"I Am Here" _ Lewis Derogene (PhenomenaLewis) _ Self Portrait Photograph | 2023 _ 16in x 20in _ Limited Edition of 7 AP _
I created this piece after being inspired by Frank Stewart's "Clock of the Earth" photograph of three Ghanaian women with baskets on their heads walking away from the camera. That photograph reminded me of growing up in Haiti and seeing the women selling food, clothes and whatever else they wanted to sell. I would always get excited if they were selling food, especially fritay (which consists of fried plantains, fried fish, fried pork, fried dough, and other fried food). I didn't want it to be too specific in my interpretation of that piece. So, I used books. I used Black art books that I have on my shelf: "Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers," released by the Brooklyn Museum and edited by Barbara Head Millstein, "Natural Fashion Tribal Decoration from Africa," by Hans Silvester, and "In the Black Fantastic," by Ekow Eshun. While editing on Adobe Photoshop, I duplicated the image and overlaid text that I then removed over the image to create a negative of the text. The text reads: “It started out as just an image, a reference photo created to remind myself of what I am capable of until it formed a definition beyond visuals in the postproduction. It developed a meaning of stability present in the form of books balanced on top of my head. It developed a meaning of continuity with the open book in my hands. It developed a meaning of focus with my eyes looking forward beyond the frame of this photograph. It developed a meaning of more than just a photograph, a work of art. I typically find comfort in the exaggerated form of seeing myself in beautiful satin fabrics that I long to embody in spirit. The softness of the textures and beautifully saturated hues of pinks and reds that kisses the brain reminds me of what I desire most, to be soft. I desire to embody softness. However, none of that is my true reality. I became obsessed with the idea of becoming something I wasn’t, of becoming a soft Black woman in a world where I get triggered by the longest gaze of a stranger with no welcoming or warm facade to the annoyed and disgusted covert shift of a person as I walk near. My presence as a tall dark skin Black woman has never been a factor of joy for me when the discomfort of others pained me. Now, I just want to ignore it and continue to be me even if I never get to achieve the ideal soft nature that crowds my dreams. The most I can do is try. I still am a beautiful, strong, independent, smart, and capable, Black woman. The world can live with it whether it likes it or not. I am Here.” This excerpt is about my entire practice which is to visually achieve softness in aesthetic and in character to fight against harmful tropes and stereotypes set on Black women.