In a series of majestic and beautiful black and white narratival and portrait photographs of his Jersey City community, American artist Duquann Sweeney’s images are a celebration of African American identity, culture and community.
Sweeney’s style includes experiments with shadow and light, sharp contrast, a revealing of deep tones and a way of cropping the image that allows a sense of portraiture and movement to emerge and is focused on “an African American aesthetic.”
The artist’s work is a “counter narrative” to the negative stereotypes and story lines that pervade our society particularly about blackness and black communities across the nation.
The artist shares: “I once was asked “Why are you taking pictures? there’s nothing good here.” The question baffled me for a second. My response was: “You are good and so are many others.” But the question stuck with me. Why did he feel like there wasn’t anything good here? Had he been hampered by the negative views of the community? I’m not sure but I make it my mission to show through my photography that people in my community are good, despite the challenging conditions.”
Sweeney is self-taught and points to an interest in the work of artists like Kerry James Marshall as well as a number contemporary photographers. Visualization and creativity have always been important to the artist who began experimenting with the camera six years ago after being inspired by old photo albums. At the heart of Sweeney’s work is a connection to his community, a way of seeing beauty in people living and engaging in ordinary things.
“My artwork is all the things that make everyday living beautiful. My photographs are lovers in a park, a woman seated on a corner, girls playing in a fire hydrant to beat the summer heat. The beauty of life.”
The image of a woman staring directly into the camera expresses Sweeney’s interest in questioning standards of Euro-centric beauty while celebrating African American faces, culture and beauty. As such, in this photograph and other portraits Sweeney uses a negative undertone or underexposure to properly express dark skin tone and depth. In the images there is an enduring sense of pride and dignity in self and identity.
“My photographs are the reflections of my community; they are the beautiful people I see when I walk the streets. Also, they are a part of me, like a past memory that brings joy. Whenever I see young boys play, it reminds me of my childhood. The days when my friends and I would ride our bikes, race each other, and play football all day.”
You may learn more about the artist’s practice in a recent interview with the Director of the Hoboken Historical Museum. The museum is currently featuring a solo exhibition of the artist’s work entitled Duquann Sweeney Dignity, Beauty and Everything Between.