Sponsored  October 8, 2020  Peggy Carouthers

SCAD Alumni Explore Perceptions of the Black Identity at Photo London

Le’Andra LeSeur and Ervin A. Johnson share their work at the prestigious international fair.
Ervin A. Johnson/SCAD

Ervin A. Johnson sits among works from his Monolith series.

 

This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Photo London launched the first ever international photography fair online, which will run from October 7–18. Among the 104 exhibitors featured in this year’s show are two alumni from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD): Le’Andra LeSeur and Ervin A. Johnson.

While LeSeur is an award winning multimedia artist whose work has previously been shown both in solo and group exhibitions, such as A.I.R. Gallery in New York and Amika Dawkins in Atlanta, this will be her first appearance at Photo London, where she will exhibit videos.

After studying business at Bucknell University, LeSeur transferred to SCAD, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography in 2014. While there, she said she learned to experiment with forms and to move beyond the traditional concept of the photograph. Since graduating, she has embraced photography and video as “the media of our times,” and has used them to challenge the ways Black bodies are viewed—a theme LeSeur said emerged in her work during the Trayvon Martin trial in 2013.

“Before the trial I took basic portrait and landscape photographs, but after that I needed to speak about injustices in the Black community, and I realized over time I might have been perpetuating trauma within the work I was creating. This led me to think about how I’m presented in my own work, much of which is self-portraiture. Since then, this has allowed me to explore how I identify as a Black woman and a queer body so I that I am uplifting those identities and letting others feel seen and uplifted as well.”

Le’Andra LeSeur
Le’Andra LeSeur/SCAD

My Mother, A Portrait of Love

Le’Andra LeSeur
Le’Andra LeSeur/SCAD

We Watched

Le’Andra LeSeur
Le’Andra LeSeur/SCAD

brown, carmine, blue. For All We Know (Build Days)

These themes resonate in her video, My Mother, A Portrait of Love, which is one of the works LeSeur is exhibiting at Photo London. This two-channel video features the faces of LeSeur and her mother, both barely visible in an otherwise dark setting.

“That piece means so much to me, because it’s speaking about my relationship with my mother and the love that goes on forever regardless of where we are in life and death,” LeSeur said. “It examines a lesson my mom taught about how darkness will always be there, but it isn’t going to last forever, and you have to fight through it and honor yourself to get to the light.”

Like LeSeur, this will also be Johnson’s first appearance at Photo London, though he is the recipient of several awards and fellowships and has exhibited at the Photography Show by AIPAD and with the European Cultural Center during the 2019 Venice Biennale.

Johnson studied English at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign and photography at Columbia College in Chicago, where he first discovered mixed-media photography—a concept he further explored while at completing his Master of Fine Arts degree in photography at SCAD, as professors encouraged him to experiment with form.

“Physically interacting with the work lets me make emotions tangible,” Johnson said, “so this idea of pushing past the limits of the medium worked for me and for what I wanted to communicate.”

Ervin A. Johnson
Ervin A. Johnson/SCAD

Monolith 25

Ervin A. Johnson
Ervin A. Johnson/SCAD

Monolith 38

Ervin A. Johnson
Ervin A. Johnson/SCAD

Monolith 56

Johnson’s series Monolith— of which several pieces will be exhibited at Photo London—seeks to visually represent the way Blackness is often presented as a singular, monolithic experience. Perfectly suited for mixed-media photography, Johnson explored this theme by digitally and physically collaging pieces of multiple faces so that they appeared to be one large face. The resulting images are striking and make the viewer question how they see the segments, as well as the larger faces they create.

Monolith, is the third iteration of a larger project called #InHonor, which grew out of Johnson’s experience of the Trayvon Martin Case.

“During the case, my mom came to my room and stood there for a moment. I could feel this tension, but then she left,” Johnson said. “The next day we had a conversation about how she felt like she couldn’t protect me as a young, queer Black man, and that triggered things in me that I had been feeling that year. I started to wonder how I could be more vocal and contribute to this movement and honor this multifaceted thing that exists in the fine art world, in the real world, and on social media, which is why it’s called ‘#InHonor.’ The project is really about bringing the work to the people it’s made for. It’s meant to be shared online, because I felt like I wasn’t visible for a long time, and I want it to help others feel visible.”

LeSeur and Johnson’s work was submitted to Photo London through SCAD Art Sales, a full-service art consultancy that offers design and curatorial service to global collectors, businesses, and organizations. Johnson says the partnership, as well as his education, has been a pivotal piece of his success.

On being selected for Photo London, Johnson said, “I’m sort of speechless. As a student, you don’t really see these things for yourself and where your career will take you, so the support at SCAD and the fact that they thought of me just blows my mind. I’ve partnered with SCAD multiple times as an alumni, and I always have good experiences. I’ve been to college three different times, and SCAD is the most amazing experience I’ve had.”

About the Author

Peggy Carouthers

Peggy Carouthers is a writer, editor, and custom content manager based in California. She enjoys creative writing and learning about art and literature. She is passionate about connecting companies with audiences.

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