'COME TO SELFHOOD'
McFadden explores how black men view themselves
By Cindy Beamon
Albemarle Life Editor
Friday, April 21, 2017
Joshua Rashaad McFadden began his award-winning photography project "Come to Selfhood" with a question.
He asked African-American men to identify men who influenced how they viewed their manhood.
One of his participants wrote the name of former President Barack Obama at first, then scratched through it. Next, he wrote the name of a man more familiar to him. He admired him because he had the courage "to stand in his own truth."
Rather than re-typing the answer to eliminate the strike through, McFadden kept the handwritten responses. He said it helped reveal the thought process behind each answer.
The answers became part of a book that explored how father figures and society's negative views of black males have shaped how they view themselves.
McFadden asked 8 survey questions to participants he selected at random before taking their portraits. Each page of the book contains a portrait, a handwritten response and a photograph of a father figure who influenced each participant.
The project won McFadden a first place International Photography Award in 2016. It was the second IPA award for the 26-year-old artist/photographer, whose work has drawn the attention of national publications, including being named in Time Magazine's February article "12 African-American Photographers You Should Know."
McFadden said he likes to share his thought process behind his art.
"I want people to understand what I am doing. My calling is not to confuse anyone. My calling is to start a conversation," he said.
Earlier this month, McFadden was at Elizabeth City State University where he took his first photography lesson and graduated in fine arts before pursuing a master's degree at Savannah College of Art and Design.
He recalled that an ECSU professor almost kicked him out of photography class for cursing in the darkroom when things did not turn out right. Reflecting back, McFadden said his irritation showed how much he cared.
McFadden said he was thankful for his start at an historically black university. Other colleges would not have schooled him in African-American history and provided mentors like those at ECSU. He said that experience gave him confidence when his ideas were not supported at the nearly all-white college in Georgia.
"People are placed in our lives for a special reason," he said.
McFadden was first recognized for his work on "Colourism," a project he began at ECSU.
His project started with an observation. He noticed girls on campus were cutting their hair and "going natural" rather than attempting to straighten or lighten their hair, as they did before.
In an attempt to understand the movement, he began his "Colourism" project by surveying social media, TV talk shows, and videos, about how society viewed black beauty. Time and time again, he found darker skinned women were viewed as less beautiful than lighter skinned women, even among African-Americans.
He began photographing women of color to bring awareness to the issue of colorism in the African American community and to promote a more positive self-image for all women of color.
He continued the project in Savannah and won recognition from galleries, but he wanted a broader audience. He sought and won a commission to exhibit 50 portraits along a section of the Atlanta Beltline to draw more attention to the issue.
McFadden's work has also drawn attention to civil rights issues.
He won his first International Photography Award for his photo series "After Selma," that documents the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery in 2015. The collection of 25 black and white photographs, currently on display at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, contrasts images from the 1960s to civil rights happenings today.
One of his photographs shows marchers crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, close to where "Bloody Sunday" occurred in 1965. McFadden said he wanted to capture the irony that 50 years later, marchers were still protesting for the same rights.
In 2015, McFadden's work took a turn in response to reports of police brutality in what sparked the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
He began taping videos of protests in an attempt to document what was happening. One of his You-Tube videos contrasts violent scenes from civil rights protests and injustices to blacks with the song "It's a Wonderful Life."
After two years of recording protests, McFadden said he didn't feel like he was getting anywhere and the violence was becoming too much for him to handle.
That's when he began his introspective project "Come to Selfhood." Participants told him they had never been asked the kind of questions he asked in his survey before.
"It changed their lives, but it also changed mine," he said.
The process took time, McFadden recalled. He talked with participants a long time before snapping the first photo. He wanted to capture something in their eyes that reflected their answers.