AC: As if you are creating a different type of history for people to look back on?
ED: Yes, using the framework and the familiarity we have with historical visual references such as portraiture, and re-articulating that for the African diaspora and for people of color.
AC: You mentioned you gravitated towards marketing with a desire to be a creative. How do you see your education in Public Relations informing your work?
ED: Advertising is about a single, clear message that people can understand. With art, you have a little bit more room for interpretation. In some ways, the wider the interpretation, the better the art. The more concise the interpretation for advertising, the better the advert. I understand that repetitious, visual recognitions are crucial to getting your message across. Because I work in series, I create environments where the only thing I'm changing is the person within the portrait. The idea that you can create something that is instantly recognizable as belonging to a campaign or a brand — I definitely still have that within me.
The only difference is that I've given my work a bit more room for interpretation. When you create an ad campaign, the logo has to be the same size. I can see that the spacing and design of my images is very similar, it's almost like there is no real change in dimensions. In some ways, it replicates the way people look at people of color. My work builds off the idea that we group things and we generalize. The work fits into that expectation, but forces you to kind of look further.
AC: This visual recognition is evident throughout your work, with the concept of the silhouette being very prominent. What drew you to the silhouette, and how has that evolved throughout your art career thus far?
ED: The first time I invited a woman from the African diaspora into my studio, the image that I made was a silhouette. I wasn't there to make a silhouette. It's something that I saw. There is a historical importance -- the silhouette is a mass medium that people use and formulate identity from. This is important in the context of my work because women of color were never really included within the silhouette.
It [the silhouette] is strongly linked to features in character. Physiognomy and the legacy of pseudoscience is still within our psyche somewhere. The reality is that we can look at someone's face, or we can look at the shape of a feature, and think, “That person is dishonest, or honorable, or a criminal,” or all these different elements and assumptions. We still have a resting bitch face. We have people that alter their faces to be perceived as more favorable. The silhouette is a tool to enhance and open up that dialogue. With my work, I have the opportunity to give more detail and humanity to my subjects.
AC: Re-envisioning the silhouette to include all the nuances that exists, rather than just an outline or a shell.
ED: Exactly. Through my own experience of moving to the States, I felt the expectation that's placed upon you because of the color of your skin. It's been very important for me to think about how I could open up a wider visual narrative for people of color, for women from the African diaspora, so they could be perceived with more depth and with more character, and with more adjectives used to describe us.
AC: Could you share a bit about the relationship you have with the subjects you photograph and how you choose whom to photograph?
ED: Many of the women I found were strangers from the street. When I started making the work in school, I waited outside in areas of high foot traffic in search for women of color. It isn't important for me to have a deep connection with somebody before I make an image, but it turned out that many of my subjects became friends and helped me find additional people for more photographs.
It is an interesting experience to ask somebody for a formal portrait, because firstly, it is very formal, and secondly, there are so many expectations around beauty, and what it means to be in a portrait within such a formal setting. There's always going to be a problem with beauty, and how it's defined, and I enjoy challenging and asking those questions -- what does it mean to be beautiful within a photograph, and how is it measured and owned?
I realize that within portraiture, I am making the images. It is my interpretation, and a photograph or a visual representation could never really, truly supply any real information about who a person is. So, in a way, my subjects are my great vessels in which I can deliver my message.
AC: Similar themes of authority and representation were prominent in our recent Dialogue: On Power. What reflections do you have on that conversation and how these themes relate to your work?
ED: History is very important for me. As we get access to more information, it's very clear how history is articulated and how it can be re-articulated and redressed. For me, in my work, art has power. It's very important to look at who is making the work, and who is in front of, and the vision of the work, and how that has formed representation. In connection to our dialogue, we all have some measure of power. With my work, I'm trying to re-contextualize it on gallery walls.
We can look at how power has been distributed, and we can use that information as a springboard to create a wider, more sympathetic narrative. I think one of the great successes of the movie Moonlight, is not necessarily this great, dynamic storyline, but just the possibility of emotion for the characters involved. Emotions that challenge us all to think in a broader way. I think that's very powerful. There is power merely in the act of transforming a thought into a deeper emotion that could make one stop for just a second and think, "If this woman can look like this on the gallery wall, maybe she could be this in normal life,” or “maybe he could have so much more depth than what I've previously expected.”