I’ve been working my way through a ninety-minute podcast with Zadie Smith, the English writer and essayist. Apart from the endless fawning on the part of the interviewer, the conversation is rather captivating and covers a broad range of topics including her fascination with Americana (she currently lives in NYC where she is a tenured professor at NYU University).
At one point Smith brings up a recent article she'd written on Deana Lawson, an African-American photographer who captures the lives of people of color with a unique sense of purpose. Smith confesses to being struck by the power of her images, after being introduced to her work by way of Dev Hynes, the British musician a.k.a Blood Orange (f.k.a Lightspeed Champion) who sampled an image of Lawson work for his 2016 album cover Freetown Sound.
Born in Rochester, New York in the late 1970s, Lawson found herself drawn to photography after flunking out of her business major in college. From the beginning, Lawson revelled in the art of staging her subjects, much like a family portrait, except that the end product often left the viewer with endless questions.
Glimpsing her images in one sitting is a pretty profound experience. Most often capturing her subjects at home, she stages the frame in such as a way as to make them seem larger-than-life. As Lawson boldly comments; 'The everyday is political. The everyday is personal.' Outside in the everyday world, Lawson's protagonists might be fighting to stay afloat but here - in their own domain - they are royalty, the heroes and heroines of their own story. Here they are truly free.