Photography / Fashion

The fashion shoot exploring queer black culture and masculinity

Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah and Pawel Herman collaborate on a powerful new photo story.

Focusing on identity, as an individual and in cultural groups, Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah and Pawel Herman’s new shoot is a captivatingly intimate look at the diversity of masculinity. In their own words, the art director and photography duo talk us through their mesmerising new fashion shoot.

Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah:

“The inspiration behind the shoot was really quite simple. I wanted to test how comfortable I would be in a shoot that was more conceptual and not controlled by me. I’m used to seeing myself the way I want to be seen – a little queer, quite sexual but ultimately still masculine, so this was a departure from all of that.

The shoot was really a collaboration in all aspects. Knowing that I was going to want to be pushed a little, I wanted to work with people I really trusted and felt comfortable around so Nicola (who I’ve known for almost 10 years) and Pawel (who I connected with instantly, the first time we worked together) were the perfect choices.

As we went on through the shoot, we realised we were creating cool images, sure, but we were also creating work that challenged preconceived notions of black men and what it meant to be feminine through juxtaposing feminine clothing with masculine posing.

When I look at the story now, I feel as though it has marked a new era for me. A new era of understanding my queerness, my blackness and also understanding the kind of work I want to create and the conversations I want to be a part of.”

Pawel Herman

The inspiration behind this shoot for me was twofold. Firstly, it was a collaboration meant to push and broaden my horizons as a photographer. Darkwah and I are both gay artists yet our experiences of manhood and being gay are very different, so this was us understanding one another as gay males and also learning from one another. Both in conversation during the shoot but also better understanding our different aesthetic leanings. Secondly, it was my taking part in the discourse on male identity.

Being a gay artist, I am naturally drawn to themes that surround masculinity and the different ways in which it can be portrayed. I feel the conversation around this has been progressed greatly by young artists who are challenging the ‘norms’ we grew up with however there is still so much more to be said. I think it is crucial to fully explore gender and identity as men aren’t all made like the archetypal male we come in all variations and the industry should show that more. Men aren’t only muscular. Men aren’t only white. Men aren’t only ‘butch’. That said, we also need to make sure we don’t fall into creating a singular interpretation of what it is to be femme or genderqueer. The white, slim, long-haired, makeup-wearing guy is not the only representation of femme or being genderqueer.

Having previously worked with Darkwah, I had the comfort of of being able to let go of certain production aspects knowing that our visions truly met halfway. We let our experiences guide us through the shoot from shot composition right the way down to posing and styling. One thing we were aware of, was that Darkwah, we didn’t want to play into stereotypes that Darkwah, a muscular black male, could fall prey to. This is why we went down the route of making sure there was aways a marriage of what might be typically masculine and juxtaposing it with the dramatic and the effeminate.

Click through the gallery to take a look at the full shoot, and follow Pawel on Instagram here and Darkwah on Instagram here.

3 July 2019