Modeled by Kyra N.A. Ferguson and Emma Youte
I’ve never viewed my work as singular, and when I photograph people I want the process to be collaborative. I often work with female subjects, and part of my goal when shooting is to empower other women. The work should be a celebration of the subject as they are, as they come. No matter the styling, makeup, or lighting, I want the individual to shine through.
For this project, I worked with Kyra and Emma. I’ve known Kyra for several years, and we have great chemistry on set. Recently, she expressed to me that she often feels like the token black girl on a shoot—as though her identity is merely a prop to signify that a brand is diverse. So when I realized she and Emma—another dancer and model of color—were friends and wanted to shoot together, I jumped at the opportunity. I think it’s really important to produce media with black women front and center, and the responsibility to facilitate that kind of representation is something I don’t take lightly, though I am acutely aware that I, a white woman, can’t truly know their experiences. That is why communication and collaboration became so important. I asked Kyra and Emma what they wanted to create and what they were inspired by, and I asked myself the same. Together, we explored our influences, our aspirations, what excited us, and what we wanted to say through our work. We all spoke of Solange and Carlota Guerrero; of powerful women, of sisterhood, of lifting each other up.
Kyra and Emma took the reigns on styling, hair, and makeup, and we all pulled image inspiration and decided on an evening to shoot. Something I really came to admire about these two is that they express themselves with their bodies with such practiced ease. They moved separately and as one, and I photographed. There was this immense feeling of support between the two of them that I’ve rarely seen on set. At one point Emma remarked, “Working with other women—especially of color—has truly been a victory. It inspires rather than tearing down confidence.” During the editing process I realized that each image felt like a conversation between the two women. I had just seen Hilma af Klint’s exhibition at the Guggenheim and felt compelled to add elements of the surreal and unknown to some of the images. Kyra and Emma are goddesses with unspoken power, and I wanted to visualize that somehow. In one image they stand staggered, almost back to back, stoic yet dynamic. In my mind, I juxtaposed the image with Western sculptures of antiquity—of white men and women. I decided to frame them in an image I took at the Louvre of stone moulding that once framed a statue of a Greek god. Now, it frames two women of color.