Reframed: Black Beauty Through the Eye of Ken West

His camera captures the beauty in everyday things.


Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s obvious that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to normalizing the diversity of humankind, especially when it comes to the perception of Black people. However, we are making progress. There are creatives across various media doing their part to produce beautiful content that celebrates the wholeness of Black culture around the world.

Enter: Award-winning documentary photographer, Ken West.

West recently released The Beauty of Everyday Thangs. The book is described as a “‘first of its kind’ photo collection inspired by the art of mindfulness as a testament to Black humanity.”  Everyday Thangs is a project 13 years in the making.

“The project evolved from my work as a technology worker,” West tells AURN. “I would spend 12+ hours a day in windowless rooms creating software that, to my regret, was making the world more reliant on machines and each of us less emotionally intelligent. The thing about technology is that it pretends to be colorblind, but if society isn’t colorblind, these tools that we create will always reflect our society’s biases. The book is my artistic response to the phenomena of Black people constantly being watched but rarely being seen. I wanted to consciously capture, with my camera, moments that I thought reflected our beauty in as many ways as I could find it in unscripted ways.”

West traveled to cities such as New York, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Havana, Cuba, using his collection of cameras — some more than 60-years-old — to capture images of what he deems “revolutionary normalcy.” The 250-page book features images of everyday people — from children eating ice cream to people strolling on the beach — as well as cultural icons and activists such as Clifford “T.I.” Harris, stic of dead prez, Melvin Van Peebles, British musician Tricky, and more.

Most of the photos in the book were the result of random encounters. West, an avid walker, says he often observes interesting situations and sights while out and about, and that is how the majority of these portraits came to be.

West was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but he is currently based in Atlanta. He’s lived in Brooklyn, studied at the University of Paris, and holds graduate degrees from New York University and Ohio State University.  His photos have been used for several advertising campaigns, as well as private and public collections around the world, but with Everyday Thangs West hopes to spark the same inspiration and passion that he has for Black culture in anyone willing to join the celebration.

“When your ideas about yourself are filtered by someone else,” says West, “your essence remains a mystery. Black folk in America have been told that they have to fit into a box in order to deserve respect and empathy. A man gets shot and people ask, ‘Well, what was he wearing?’ as if that’s a mitigating factor. I think our real revolution will not be with guns and bombs; it will be with the respect of full-spectrum Blackness as a culture. When that happens, American life and culture change overnight.

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