I'll Fly Away...

Eric: Yo, whats good. Tryna shoot?

Me: Bet that.

Conversations between Eric Michvel, man behind the lens, and I pretty much go that way. It's something organic about forming relationships with other creatives that I love. It's sort of like flying I guess... pure and natural. The instinctive type of vibe that artist share is so beautiful. However, in this social media crazed age its frustrating at times because everyone is trying to emulate the very thing the "hip" follower in their count is trying to do as well. I've been having this conversation with a few people as of late who all truly hate having to update a status to stay relevant. The love of photography, art, etc seems to becoming watered down in a sense. But in the words of Jhene, "we live for the love, die for the love..." The love of composing and creating is not a mere phase to the ones who truly do just that. Doing what completes you should be so fluid  that you don't even realize what you've done until its finished. 

photos by: Eric Michvel 

So grab one of your creative homies and stop scrolling on IG.

Continue to soar.... everything will turn out fine. 

Heartland: The Agbogbloshie Story

There comes a time in life where during the search for inspiration you find the very thing you were least expecting that changes your outlook forever. This is what photographer Kevin McElvaney and I share. I stumbled upon his striking visual story of the people of Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana a year ago and was completely floored. The people of this region are currently undergoing immense effects of the processing, burning, and dumping of electronic waste from all over the world. Their land has become a primary location for all of the old iphone, TVs, ect that are no longer of any use to us. As a result, e-waste is emmitted into the land, atmosphere, and water which produce alarming health risks to the inhabitants. Kevin's ability to capture the rawness of the people in the midst of their deplorable situation was masterful. After research and mustering up my confidence to reach out (which took a year's time mind you lol) I was thrilled to learn that the mind behind this piece was willing to open up about his journey and how his story is fostering global support to make a difference for the people of this village. For more information on how to do your part as well, read on......

What inspired you to pick Agbogbloshie as your focal point despite all the other areas you could’ve chosen in Accra?

Agbogbloshie just fit perfectly into my projects I want to work on in future. As a young photographer I try and want to work on projects, which I also want to work on in future. Agbogbloshie and the e-waste problem is one of them. At first the scenery you see in Agbogbloshie caught my eye, so I began to work on specific ideas, stories and pictures. After I made my research I realised, that this is such an important topic and I had to photograph it: its an ethical, socio-economical and environmental disaster. So after knowing all this I contacted local and was planning my trip. I wanted to come back with more portraits and personal stories, instead of describing the vicious-cycles and the illegal dumping again. Thats why most pictures show the boys, girls and men in the center of the pictures and I came back with small stories about all of them.

What message would you like this story to speak on to the masses?

I tried to put the person and individual in the center of each picture. I don´t like it, if a person in such a poverty scenery is just a symbol for the poorness and conditions. Too much info is missing in such a picture. Thats why all people in the photos look into your eyes and staged in the center of the pictures. I also wanted to know exactly the conditions and circumstances of each individual: where do they come from? why do they (have to) come here? what do they expect? future plans? and so on. I am able to tell you a story about everyone of them and thats also the main heart of an Exhibition I created about Agbogbloshie - which is available to everyone, everywhere by the way.

I hope people also see the proud, beauty and power in each picture, because even if these people live under bad conditions we shouldn´t display them in a bad and disadvantageous way.

What reaction did the people give to you once you began to shoot them? Were they open to your camera?

I think I worked a bit different then other photographers before. I went straight through them and asked questions first, get to know them and after a while I asked them to be part in the picture. No one was forced and no one was photographed without his notice, which is clear by eye-contact and the standing on a case/ monitor I think. There was just one guy, who denied my call. He had a wound near his eye, which was looking pretty bad and he didn´t like the idea that people look at him with that - so for me this argument was absolutely understandable. All the other ones seemed very interested to me and respected that I asked them first. Most of them just see a photographer from a few meters, who takes a random shot an leaves. I also gave everyone a Polaroid Picture, what they really liked.

You’ve had the opportunity to capture people from all over the world in such a raw way. Who are your best subjects?

The best pictures result from real stories I guess. Often photojournalist are not allowed to show a strong interaction and relation between them and the subject, but I like that. People should see, that I´m not invisible and in the middle of something. If people allow me to do that, thats special to me and it happens almost everywhere. None of these people are models, so they don´t act that much and show themselves after a few minutes. So the best subjects are those, who don´t pose and let me enter their world, thoughts and allow me to capture it.

Please let us know more about the Pure Earth Benefit Ball and the efforts to raise money for the people of Agbogbloshie.

The reasons why I´m joining the Pure Earth Benefit Ball are diverse. At first I (accidentally) met their local partners those days in Accra and know their work. Another one is, that the US is a big exporter of these unfunctionable electronic goods and its important to raise the awareness about this fact. I denied to raise money for Agbogbloshie for a long time and for example don´t collect money with my Exhibition, because in the long run we can´t solve a problem somewhere else, if we produce it in our own countries and export it = we should make sure that we recycle our e-waste and that just usable electronic goods get shipped to Africa, because just that is what they need!

So I´m just interested in a long-term solution on a political and international level. But this Pure Earth Benefit Ball could be a start and another signal to change things quickly. On top of that less risky solutions for a proper recycling in Agbogbloshie and other places are barely needed. If there are good solutions in Agbogbloshie we could also use them somewhere else and a main problem is that African Countries don´t have recycling and don´t know how to deal with it. But again: the long-term solution should be a different one. We have to do our homework and stop these exports in our harbours.

How can people or become involved in helping as well?

My best advice is to reduce your own consumption of electronic goods. We don´t need a new smartphone and laptop every year and its quite easy to understand, that if we don´t produce problems, we don´t have to solve them. Its crazy that we know about the risks and consequences, but in the end still produce them. So I guess this is one thing we can change in our everyday life-decisions to make a difference. Besides that we should learn to repair and reuse again, should buy quality (long-life) products, which are more sustainable and make sure, that we give these products at the end of their lifespan to authorised scrap courtyards. By doing this, we automatically show manufacturers and politicians, that its more important to act in such a way and can introduce a change.

CompoZer Spotlight: Stephen Small-Warner

There is nothing more powerful than witnessing a creative individual support and avidly work to build up another creative. This action is been revealed on countless occasions by this weeks #CompoZer, Stephen Small-Warner. We had the pleasure of chopping it up with him on a few of his philosophies about artistry in the realms of photography and film... 

Compozition: Professionally, what title would you give yourself?

SW: Im the worst person to ask that question honestly. But if i were to give myself a title I would say Director and Photographer.

Compozition: What projects have you done in the past year that you are most proud of? 

SW: I am proud of all of my projects but I think Stoop55, Five on 55, and F5VE . These three were very important to creating a basis as a director something I don’t believe I had before then.

Compozition: You are quite the world traveler. What have been your top 3 cities that you have visited and why?

SW: Hahaha….. I wouldn’t call myself a world traveler at all. There are so many countries that I would like to get to that haven’t yet. But from the traveling I have done, I would say Berlin, Thailand, and Hong kong. 

1. Berlin- While I didn’t care for some of the racial tension in Berlin. I did appreciate the lifestyle. It is a very calm place during the day. A place where there seems to be no rush for anything, contrary to NY. You know? And don't get me wrong I absolutely love my city but it's not easy to find balance here. Anyway, Berlin was cool during the day and then at night it was like a different city all together. I mean they have parties all weekend, like enter a club on Friday leave on Sunday, crazy.  Just to touch on that racial tension comment: there was a kind of subverted racial tension you would feel in the US. Definitely with the African diaspora but also with the immigrants from Turkey. 

2. Bangkok-  I had a lot of fun in Thailand. I went out there with a film camera and just shot my entire experience. There are so many great places to travel in Thailand with various experiences. From watching a fight in Bangkok, to relaxing on one of the Phi -Phi islands. Every place I went I always found a cool local and had them show me some more of the day to day spots. Even if they took me to tourists spots, from their perspective it was different which showed as a quiet undertone of what I capture in the experimental film I made with the footage. 

3. Hong Kong- I actually intend to have a place in HK . It has the New York vibrance I need in a completely different world. Oh …...and the food in both Hong kong and Thailand is amazing. In Berlin the Turkish make something called a Don er  and its different than the one in Turkey which is considered dry, the wet diner in Berlin is amazing- definitely a bite to try.

Photo By: Stephen Small-Warner

Photo By: Stephen Small-Warner

Compozition: What's next on your travel bucket list?

SW: Well I’m not intending to travel until I finish my first feature film. But the very next place I’m going to hit is the continent of Africa (as many countries as I can). Which you know I will be calling you about. Just to go to a place where they haven’t grown up with a double consciousness will be an experience alone. In my travels I use to feel slighted by Africans( particularly Nigerians) when they didn’t exchange “the nod” haha … I mean everywhere I went I would shoot another person of color the head nod and they would shoot it back. But Africans never did it. I soon realized while speaking to a group of Nigerians when I was in Singapore. I asked them about the head nod I explained it but they just didn’t get it. I realized then that the head nod is really a non verbal acknowledgement of double consciousness and being from somewhere that you have no need for it , its not a gesture that is understood

Compozition: As a black man, what trials have you faced trying to break into the film industry (if any at all)?

SW: Well … I know I keep changing your questions up but I consider semantics to be important. I'm in no way trying to break into the film industry. I am an artist and film is one of my mediums. I will always be a filmmaker with or without an “industry”. With that being said. I do think that some of the trials that I face are being faced amongst many. One of the major problems is building a village to support our black artistry. This is not just in film but all forms. We are in a time where bigger structures are being broken down and therefore it gives many more people the opportunity to grab their audience.  If everyone is grabbing, nothing will be left but if we focus on building and growing then we are all fed.

More artist are becoming aware and taking the lead. You see it in music heavy. Nipsey Hussle building 'All Money in No Money Out', Jay-Z purchasing Tidal, and Ryan Lesie launching Disruptive Media. In film its happening too- Ava Duvernay with AAFFRM, Oprah (OWN), and of course Spike's 40 acres and a Mule & DDB. They are building structures around artistry and I’m taking notes. Mind you, people I mentioned have also supported each other. We need this kind of support across platforms and a focus on growth in all industries especially artistic. From parents encouraging their kids to follow a passion of sneakers like Troy and Chase Reed, to schools and universities creating better models of education like Finland with their “topic less” reforms. Its bigger than me or any one person in any one industry.  So, thats is what I’m doing, building a base of work with a core team and growing from there. The problems surrounding that are balancing art, business, and life which is common for anyone. 

Compozition: Describe your film school experience. Would you recommend the program to someone like yourself in the future?

SW: My film school experience was slightly different than the normal. I went to NYU TISCH ASIA  as a creative producer. I was in an innovative program to create the future producer. The producer that can take one story and tell it on various different platforms. Take a film and create a video game, an interactive website and a comic book for example. The program was amazing as it allowed us to consistently think outside of the box. Im a big fan of design (in another life I would’ve went to design school). But my attraction to design helps me think of 'form over function’  and the mediums we use to tell story. The program
 allowed me to play with different vehicles for story . For example, the recent short film I released you need to subscribe to get the password. But the password is also a clue to the name of the film. Just google it. Doing stuff like that is fun for me and is a big risk in a lot of ways because I’m not leaving all of the engagement(or story) within the film. But what do I have to lose? 

If there is someone thinking about going to film school out there make sure you know why your going. I wouldn’t go for the knowledge of making a film, the best way to learn is making a film, the knowledge is free. But the connection and team you can build in film school is certainly worth it. I now have 9 producers , and options of crew (directors,gaffers,dp’s,etc) around the world I can reach out to, thats a powerful network to be apart of.

Compozition: What is your philosophy on promoting people of color within your industry as a director?

SW:Well that goes into what I spoke about before ( building a structure behind the work) a bit. I think promoting people of color means providing as much opportunity as you can and as an artist of color staying true to yourself. I remember I was the creative producer on a project that involved a white Executive Producer and and black Director. I would be in between both. We were making this story about a terminally sick kid who thinks he’s a superhero. The EP had wrote a casting call to find the kid and before he sent it out, he sent it to the team. It read something like: looking for a kid 9 to 13 casusian male. Now at first I thought the director would respond to this but he didn’t. Now I’m not saying the kid should be black, thats the directors choice (and truthfully would’ve been my choice too) but the oppurtunity should never be taken because of unconsciousness. So I ended up sending out an email that said something like : I think we should broaden our search and look for all ethnicties, this would give us a better pool to work from.

Contrary to popular belief creative people aren’t always open minded or aware. Thats why you need a solid team of people around you. As far as being a director goes my stories will always be base within truth. My blackness is a big part of my truth so while the protagonist may not be always black, the world they are within will reflect my world. 

photo by: Stephen Small-Warner

photo by: Stephen Small-Warner

Compozition: What is your definition of a composer? Do you think you are one in your own right?

SW: I think a composer brings together people/elements in order to communicate a theme using a common language.  Yes, I would consider myself a composer. As a director I’m bringing a group of people together who know the visual language in order to communicate a theme. Getting everyone on the same page, on the same note, is the difficult part. As a photographer I find or create elements within one frame to communicate the theme. 

Compozition: If you could give any words of wisdom to a random stranger in this very moment, what would you say?

SW: The last step to any creation is to give it to the world it was made for. If your not putting out your work your not completing the cycle of creation. Put it out and let it go. We are a vessels of creation, it is not up to us to control what happens after we give it to the world. Its something to be thoughtful of but not controlling of. Give it to the world however you’d like .. but give it and the world will give you back even more. 

CompoZer photos provided by: James D. Malone


To check out more of Stephen's work:

Website: smallwarner.com  || IG: smallwarner

Tiara Marei x Art by Cruz

I think it's about time for me to get back behind the lens! Photography has always been a hidden talent but I think its as good a time as any to pick my Nikon back up again. I enjoyed shooting my photographer extraordinaire compadre, Tiara Marei, as target practice. She made a great model, no? Check out her threads supplied by the homie Shawn Cruz of Art x Cruz. 

Photographer: moi     ||     Model: Tiara Marei (IG: @Tiara_Marei)      ||    Wardrobe (Crewneck): Art x Cruz  (@kingshawncruz)

You can purchase more custom pieces at artxcruz.com !