In Conversation With:

SEAN MANUEL

Interviewed by Fleur Adderley

 What drew you to photography?

 

 The first thing that drew me to photography was a need to pull myself out of a depressive episode that I was experiencing and focus my energy on something else. Underlying was a need to heavily document everything in my life and tend to the constant sense of nostalgia that I felt. Photography allowed me to capture those moments and revisit them whenever I needed. As I got more serious about photography, I saw it as a way to visually narrate the stories that I wanted to tell. Photography gave me a way to contextualize the images that I saw in my imagination and share them with everyone else.

Your body of work is comprised of both portraiture and landscapes. Is there one style you particularly favour?

 

I’ll always lean more towards portraiture, but I find landscapes and people equally as fascinating. Each with its own unique features distinguishing them from the next. When I first started photography, I didn’t want to be pigeonholed or known as just a portrait photographer.  As I grow and learn more about the direction I want my career to go in I care less about distinguishing the two. With portraiture I am constantly meeting new people and pushing myself to become a better storyteller. As far as landscapes I have always had a great appreciation for the outdoors since I was a kid. I take yearly road trips around the country hitting different national parks and cities. When I’m shooting during those trips everything is more relaxed and its more about me enjoying the process instead of creating a finished project.

Photography gave me a way to contextualize the images that I saw in my imagination and share them with everyone else.

Where do you see yourself heading as a photographer?

 

To be honest that is a question that I still ask myself a lot. I want to continue to create work that is meaningful to me whilst also highlight Black bodies and challenging the notions of beauty concerning them. I think along this journey showcasing the diverse and vivid experiences of Black culture becomes more important to me each day. I want to give visibility to individual and things that are often unexplored and forgotten. I think if I keep that as my intention everything else will become a bit clearer to me, hopefully aligning in the way that I need them to. As I get older and progress in my career the things that interest me are changing and I think that progression is reflected in my work.

In light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests I see you have taken to documentary photography. What are the main messages you are wanting to convey through these powerful images?

 

When I went out to the protest, I knew that I just wanted to document what was happening in my city. The protest was four days after George Floyd’s death and a few weeks after the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death was released. The tension in the air was palpable. I didn’t have the words to express how I felt seeing another black man being killed by police, but I knew that documenting the movement was a way to tell my perspective. My favorite image is of a man on top of a car, screaming while people were chanting around him and police gathered out of the frame. That image takes me back to that day every time I look at it. 

I knew that documenting the movement was a way to tell my perspective. 

How are you creatively combatting such a volatile and uncertain period of time? What advice would you give to fellow creatives?

 

For a moment I stopped making images. When the BLM protest started part of me felt like this wasn’t the time to continue creating. That momentary pause gave me time to think about what I was creating and why. I think most of my photography comes out of necessity. A need for me to create visual representations of the images I see in my mind. Images that I wish I had seen when I was growing up. Images of Black protagonists existing outside of a world that may see us as a disturbance. A world abstract and painterly where everyone is carefree. If I had any advice, I would tell fellow creatives to lean into the feelings and emotions that drive your work and let go of outside perspective. Creating things that speak to you should be your first priority.

C O N T A C T

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