Guest Blog: Creative Director & Photographer Idris Talib Solomon
Voice & Representation
Who I Am
My name is Idris Talib Solomon. I am a Brooklyn native. I am a creative director, photographer, filmmaker and podcaster. I am a self-taught artist. One thing I learned in school is that I don’t learn the way everyone else does. I’ve always needed to be hands on and engaged in a project so I can make mistakes. Mistakes have always birthed new lessons for me in unorthodox ways; they weaken the grip of fear.
My Photo Journey
I’ve worked as an art director in several advertising agencies throughout New York City. Often, I’ve been the only black art director in the office. There is a pressure that comes with being “the only.”
When I decided to pursue a certificate in photography I recognized a similar pattern. I was the only Black student in my cohort. My instructors never shared the work of photographers who looked like me. The photographers I learned about were all talented. I learned a lot in the program. At the same time, I questioned why I didn’t see myself reflected in the curriculum. This highlighted the importance of representation. It showed me how important it is to have a voice.
I decided that I would use my art to document stories in the Black community that go unnoticed.
Finding My Voice
My first photography project focused on The Dance Theatre of Harlem. This is a ballet school created for young black and brown dancers. I began to photograph this project through an invitation from a college friend. She saw photos of mine on Facebook and invited me to photograph an event.
When I arrived, I wandered backstage, down corridors and staircases. I thought the world happening backstage was more interesting than the performances. I offered the school my photos in return for access to the school.
The story of young black and brown dancers learning ballet is an important one for the community. It is a story that can instill pride and motivation in the young people. I photographed that project for four years and will continue to document the school for as long as I can.
My next project revolved around an African American Funeral Home in Brooklyn. Many people found it strange that I would hang out in a funeral home. I thought it was fascinating.
It takes a certain personality to tend to the deceased. It’s not an easy job. It’s not a job most people wake up and decide to pursue. Many times it is a family run business that one inherits.
While spending time on this project I focused on the lives of the people who worked in the funeral home. Not the deceased. I had no interest in exploiting the dead. Instead, I chose to celebrate the living beings who make the funeral home function.
There was a point in this country where deceased Black folks could not get a proper burial. African American funeral homes served the Black community with dignity and respect. A respect that they may not have received while alive.
In 2016, I received a Fulbright Fellowship to move to Ghana to document the Hip Hop scene. It morphed into a portrait project of the different musicians that I met out there. I realized that the projects I chose to pursue shared a common similarity.
I was using my voice to help elevate other voices. This started to give my photography purpose. My motivation was less about being published or getting paid (although these projects resulted in me getting clients). I found the motivation to close the gap of representation.
Introduction To Filmmaking
In 2019, I decided to evolve my photography into documentary filmmaking. This was a huge challenge. Creating a documentary film requires learning new equipment and features. I studied camera movement and the art of editing. In short, it was a beast. But again, my commitment to tell stories in the Black community was my north star.
Documentary filmmaking gave me the opportunity to convert my photo eye into a video eye. As a photographer, I spent years developing my own style for composition and tonality. It was a great experience seeing that style transition into video.
My first mini doc is about a Black Lacrosse director in Brooklyn. The piece is called Brooklyn Lacrosse. It proved to be a challenging project. The rewards are priceless. I hope this is the first of many.
I have a love and passion for storytelling in the Black community. This year, something shifted. Instead of telling other people’s stories I want people to tell their own stories.
I’ve launched The Black Shutter Podcast. This podcast is a series of conversations with Black photographers from the diaspora. This gives Black photographers an opportunity to share their journey and wisdom.
What I love about this project is that I get to learn about the experiences of photographers who I respect. I research their work and I record conversations with them and learn about who they are as humans. The human connection is amazing when we are able to hear a multitude of voices. And we all have a voice.