My City, My Self

In a new portrait project, photographer Joshua Rashaad McFadden explores how places in Atlanta and across America have shaped the lives and worldviews of their black residents.

Joshua Rashaad McFadden stood with his camera poised, ready to snap a photo of a fresh-faced college senior. It was orientation week at Morehouse, the 150-year-old, all-male, historically black college in Atlanta that counts Martin Luther King Jr. among its alumni. McFadden was photographing current and past students for “Notions of Freedom,” his new portrait series set in places—in Atlanta and around the country—that have ties to the black community. It’s the follow-up to his project “Come to Selfhood,” which juxtaposed images of young men with decades-old pictures of their fathers and handwritten musings on black masculinity. This new endeavor echoes themes of his earlier work—both “Come to Selfhood” and “After Selma,” which documented the 50th anniversary of the famed civil rights marches—while promising to be a powerful demonstration of how people’s perceptions of civil rights in America are shaped by the place where they live.

 

McFadden’s love of the medium began at age seven, when his mother handed him a camera and declared him the family photographer. Yet it wasn’t until college that he entertained the idea that his hobby could be something more. He pursued an MFA at Savannah College of Art & Design, and today his work has won global recognition.

 

Over jerk-shrimp tacos at Negril Village ATL, McFadden talked about his new approach. “I’m still taking portraits of black people, but I’m adding to it. Now I’m including the landscape,” he said. That afternoon, his landscape of choice would be the Sweet Auburn district—the “Harlem of Atlanta” and home of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site (nps.gov/malu).

 

In a sense, McFadden is still carrying out the same assignment his mom gave him as a child. “My projects are introspective—questions of black identity and civil rights impact my everyday life,” McFadden said. “To me, portraiture is the most intimate way I can convey a message to humanity.”

 

“Come to Selfhood,” January 20–March 11, Bronx Documentary Center, New York City; bronxdoc.org.

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