On Blackness & Afrofuturism with Photographer Granville Carroll
AS A COLLECTIVE, WE WANTED TO TAKE TIME TO HIGHLIGHT THOSE THAT ARE DOING THE HARD WORK OF PURSUING THEIR OWN CREATIVE AND ACADEMIC GOALS, WHILE ALSO PAVING THE WAY TO FURTHER THE REPRESENTATION OF MARGINALIZED PEOPLE IN THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES. WE HAVE CALLED THIS SERIES, TAKING OUR SEAT. FOR OUR CURRENT FEATURE, WE SAT DOWN WITH PHOTOGRAPHER, GRANVILLE CARROLL.
Granville Carroll -he/him pronouns- is a visual artist currently based in Rochester, NY working mainly in the photographic medium and self-portraiture. He grew up on the West coast having spent time in California, Washington State, and most recently Arizona. He attended Mesa Community College, and after graduating with his Associate in Art he went on to receive his BFA in Art Photography (Summa Cum Laude) from Arizona State University. He is currently a 2nd year MFA student in the Photography and Related Media program at Rochester Institute of Technology. Carroll’s work deals with topics of representation, identity, and is influenced by Afrofuturism and spirituality. His work strives to shift perspectives using the healing powers of art.
Since attending graduate school, Carroll has begun working within the spectrum of blackness. Using this as a means to showcase both the literal representation of those labeled as black and the metaphorical symbolism behind what black represents here in the West. In this newest work, he attempts to redefine blackness, providing a sense of beauty and healing within the space of nothingness that it represents. His recent work looks back at his past and how he has had to shift from a space of isolation to solitude, looking for his place within the greater expanse of existence. Carroll is interested in the concepts of duality, but more so within the space that exists between dualities. Understanding that there is a wealth of information unspoken of in this space, he begins to explore it through the photographic medium and recently experimenting with video, sound, and light.
SPEAKER GUIDE | AB: AKEA BRIONNE & GC: GRANVILLE CARROLL
AB: Granville, you’ve stated that a lot of your work is influenced by Afrofuturism, can you discuss this influence further and how it's apparent in your work?
GC: Afrofuturism is defined as a movement that intersects imagination, technology, and culture which then allows for the development of a new image in the future. What is particularly interesting to me about this movement is the ability to reconstruct the black image and reclaim our identities. It is also influenced by sci-fi themes which have always an interest of mine. Specifically, in my body of work titled, Innsaei, I created images that showed the mind's ability to reconstruct not only ourselves but a reality in which we could thrive. I feel that Afrofuturism allows us to create from the mind’s eye and also strives to redefine the image of those affected by the African diaspora. In addition, I have always been interested in the concepts of sacred geometry and how that connects us to existence in a way that is non-linear. I look at the foundation of the universe and its creation, equating that to the creation of ourselves. That’s where the patterns in that body of work come from. They don’t reference any particular culture but the generalization of geometry and how that allows for creation and universal connection. In another body of work titled, Reflections of the Self, I continue to investigate our relationship to the landscape as well as our internal and innate being. The spaces I create are not based from the physical world but rather through imagination using the mind as a portal into a new world constructed by my own experiences. In this way Afrofuturism is the green light allowing me to continue to enter portals that transcend time and redefines what it means to be black. Representation is also important when thinking about the visual impact of Afrofuturism, in all of my work I aim to represent my own black identity to challenge societal perspectives on blackness. Upon initially creating Innsaei and Reflections of the Self it was more so investigating the mind as a portal, but as I continue to reflect on my work and research, I see how it actually shifts the perspective of the black image away from destruction and into a view of creation. Thus, allowing me to reclaim my identity in the hopes that others know that they can do the same.
AB: In your work, you reference "blackness" as a major theme that's explored within your work. It manifests both metaphorically and literally. Can you talk about what blackness means to you, and how you approach it within your practice?
GC: Yes, since starting graduate school the topics of race and blackness has been brought up more often than it has in the past. I think this is due to needing to expand the work and think about it in a more in-depth and theory based manner. Blackness for me represents the space of the unknown, a space of nothingness. That is the metaphorical aspect. The literal representation of blackness refers to black culture here in America. The label of black comes with a lot of baggage and confrontation that is hard to ignore. In my practice both as an artist and simply as a person I try to embrace the unknown, the space of nothingness. Though it is scary at times, I find that there is beauty to this particular space and what can occur here. Similarly, the same goes for black culture, we as descendants of slavery have been left with nothing, having to traverse the world in the unknown, but yet there is a beauty to this community that needs to be shown and reexamined under a new lens. With my art I hope to achieve that and shift the paradigm of blackness to greatness. Blackness doesn’t always have to equate to the negative connotations and values that are put on it. For me I see it as a blank canvas. Endless possibilities existing within the space and that is what is really exciting about working within the concept of blackness.
AB: A lot of your work explores the body and the landscape, what inspires this? Is this an intuitive decision or are you inspired by the landscape of the multiple states that you've lived in?
GC: My inspiration for the body in the landscape comes both from an intuitive sensibility and the influence of being in various environments. During my childhood, my siblings, cousins, and I would venture into the forest of Washington state. As I grew up, I tended to become distracted from this exploration focusing more on friends, school, work, etc. When I moved to Arizona the landscape was shockingly different compared to what I grew up with. This prompted a curiosity to once again explore the unknown. In the desert is where I found a reconnection to the land and nature. The expanse of the desert and silence it brings allowed for deep meditation and reflection. I felt myself being called back and to create from it. A lot of my work dealing with the self in the landscape was done using the digital compositing process. The landscape became a blank canvas for me. It allowed me to become a co-creator of the world and thus connecting not only the body but the mind as well to the particular place and space. In addition, I used self-portraiture to examine my vulnerabilities and personal connection to the landscapes I experienced.
AB: You cycle through a multitude of photographic processes, from digital photography, digital collage and even palladium. How do you decide what process to use to create your imagery? Is it based on content, emotions, or just by chance?
GC: I love expanding my practice in various ways. I mainly work in digital photography and collage so working in other processes is more of an exploration than it is a workflow. However, having experimented with other processes has taught me how process does change the content and can either strengthen or weaken your concept. Mostly I decide to use a certain process based on the content, concept, and emotion of the image(s). When thinking about these three in combination I find that I can obtain a stronger set of images I am proud of. With a process like palladium you have to really think about what it is you are printing. How will the image look in a monochrome format and how does the tonal quality affect the emotional and conceptual response? In my series titled Elements, I thought a lot about the process and its core makeup. Palladium uses metals, water, heat (sunlight/UV light), and air and so I found it fitting to construct a series images that spoke both to the process itself, using the natural elements (earth, water, fire, and air), and the process of our bodies belonging to the natural world. With my most recent work (Transcendence and Black Serenity) I return back to just digital imaging. I have been exploring light and have found that simplicity is best, allowing for light and the body to become the main subject. Sometimes the process can overtake the concept and therefore I am very thoughtful on how the process enhances the concept and aesthetic qualities of an image. My workflow always begins with digital photography. Even my images using alternative photographic processes start as digital files. Honestly, a lot of times the image will speak for itself, not every image will work for a digital collage or alternative process. So, a lot of it is having a vision but also being able to relinquish control to the creative process itself.
“Many people are shocked to see a black man in nature. In some ways it has become taboo to be black and go on an outdoor adventure. Using the landscape is a deeply personal choice but also it acts as a way to challenge what is expected of me because I am a black male.”
AB: Something particularly interesting about your work is the insertion of the black body in landscapes that are often not attributed to black life in America. Is there any significance to these landscapes and if so, what do they represent to you?
GC: Yes, that is a very interesting way in reading the work. I think it helps to again redefine an image of black culture. Many people are shocked to see a black man in nature. In some ways it has become taboo to be black and go on an outdoor adventure. Using the landscape is a deeply personal choice but also it acts as a way to challenge what is expected of me because I am a black male. The landscape on a personal level allows for me to reflect and meditate. It represents that space in the mind where we can escape from everyday modern society. It acts as a location to refuel. Modern day society takes a toll on me as I am sure it does for others. The competition, the fighting, the political climate, societal judgments, etc. just decreases my vibration. It leaves me often feeling weak and fragile. So, I escape to the only place that I know where I belong, and that is back to the earth. The landscapes represent a place where I can become my true self, no judgments; just me and what sits before my eyes. Using these landscapes points to a time where we were more connected to nature, working with it rather than against it. For me, being back within the landscape points to a sense of atavism, which is a tendency to return to something more ancient or ancestral. I am interested in the origins of ourselves and our connection to the land. It prompts me to think about the past, the present, and the future. The landscape then becomes a point where time collapses. The illusion of separation is shattered, and I can just be. The desert landscape is amazing. The horizon just goes on forever, no end in sight. It makes you feel small in the best way possible. Some people may see the desert as a desolate landscape, but I see so much life thriving within a harsh environment and that is encouraging to me. The forest landscape is mysterious and prompts me to continue to explore the unknown, to not be afraid of what lies before me, and to just stay grounded and connected to everything. The landscape acts as my sanctuary.
AB: What are some artists that have influenced your practice up to this point?
GC: There are a variety of artists that have influenced me up to this point. My professors in undergrad at Arizona State University were a huge influence on my practice. They are Betsy Schneider, Stephen Marc, Mark Klett, and Binh Danh. As working artists, themselves, they have provided me with the confidence to follow my passions in the medium even if they aren’t traditional. I will be forever grateful for their ongoing support in my endeavors as an artist. In addition, many musical artists influence my practice as well. Trevor Hall and India Arie are two of my favorites who have inspired my thinking in relation to our innate sense of being and cultural experiences. Their music is uplifting and thought provoking. Jerry Uelsmann and Minor White have influenced my thinking on the photographic medium from the very start. They both use the medium to speak to more than just reality. Their images are metaphorical, and perhaps even spiritual in some sense. They allow you to see beyond the physical world. Adam Fuss is another photographer who uses imagery in a symbolic manner. He uses water as his subject and examines the relationship between water and the mind, the physical world, and how we interact with it. My work deals in similar aspects of metaphor and symbols, wanting to shift our view away from the purely physical and into the ephemeral. Recently I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and saw a retrospective on Charles White, who used various mediums to show black culture. The beauty and rawness in his work really struck my senses in every way possible. My thesis in graduate school is becoming more based on black culture and my identity. It is a struggle at times, though I am a proud black man I question if my blackness is the only thing that gathers interest. Seeing White’s work really showed me how I can claim my strength in blackness and cultural history but also speak to other ideas and remain true to myself. Influences are all around us. I try my hardest to be open to everything ranging from books to tv/movies to music, etc. We are a compilation of our experiences and so it is important to be aware of what you expose yourself to and how it directly influences you as a person. So as I continue exploring the world I will remain open, but vigilant to how people and other experiences influence me.