photographer and pick between photojournalism and art--I heard them; I just never listened.   

 

View more work by L. Kasimu Harris:  lkasimuharris.com

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/24/us/new-orleans-black-bars-second-lines.html

https://longreads.trust.org/item/hurricane-katrina-new-orleans-black-businesses-coronavirus

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8KqjUWLRmI

 

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