Preserving Moments with Kwesi Yanful
|A portrait of Temi Thomas. © Kwesi Yanful|
Kwesi Yanful is a Dallas-based photographer, who serves as co-founder of Portraitnoire, the platform that aims to increase awareness of photographs of black people and highlight the community behind it, along with creative and strategist, Temi Thomas. Although he is US-based, his culture and a sense of community show up in his photographs.
“My name is Kwesi Yanful and I was born in Ghana. As you could probably imagine, living in an African home is not unlike any other immigrant experience. My parent’s focus was for me to find a career that they deemed sustainable. So for me—again, not unlike— other immigrant families, my path was straight into medicine. I actually wanted to study Computer Science in college, but that’s another story for another day. We never discussed anything creative. I think I remember my dad saying I should write a book. That’s about as creative as we would go. I started making websites and creating blogs, and a magazine junior year in college (after my first heartbreak LOL). And then onto photography in grad school, the rest is history. (Fun fact, you wouldn’t guess what my brother is studying at Cornell right now. Computer engineering. I guess that’s different right?)”
When and how did you start taking photos?
I started taking photos in pharmacy school for an organization I was part of. I was elected historian and part of my responsibilities was to take photos. When I bought a camera for that role, I really enjoyed snapping that I started to engage and to learn more about photography. It’s really something special.
What are your inspirations?
My biggest source of inspiration is the subject I’m photographing. Some of my favorite photos I’ve made are organic and “non-production” in nature.
What do you want to convey with your photographs?
I love to show emotions, the essence, mood and everything that makes my subjects unique from each other. I remember the first time I saw an ad for Annie Leibovitz’s Masterclass and she began with “there’s this idea that in portraiture, it’s the photographer’s job to set the subject at ease — I don’t believe that…” I couldn’t believe that someone had summed up my whole philosophy about portrait photography in 6 seconds. My belief is this: it is my responsibility to freeze and preserve a moment of my subject’s life that they may never relive. Anything else beyond that is just secondary and, most importantly, luxury.
This is a part of Seven Foto Questions, a series of interviews with photographers answering the same questions about how they each came into their craft.
What is your favorite photo, and the story behind it?
This is probably the hardest question you’ve asked today. I have many images I’d consider faves so I’ll just pick one. It’s an image I shot of Arnelle in Dallas, TX.
There’s actually no real story behind it other than we’d planned to take striking images of her. We settled on this topless one. The reason I love it so much is how simple and minimal, yet striking the photo actually is.
What do you consider a “good” photo?
My definition of a good photo has changed quite a bit since I started learning photography. The only thing I know for sure now is that photography is so subjective that I can no longer put images in one box or the other. I’ve learned to appreciate different types of photography though.
Can you use one theme to describe your work?
I think my overarching theme is poise— I find myself looking for that in all my subjects.
If there is one thing you want your audience to know about you, what would it be?
I think I probably take myself, and to a certain extent my work, way too seriously than most, and I’m working on letting loose. Hold me accountable.
|© Kwesi Yanful|