Black joy matters, and a new photo project is bringing that idea to the forefront in a brilliant way.
The “We Are Joy” series, created by Brooklyn-based photographer Laurent Chevalier, consists of intimate portraits of black millennials. Each portrait is accompanied by a personal story from the subject, recalling a happy moment in their lives when being black was the key, positive element to their joy.
It isn’t always easy to be black in America, or in the world, for that matter. After the election, and with the rise of racial, social and political tension in the air, Chevalier was trying to think of ways to counteract the visible, palpable struggles of black life. How, Chevalier wondered, could he combat the negative narrative of the black experience?
“I thought about some of the more obvious ways, such as protesting, teaching, reporting or organizing, but I also thought of other impactful ways to support and involve myself,” the photographer told The Huffington Post.
“You can only really keep working when you are whole enough to work... and it’s hard to be effective if you are broken down. So in order to maintain ourselves, our sanity and health, I felt that we needed to really draw upon the experiences, the joys and the successes that we have individually and collectively.”
In January, Chevalier decided to embark upon the photo project, with the aim to demonstrate and discuss the ways in which it’s “dope to be black.”
“I was intrigued by the idea of black joy in story form, because when someone tells a story you relate to, you can’t help but be impacted by it,” Chevalier explains.
“Black joy is contagious, especially when you can relate to it. Then adding to that our culture of oral history, I thought it would be a great way to present this idea.”
Most of the subjects in the series are Chevalier’s friends or friends of friends. The joyful stories they share range from one woman’s first “big chop” to a moment of fellowship and solidarity of everyone dancing to an old school jam at a party. For each portrait, Chevalier photographed his subjects as they told their stories, in order to capture the spark of their memories. The result: a collection of photos and stories forming a vibrant mosaic of black joy.
Centering a series on the positivity and beauty of the black experience, even amidst the struggles, is a political act. For Chevalier, the idea of art as resistance is a powerful one.
“I see this project as resistance against this current [political] climate, because at the heart of many of the issues facing our community are questions of identity and value, both within and without,” Chevalier says.
“Affirming the importance of our memories, reminding ourselves of our joy, these are aspects of this project that help fuel further resistance.”
The photographer plans to continue collecting stories and creating images, drawing from an even larger and more diverse group of black people. In addition to the series, Chevalier is also working on a book project, as well as a collaboration with writer and playwright Cyrus Aaron on creating dialogue on black identity, with two pop up discussions and photo presentations in New York scheduled later this month.
Check out some photos and stories from the series below: