Photographer Adreinne Waheed’s camera is her third eye; always in motion capturing everything from celebrities and street fashions to portraits and nature. Yet, it was not until she printed five-year's worth of favorite personal images chronicling experiences of African and African-American people that Waheed saw the story she needed to tell.
Black Joy & Resistance, Waheed’s first solo photography book, mixes two seemingly opposing concepts to illustrate the connection people of the African diaspora have to their vibrant culture and the world around them.
“Just finding the joy in yourself is resistance because often that means opposing so many forces working against you, telling you you are not enough. It is about embracing your beauty just as you are”, says the former ESSENCE magazine photo editor and featured photographer in MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora.
The Dwomoh-Piper Twins, Chatelle and Danielle, live their joy, cultural pride and self-expression in original, ethnically inspired outfits from their clothing line, DPipertwins, at AFROPUNK Fest. AFROPUNK started in Brooklyn, NY in 2003 to provide a space for black alternative performers to build community within the predominantly white subculture. It grew into a movement where both the performers and the audience members embraced identities outside of mainstream culture and the many ways of being black.
The 91 images in Black Joy & Resistance reflect the “energy and spirit of black and brown folks.” The images include four women in partial-silhouette with clinched fists at the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, DC; a dimple-cheeked reveler at Carnival Salvador in Bahia, Brazil in all his beaded bohemian glory, and the Fees Must Fall student protest in Johannesburg, South Africa. Every image came by way of Waheed waiting for the right moment; her camera’s shutter drawing in one powerful image after another.
The joy in Waheed’s photos is clear, conveyed in smiles and warm kisses such as one with two men adorned in Indian headdress kissing a Jamaican woman at New York City’s West Indian Day Parade.
Yet, resistance is presented quite differently. In one photo two friends have an intimate chat; one person has green hair and a multi-strand dangling earring, a physical look outside the norm. Then, there is Vasco Wellington, also known as “Stoned Soul Steez Flossin” who stares and channels subtle rebellion as a young Jimmy Hendrix look-a-like. Or, a man with his back exposed, dressed in a skirt or sarong, his hips swaying rhythmically to music the reader cannot hear. While in Johannesburg, South Africa, the chants of protesting students is captured alongside traditional music, dancing and drumming in the street. “This is what I love about our people (of the African Diaspora), you can still have beauty and passion in the resistance,” says Waheed. “The resistance is not aggressive, nor packaged in a manner one would expect. What I wanted to show was resistance comes in all forms, big and small.” For Waheed, resistance is unapologetic authenticity, even when politics and social norms may work hard to suppress one’s joy.
Waheed chronicles the arts and black culture festivals of AFROPUNK Fest Brooklyn and AFROPUNK Fest South Africa; Carnival Salvador, Bahia – one of the largest carnivals in the world; Fees Must Fall student walk-out to protest rising school fees, and in support of South African government funding of higher education; Brooklyn, New York’s Dance Africa, the house music scene of Soul Summit, and the annual West Indian Day Parade.
“At all times I am inspired by black and brown people. The events represent safe spaces where we can live out our true selves without fear of being turned down, turned out, without being told, I am too Black, too loud or too proud.” Black Joy and Resistance is the manifestation of a people-watching journey sparked at age 13 when Waheed discovered photography, her life’s work.
Waheed is obsessed with visual history of black people. In 2010 she created Waheed Photo Archives, a collection of found African American portraits acquired from estate sales and online. Some 10,000 images from her collection are now housed at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
An activist she is not. Yet, Waheed believes Black Joy and Resistance will spark a different conversation about how black and brown people are seen and allowed to exist. “Not everyone will love the work. Art is subjective.” Waheed chooses to gravitate toward those who love it, and allows others go with grace. “This work will stand on its own.”