Soon-to-be Corcoran School Alumni Poised to Infiltrate Art Industries by Maxwell Young

Performers in Yacine Fall’s thesis project,  Un Lien , rehearse for “NEXT,” Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s thesis showcase. Polaroids by  Maxwell Young

Performers in Yacine Fall’s thesis project, Un Lien, rehearse for “NEXT,” Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s thesis showcase. Polaroids by Maxwell Young

Washington, D.C.—Two bronze-cast lions lay await in front of the entrance to the Corcoran School of the Arts & Design. Protectors of the realms of imagination and creative skill—they size-up the foreign body approaching. I am a George Washington University alumnus all the same, but there is a difference between the School of Business degree I received in 2017 and the Fine Arts/Photojournalism/Art History/Interior Design/Theater/etc. degrees that will be awarded to the graduating classes this coming May.

For 150 years, the Corcoran name has been “dedicated to art and used solely for the purpose of encouraging the American genius.” That was the mission of the oldest and largest private art museum in the District of Columbia, when banker William Wilson Corcoran endowed the Gallery in 1869, and it still rings true today as its graduates and undergraduates prepare for their thesis showcase.

“NEXT” is a 30 year-old tradition for the arts and design students. A public display of the art world’s future stars, it’s both an exhibition for employers and art enthusiasts to see fresh perspectives in contemporary art as well as a culmination of the skillsets burgeoning artists have acquired throughout their education. On Thursday, April 25, the collection opens, amplifying work of varying mediums across disciplines.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of previewing select compositions and installations from several undergraduate seniors. Artists Yacine Fall, Ashley Llanes, Seung Hyun Rhee, and Layla K. Saad explore themes of shared and personal identity in their thesis projects.

“I had never seen Muslim artwork on the walls of a gallery,” Saad admitted to me as we observed her seven-piece installation, United States of Being. Elements of wood-work, 3-D printing, quilting, and print making inform her project. The New Mexican-born artist’s Muslim heritage is intertwined with Native American culture as well as Egyptian-Lebanese lineages. When the Corcoran’s mission was written centuries ago, I doubt the encouragement of the “American genius” included the work of people who looked like Saad. “What about the Muslim kids who are interested in artwork? They don’t have this imagery to reference. They have Michelangelo. They have Picasso…all of these other artists who are interesting, but they don’t have something relevant to their identity.”

This re-contextualization of culture is evident in the respective work of all four artists. In addition to Saad’s installation, Yacine Fall debuts a performance piece, Un Lien, that uses burlap rope, clay, and the physical presence of eleven other bodies to connect histories and individual experiences together. Ashley Llanes’ La Quinceañera seeks to find the balance between her teenage self, who wanted to challenge stereotypes, and her current self, who values the conservation of culture, through a series of self portraits that evaluate the aesthetics of quinceañera tradition. And Seung Hyun Rhee’s Homesick uses manual and digital collage of K-pop stars to juxtapose his described "militant” music interest against his daily routine of American life as reflections of his desire to return home to South Korea.

Keep your eyes peeled to InTheRough pages as we dig deeper into these topics in individual articles. We will unveil more insight into the artists and their work while the “NEXT” exhibition is displayed until Monday, May 20. Admission for “NEXT” is free and open to the public. Don’t miss the opening Senior thesis show on Thursday from 6-9pm.

“NEXT” Senior Thesis Show

April 25, 6-9pm

Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

500 17th St, NW

Washington, D.C. 20006 

Meet Aamir Khuller--the designer amplifying the work of Tony Cruise, Tech Yes, and October '71 by Maxwell Young

Photo courtesy of Aamir Khuller’s  Instagram .

Photo courtesy of Aamir Khuller’s Instagram.

What is it that compels us to engage with the material (and immaterial) things in our world? “Life’s Goods” as our InTheRough page describes.

The clothes we wear, the music we listen to, the posts we share & like, even the furniture we buy for the dwellings we live in are dictated by behavioral motivations we have as human beings.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs, outlining behavior through prisms of physiology, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self actualization. We are motivated by primal instincts, yes—the need for food, shelter, and copulation are first in the natural order of things—while other motivations like security and value become more extrinsic, rooted in reward-based systems. The importance of your financial wellbeing or the desire for a luxury vehicle versus ‘I just need a car that runs’ are examples that come to mind. Such needs are satisfied by design; the manner in which we facilitate our consumption, protection, procreation, construction/destruction, and other societal frameworks.

The nature of being human has seemed to me a series of attempts in imprinting control over what we perceive to be out of ours, but most of these definitions are held up flimsily by a collective spiral of silence.
— Aamir Khuller, artist & designer

Aamir Khuller is a Los Angeles-based graphic designer, photographer, art director, videographer, production assistant, and film director reinforcing the branding and aesthetics of his “tribe” of friends and artists who inspire him.

If you’re hip to Washington, D.C.-based artists Sir E.U and Jamel Zuñiga; Rob Stokes and October ‘71; or Tony Cruise, chances are you’ve seen Khuller’s work. As a designer, he’s been commissioned to capture and interpret the sonic tastes of these artists into adequate visual representations including graphics, photographs, videos, and flyers.

We saw Khuller’s art direction in grand scale last November, when sound engineer Tony Cruise fka Tony Kill debuted his latest LP, Replica, on The now defunct website designed by Khuller premiered Cruise’s music in a unique audiovisual experience that was alternative to contemporary streaming methods. “Traditional albums are dead,” Cruise told me. We briefly discussed the creative execution of the project in between tracks at a Tech Yes in December. “Don’t even talk to me about it. Talk to Aamir. He ran with it.”

For Cruise who is so entrenched in the way his music is perceived, it was interesting to find out he relinquished one of the more external-facing aspects of the project to someone else. I caught up with Khuller, the man Cruise entrusted to design the webpage, via email to understand more about the genesis and evolution of as well as the creative communities he supports on the East and West coasts.

ITR: I asked Tony about the design of the website he released Replica on,, and he told me he didn’t give you much direction. Talk about that level of trust.  How’d you meet?

AK: Tony was my uncle in a past life or something like that. He wished me happy birthday one year and sent me his address and I ran up on him like a month later, etc. In regards to trust, we probably identify with similar fascinations over quality of detail and have similar taste. This bamma didn’t even have the music for me to listen to when I made the campaign haha.

In order to have a replica, there has to be an original.  In Tony’s case, that’s Thought Crimes.  How did the music and even the cover art/branding of that project inform your design process for this go-round?

My design process is pretty impulsive, I don’t know how much it directly informed it but in retrospection there’s some overlap in the spontaneity and texture. I’m not sure, the majority of fleshed out design took place in a day or so.

In what ways did the sonics of Replica influence your work?

Can I insert this

*disclaimer: everything I say ought not to be redacted*

.jpg into the article?

Courtesy of Aamir Khuller

Courtesy of Aamir Khuller

The URL of Replica sounds like a radio station.  What’s the significance of it?

Redefinition of muddied waters.

I noticed that the site had been updated periodically since Replica’s release.  Some of the words I read are familiar from Tony’s IG Stories.  Can you talk about how the page evolved?

Art, as experienced by the contemporary user, is continually defined evolution and flux so I think it’s crucial to reflect that. The nature of being human has seemed to me a series of attempts in imprinting control over what we perceive to be out of ours but most of these definitions are held up flimsily by a collective spiral of silence. Art is ongoing as are the relationships between subject, artist, and audience and what you see is the result of the technological apparatuses to do so.

Et Cetera Labs - what can you say about it?

It’s the equivalent to a cruelty-free animal sticker. I don’t really know much else, truthfully.

You live in LA, right? Put us onto to some local talent you’ve been able to experience lately.  It could be any medium.

I consider myself fortunate to have a tribe in that sense — an abundance of my friends continually inspire me. I don’t want to list off people because there truly are too many and I’d prefer not to offend anyone out of a stony fog but it shall become even more apparent in 2019.

I’m curious about your life in the DMV and the people and places that informed your creative community growing up.

I began making art because I felt like I didn’t have any friends; that wasn’t reality as much as my perception but it caused me to branch out of the somewhat sheltered bubble I existed in before and for that I’m grateful.

Why’d you leave? What does the DMV’s creative community look like from across the coast?

I got a chance to leave and didn’t have much of a reason to stay. I cannot profess to be hyper tuned-in from afar but some of my dearest friends are making beautiful art and doing whatever the fuck they want and each time I’ve returned they’ve introduced me to more and more people on the same frequency. I think getting more involved could be cool.

Who had the best album cover of 2018?

Trippie Redd or Blood Orange.

What can we expect from Aamir in 2019?

I am a citizen of the world.

Where can we find your work?

I am a citizen of the world.


Search my name though. I just did and found out I have an IMDb page. Instagram is cool too. Can you link the word instagram to mine in the article? That’d be wavy. Or borderline corny. Agh this is awkward. No more.

Late Bloom Radio hosts artists Absurdly Well and Esteban Whiteside ahead of Friday's gallery show by Maxwell Young

Tune in to Late Bloom Radio broadcast via, Wednesday at 7pm EST, for an in-depth interview with two of Washington D.C.’s most unapologetic artists.

Promotion for “Broken Safety,” an art exhibition featuring the compositions of Esteban Whiteside & Absurdly Well.

Promotion for “Broken Safety,” an art exhibition featuring the compositions of Esteban Whiteside & Absurdly Well.

The following is a press release from artists Absurdly Well and Esteban Whiteside.

Washington, D.C.—10 blocks from the Capitol!  The most highly-anticipated joint show from the DMV’s most prolific artists!

Join us March 8th in Eastern Market at The Fridge Gallery! Political street artist Absurdly Well and artist Esteban Whiteside come together in their first joint art exhibition to address social circumstances that galvanize today’s urban society.

Gentrification and displacement is at an all-time high in major cities in the nation.  The lack of financial, domestic and democratic safety has been taking a toll on the poor and middle class for years.  Artists also have been feeling the pinch of big business moving in Washington.  With more and more luxury condominiums being built & rising rents, artist spaces have been shutting down.  These factors consequentially puts this “broken safety” in the cross-hairs of many U.S. citizens.

Collectors and admirers of Absurdly Well & Esteban will be amazed by the ambitious size of art and spanning subject-matter.  Each piece is a unique perspective on and during the Trump regime from the most prolific artist-activists.  Most pieces are never-before-seen.

This exhibition will be up until March 31st and there will be programming and artists talks throughout the month by both artists.

Original works, prints, street posters, and other merchandise will be available for sale.

March 8, 7-11pm

The Fridge D.C.

516 8 St, SE

Washington, D.C. 20003

Tyler Calpin Completes His First Solo Show as an Artist by Alex Young

Tyler Calpin standing in front of his pieces part of the “Searching for Jenny” exhibit at Social Status on Jan. 25, 2019. | photographs by Alex Young

Tyler Calpin standing in front of his pieces part of the “Searching for Jenny” exhibit at Social Status on Jan. 25, 2019. | photographs by Alex Young

Mid-show, he stops the conversation to cross the room and adjust one of his art pieces that shifted out of position from the significant crowd moving about the exhibit. Tyler Calpin was living out his dream of achieving his first solo show at a relevant destination for culture and community in Pittsburgh, the Social Status streetwear boutique. “It’s very surreal right now,” he described his emotions.

Inside the shop’s Downtown location last Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, Slim Tha DJ spun records for the young audience of artists and tastemakers supporting Calpin in his moment. Calpin showed “Searching for Jenny,” a photography exhibition dedicated to his hometown Youngstown, Ohio.

“Jenny” was the name of the last working blast furnace in the United States of America. The steel industry was vital to Youngstown’s economy and once it was shut down on September 19, 1977 it left a financial depression in the city. “There’s still a lot of stuff left over from it in terms of architecture or structures that are remaining that were around from that time,” Calpin said of the deteriorating, midwestern factory settings he photographed for his art. Calpin’s great-great and great-grandfathers worked in the Youngstown Steel mills. The work in “Searching for Jenny” connects Calpin to his family roots. Though his images focus on a past dead and gone, the colorful collage aspects to his art breathe life back into the buildings and parts that were lively about the Youngstown community before.

Honestly, Calpin is grateful for being able to leave Youngstown for Pittsburgh and add something to the culture here. While he’s doing his job at Social Status literally as a sales associate, the Pittsburgh transplant is also aware of the opportunities he has at the business platform to advance his own brand.

“For me, it’s just bringing people in and furthering the idea of community,” he said. It feels that way when potential customers walk in feeling welcomed, observing the sales associates, who are often local movers and shakers like Tyler Calpin or rapper My Favorite Color, openly converse about contemporary culture. “Whether it’s through fashion, sneakers or art… It started for me through skateboarding,” he explained. “All of these communities, as I’ve gown older, I can see how they all blend in a lot of ways.” Calpin’s location at Social Status makes him a familiar face when it comes to linking with other artists in these various scenes. “It shows people that we’re accessible and that we’re human,” he said. Calpin made the decision to utilize the shop for his artwork once he saw his college peer and fellow photographer Sharimar Cruz display her work there.

I think consistency is important in photography whether it’s pictures of yourself or consistency in your content.
— Tyler Calpin

Now, Calpin makes it work for himself in a “do-able” climate that’s not too busy or overwhelming like in big markets such as Los Angeles or New York. He meets his goals in Pittsburgh by “building genuine relationships, being yourself, and being consistent around those people,” he said. One of the relationships he’s continued to cultivate is with rapper Choo Jackson of ForeverKool Records. Calpin shot cover art, and merchandise looks for Choo. Next, he worked on Choo’s “Anime 2” album art with another artist Travis Carter. “I like to work with people who trust my ideas wholeheartedly,” Calpin said. “Be on the lookout for ‘Anime 2’ because that shit’s about to be fire,” he promoted.

Calpin wants to be known as “The King of the Midwest” stressing the value in regional notoriety rather than the coolness you get from being internationally or nationally recognized. With features in more shows, like those at Artists Image Resource gallery on the North Side on February 15 and April 12, he looks to expand to other cities like Chicago or Philadelphia. “I just want to keep producing work at the highest level possible,” he finished.

Tyler Calpin behind the sales counter at Social Status | photograph by Alex Young   Read the transcript of Tyler Calpin’s interview below.

Tyler Calpin behind the sales counter at Social Status | photograph by Alex Young

Read the transcript of Tyler Calpin’s interview below.

InTheRough: You have the infamous selfie mirror over there. Please talk about that energy.

Tyler Calpin: So, I started taking the mirror pics everyday just to show off what I was wearing and to show people I was in the store. See if I could bring people in through my Instagram, which sounds so corny. It became one of those things that people started to respond to it. I was like oh this is actually kinda fun. It’s something I can do consistently. I think consistency is important in photography whether it’s pictures of yourself or consistency in your content. It was just one of those things. As soon as people would come in the store and tell me, “Oh, I saw your pic. I saw you were here. Oh, that’s a dope fit.” I was like okay I gotta keep doing this everyday. The daily fit pic (laughs).

ITR: How do you try to use your role at Social Status to further your brand?

Calpin: Ultimately, I’m just a sales associate, so I’m just here to help customers and make sales. For me, it’s just bringing people in and furthering the idea of community whether it’s through fashion, sneakers or art. That’s really important to me because all of those things are tied together in a lot of ways. It started for me through skateboarding. All of these communities, as I’ve gown older, I can see how they all blend in a lot of ways and how they take things from each other to kind of further itself. I always use the example of “clout bags.” You know, the shoulder bags. People in skateboarding were using those two or three years before hypebeasts or anyone like that.

ITR: Before rappers.

Calpin: Yeah, it’s something you can throw your camera, a bottle of water, your phone or your wallet in. Sling it across your back and just go.

Basically, my role here is bring people around and get them hip to shopping here. For me, I’ve always wanted to work here since I came to Pittsburgh. I bought my first Bape tee here. I was hooked. Being able to do that for other people makes me feel very validated in a lot of ways, which is crazy to say just working a retail job, but making someone happy through a material good is super awesome.

ITR: It feels like the new-age barbershop in here. You guys are in here choppin’ it up and when you come in that’s really happening.

Calpin: That’s how it is and that’s what’s really important to me. I want people to feel like they can come in here and just say hi and hang out for a little bit. Have a conversation whether it’s about personal things or they want to chop it up about the culture, sneakers or whatever. That’s basically what we’re here for and that’s what’s really important to me. It shows people that we’re accessible and that we’re human.

[Playboi Carti’s “Yah Mean” plays in the background.]

ITR: How does it feel to achieve a goal? That goal being your first solo art show at Social Status because you’ve been striving for this for a couple years.

Images from Youngstown, Ohio by Tyler Calpin

View more work at his “@lil35mm” Instagram handle.

Calpin: It was one of the first things when I was living in a dorm room at Point Park [University] and I started coming here and being able to look at this stuff I couldn’t afford it then but it was so nice to be able and come and look and not feel like I wasn’t welcome here. Once I started to see they were part of the gallery crawl and it doubled as a space that was not only for sneakers and fashion culture, but for art as well it was important for me to get my work and myself in here. What really inspired me was seeing Shar [Sharimar Cruz] do her work here. She went to Point Park and I was in classes with her. Seeing how accessible it was to people that are around in the Downtown area, but Pittsburgh in general. I came here, I saw what I could do, and I set out to get that goal. It took longer than I wanted it to, but that’s how things go sometimes.

ITR: Yeah, time.

Calpin: Time is really important. Believe me, when I was 17 years old, I would’ve loved to have solo shows. But I didn’t have the knowledge. I didn’t have the resources. I didn’t have any idea of what it really took. Now, five years later I’m 22 years old and I have that knowledge. I have those resources and I have the capabilities and the ability to cultivate the opportunities to make those kind of things happen. Being able to have my first solo show here means a lot to me. It was that first place that really struck me I was like, “I gotta do it.” It’s very surreal right now. Seeing it on the walls is just crazy right now.

ITR: What does it mean to debut “Searching for Jenny” in Pittsburgh? Obviously you go to school here and you lived close by being from Youngstown. When’s the first time you saw Pittsburgh as an opportunity?

Calpin: I would say I saw Pittsburgh as an opportunity the second I started coming here. My friend Ben and I would come out on random Saturdays. We would come out when it’s this cold outside. For the record, it’s like single digits right now. We would come out we’d go to the South Side. Go to the skate shop. Get Primanti Bros. Go to the Strip District. Stuff like that. It just seemed like one of those cities that it was do-able. It’s bigger than Youngstown, but it’s not like L.A. or New York where things are so overwhelming or super busy. Once I got to Pittsburgh in 2015, I started to see people who I was close with getting opportunities. I was friends with a lot of the juniors and seniors when I was a freshman. That was when they started to get their solo shows and group shows and their opportunities. As soon as I started to see it work for other people, I knew it could work for me too. All it took was talking to the right people and being genuine. If I could tell myself that years ago, I would run with that information. Truthfully. If all I knew it took was building genuine relationships, being yourself, and being consistent around those people…

ITR: That’s the big part about it.

Calpin: Yeah, it’s really important to continue to cultivate those opportunities. It goes back to that community that we have here. When people stop in once or twice a week that’s awesome. We have people that come in if they’re Downtown they’ll stop in just to say hi. That’s really important because those are people that I know that care about us as human beings and they know we’re something more than just sales associates. We’re human beings and creatives as well. When people can see that about you and they’re more interested in your personal life than what they can get out of you at the store, that’s really important.

ITR: What’s your ultimate goal?

Calpin: My goal is to keep doing this shit man. I just want to keep producing work at the highest level possible whether that’s conceptually or just producing a lot of things. I have my hands in a ton of stuff right now. I want to keep it that way. I just want to keep it moving and see where it takes me because that’s what got me going in the first place and that’s going to keep me afloat. Ultimately, my goal is to keep doing shows whether it’s a group show or a solo show. Ideally, I want to be the king of the Midwest. I want my work to be known in a region. Being national and international is so cool, but that takes a lot of time. My goal after Pittsburgh is going to somewhere like Chicago or Philadelphia. I want to do some stuff in Cleveland and especially in the Youngstown area. I do plan to show this work in the Youngstown area because it would be so stupid to not show it there. Not only do I want the people of the area to see it and appreciate it, but I just want them to see someone from Youngstown started there, went somewhere else, did something with their life, and is paying it forward in a lot of ways. I’d like to see myself curate shows as well. That’s something that I do like to do. But, yeah, I just want to expand regionally before I start to make the jump nationally or internationally.

ITR: What’s your role with Reviving Real?

Calpin: Specifically with Reviving Real, I do a lot of the photography work almost all of the photography work. You know, just pushing the product and getting people hip to the idea that we’re not only a clothing brand, but we’re a media platform at this point. The clothing is more like merchandise to the platform We do artists’ spotlights, blog posts, and we just partnered with Matt’s Music Mine. I know he’s a great journalist so that merging of music and journalism and culture it’s really important. We make promotional videos. We help people build electronic press kits. People that are looking to expand how they advertise themselves and what they do whether it’s through music, photography or art. We help people get the resources to make those things happen. We also consult people. We’ll sit down and have a conversation with you for a small fee. That knowledge is so valuable. What’s 50 bucks for a two-hour conversation that could turn into 500 or a thousand dollars in two months if you really use that to your advantage.

Alex Young (left) and Tyler Calpin (right) in front of the infamous fit pic mirror at Social Status. | photograph by Tyler Calpin

Alex Young (left) and Tyler Calpin (right) in front of the infamous fit pic mirror at Social Status. | photograph by Tyler Calpin

ITR: How else do you plan to add to the Pittsburgh culture. You’ve worked with people in the scene like rapper Choo Jackson or you’ve done lookbooks for brands like vintage shop Senseless. How will you continue to use yourself as a resource to the community?

Calpin: Keep doing stuff like that to be honest with you. I don’t like to close myself off from people, but I like to work with people who are genuine, believe in me, and trust my ideas wholeheartedly. Keep doing work with people that trust me to come to the table with ideas knowing that I can produce it and make it a reality. People that are open to me and don’t think my prices are too high and understand why they are that why. I don’t ask for what I ask for just because I have bills to pay. It’s the level of the work that you’re going to receive. I’m not trying to be full of myself. You know what you’re going to get for that price and it’s not going to be some bottom of the barrel shit. You can find someone that’s gonna do it for 50 bucks and it’s gonna look like it’s 50 bucks. If I’m asking 300 or 400 dollars it’s going to look like a three or 400 dollar job. I’m not going to put 20 minutes into it. I’m going to make it my life for a week and a half if I have to to make it the product you want. If we have to go back to the drawing board, then so be it. I want people to be happy with what they receive from me, but also happy with what they’re paying for. I like to sit down with people in a pre-production meeting and talk about the ideas before we even touch a camera or open up my computer and start doing things. I’m very into that idea of making sure I deliver a product that my clients are happy with.

ITR: Respect. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your worth.

Calpin: I don’t know if I can say this, but I did do the “Anime 2” cover in a collab with another artist. His name is Travis Carter. Choo hit me up with idea and was like, “Hey I really want to use your collage style,” and I was like yeah, let’s do it. That’s something that I’ve done for him before. It’s obviously something that people respond to. I made the collage. I sent it off to Travis. He did some things with it and all I have to say is the final product looks really dope. So be on the lookout for “Anime 2” because that shit’s about to be fire.

[Tara Fay, a Social Status manager, offers Tyler Calpin dessert humus.]

ITR: Can you briefly touch on the color in your work?

Calpin: You know, basically, I’m ripping these structures a part in an area that feels slightly deteriorated and it’s not the way it used to be. A lot of things have changed since the steel industry left. There’s still a lot of stuff left over from it in terms of architecture or structures that are remaining that were around from that time, but there may not be a business in it. So, I photograph these structures. By cutting them at these really important seams, that’s why a lot of it is cut at the corners or where things start to intersect, I pull them a part there and I put the color behind it to in essence to breathe life back into it. I feel like color is one of those things it’s very lively. So many of the colors I’ve chosen are really vibrant.

Opening—Brother Where Art Thou—a Portrait Exhibition by Vanessa Dos Santos by Maxwell Young

Arriving in Chocolate City over a year ago, multi-disciplinary artist Vanessa Dos Santos asked herself, “Where are the people from this area? Where are all the black people?”

Photograph by  Vanessa Dos Santos  | Flyer by Maxwell Young

Photograph by Vanessa Dos Santos | Flyer by Maxwell Young

The Mozambican-born, D.C. transplant has answered her own question through her photography exhibition, Brother, Where Art Thou? Opening at The Village Cafe this Tuesday, Santos’ portraits focus on a number of black male artists within the District’s creative ecosystem whose work she has come to know and admire. From performance artist Maps Glover to producers Jamal Gray and Tony Cruise, her subjects represent an experimental aspect of black art that is overlooked by those who consume it with mainstream palettes.

“I think oftentimes with black arts, there is an expectancy of the kind of work we put out that can pigeonhole us,” she said. “I feel like a lot of the men I’ve photographed want to push that.”

Santos herself notes a similar compartmentalization of her own narrative. Originally in school for writing, submitting works to publications like Gal-Dem and Napizium, as well as pursuing acting with the National Youth Theater, the 26-year old acknowledges that she is still learning the tricks of the photography trade.

“I think it’s sometimes hard to admit or tell people I do photography because there is such a large influx of photographers. So, if I’m going to tell people I am one I feel like I need to know everything,” she explained.

Regardless of the technicalities involved with her craft, Santos has an eye for composition. She’s recently been toying with edits reminiscent of the double exposure process. In the photo below on the far left, which is actually two separate shots, she captures herself and friend Sami Cola dressed in nothing but wigs, crouched in an unknown grove. The contrast of Santos’ black body overlaid on Cola’s white body is immediately evident, yet their technicolored wigs and their bare exposure to nature allude to this sense of freedom that trumps any symbolism of race.

We asked her about her first upcoming solo exhibition below.

InTheRough: What camera do you shoot with?

Vanessa Dos Santos: I mix between my two cameras: Canon AE-1 and Mamiya 645. For this series I used my Mamiya, which is a medium format camera.

ITR: DC by way of there anywhere else that you lived that was formative in your creative evolution?

VDS: Every place I lived in has formed my creativity in some way. I feel like my creativity is a huge part of how I understand myself so it’s natural for it to be shaped by the different places I go, if that makes sense. I have lived in New York, Maputo, Berlin, Paris, London and now DC. I think London was the most formative city for me. It’s where I learnt to fail and start again and where I started picking up different things. I was studying writing in school, but acting with the National Youth Theatre, writing for online publications, starting to photograph friends, and work various production jobs.

ITR: Other than their ethnicity, what are the common threads between your subjects?

VDS: Everyone I have photographed does something creative. I have kind of been a wallflower and watched on the side lines some of things people have been doing and admired the tenacity of everyone’s work. Especially because a lot of the artists create sort of experimental work and I think oftentimes with black artists there is an expectancy of the kind of work we put out that can pigeonhole us. I feel like a lot of the men I’ve photographed want to push that. I also think being an artist is to be vulnerable all the time, and I think we don’t think that way about black men very much—as being vulnerable or open.

ITR: Why did you feel compelled to show these series of portraits?

VDS: I wanted to show this work because when I moved to DC I didn’t really know much about the arts community and I also mostly met people from other cities who migrated here. I was asking myself where are the people who are from this area, where are all the black people? This is chocolate city? I guess it was more of not knowing where to look, but I think that also says something that it took me a year to find out about the creative community and the POC who are a part of it.

A portrait of Tony Cruise & an untitled photograph by Vanessa Dos Santos.

A portrait of Tony Cruise & an untitled photograph by Vanessa Dos Santos.

ITR: As you look through the lens what are your next proceeding thoughts? 

VDS: First I try to make sure my settings are right—technical stuff. When I am photographing someone, I hope to capture an essence of the person. I think about about how I can make them feel comfortable. So, I’m usually thinking what pose can I do to get them to feel a bit more relaxed and not so tense. Then hopefully we can start to feel at ease with each other and we can “play” around a bit.

ITR: Are there any photographers who’s work you follow consistently? 

VDS: There are so many photographers that I look to for inspiration: Ronan McKenzie, Rosie Matheson, Travis Matthews, Charlotte Rea, Daniel Arnold, Nakeya Brown to name a few (all you can find on Instagram). I really appreciate photographers that are telling a story through their work. I think a lot of photography we find online is strongly linked to consumerism—and you can find amazing images but it’s about selling something. So I appreciate photographers who tell stories and capture magical moments just because. But I also like cinematographer’s that have a photographer’s eye. I like photos that are cinematic, like they feel like a scene of a film—like there is life before and after the moment you captured.

ITR: You yourself are a self-taught photographer. What aspect(s) of photography are you still learning?

VDS: I’m still learning a lot. Technically, I still make mistakes. I want to learn how to scan my own photos and get back into using a dark room for B&W photography. But I also think I’m learning to trust my own eye, to believe in myself as an artist. I think it’s sometimes hard to admit or tell people I do photography because there is such a large influx of photographers. So, if I’m going to tell people I am one I feel like I need to know everything. I’m trying not to be so hard on myself and enjoy the process of learning and changing.

ITR: What advice would you give to other self-starters?

VDS: The advice I would give to self-starters is to start by asking how to use the camera you have or searching online (Youtube is great). Know your camera and then start shooting as much as you can—first with close friends and family. Then you can shoot people you don’t necessarily know--because if you want to do it professionally, you will have shoot models, couples, weddings, events with people you have never met and it becomes easier for you to figure out how to direct others or to capture moments. I would also say ask other photographers questions, go to photo exhibitions, immerse yourself in the world--but I think that goes with most things you want to pursue.

ITR: Where else can we find your work?

VDS: I’m going to be working on a website for my photography and writing, but for now you can find me on Instagram: @mozwrites. I post everything there but 2019 I want to start actually sending work to publications and taking it more seriously.

Brother, Where Art Thou? by Vanessa Dos Santos is on view at The Village Cafe starting Tuesday evening.

The Village Cafe

1272 5th St, NE


**Photographs taken by Vanessa Dos Santos. The edited image pictured in the carousel was also assisted by Sami Cola.