Behind Jorian Charlton’s photography exhibition
As part of the online exhibition Out of Many, curator and art critic Antwaun Sargent, alongside writer and editor Yaniya Lee, hosted a conversation with Jorian Charlton. The talk, which took place online on Feb. 9, discussed the work behind Charlton’s photographs presented in the virtual exhibition.
Curated by Emilie Croning, Out of Many is presented by Wedge Curatorial Projects, a non-profit initiative promoting Black and diasporic culture, in collaboration with Gallery TPW, an artist-run centre that exhibits artistic and curatorial practices.
Antwaun Sargent is a writer who has contributed essays for museum publications and has been published by The New Yorker and The New York Times. Sargent is the author of The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion, published in 2019, which addresses the role of Black people in fashion and art today.
Yaniya Lee is a Toronto-based writer interested in the ethics of aesthetics. Lee has written for publications such as Vogue, Canadian Art, C Magazine and more.
The conversation revolved around the work of Jorian Charlton, a Toronto-based portrait photographer whose work focuses on personal experiences and Jamaican-Canadian culture.
Charlton uses digital and film photography for her work. Her photographs depict storytelling and Black representation.
The virtual exhibition includes photographs that Charlton’s father Clayton Charlton gave her. Charlton and her father’s vintage 35mm slides complete each other as they create a dialogue about family albums in contemporary time.
Charlton’s father’s images depict the 1970s to the late 1980s in Jamaica, Toronto and New York.
Through these images, viewers can see a band playing music on a bright day or men and women posing in different environments. His pictures present the past, whereas Charlton’s are the present. Together, they create a chronological line of experiences.
Charlton doesn’t know much of her father’s past as he wouldn’t share too much. She would learn details of his life from her aunts. Her father’s photographs were a small peek into the past. She remembers having asked her father about the pictures, but he would simply reply by saying that they were only pictures.
Having seen the pictures that were given to her for preservation, she thought about creating an archive that she could pass down.
“After I had my daughter, I was sort of thinking about family album archives and wanting her to have an archive for the next generation,” said Charlton. “When you think about family albums or photos from the ’80s or the ’90s, it’s usually from an American perspective.”
That is when she created her own perspective with her photographic style. Her photographs are personal, accentuating beauty and intimacy.
She eloquently captures people in pictures. Couples, siblings, and single portraits can be seen. Each photograph is a story.
“I just want to have more representation of us and have that be normal,” said Charlton. “I want the next generation to see themselves.”
Charlton has created an archive of Black people’s lives to be looked back on. Charlton portrays them in their authenticity. She seeks to demonstrate beauty in tender photographs by showing various personalities through her lens. “I see similarities between my father’s and my pictures even though it wasn’t made on purpose,” said Charlton.
When photographing her subjects, Charlton has little involvement when it comes to telling them how to pose. She is usually quiet when taking shots to let her subjects do their own thing. Charlton keeps it as natural as possible.
“I want these photographs to convey a person’s truth and essence,” said Charlton. “I don’t want to manipulate things too much, I keep it as simple as I can and I want my subjects to be comfortable when I’m photographing them.”
Charlton speaks of individuality. She lets her subjects be free in her images through fashion and style to let them present their stories in their own way.
Just like her father’s photographs, Charlton was able to capture tender moments that will forever live on, shedding light on a new generation of people.
In her exhibition, Charlton quotes Bell Hooks, author of In Our Glory: Photography and Black Life”, in Art On My Mind: Visual Politics (1995): “Ultimately, these images, the world they recorded, could be hidden, to be discovered at another time.”
Photo courtesy of Jorian Charlton.