In October 2019, writer, curator and art critic, Antwaun Sargent, released his first book, “ The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion.” Along with Sargent’s essay, the book chronicles a young, talented group of Black photographers redefining fashion photography. Articles by Sargent have appeared in The New Yorker, W, Vogue, VICE magazines and others. This exclusive is by Marcellas Reynolds.
Based in New York City, he has organized exhibitions for the Aperture Foundation and Jenkins Johnson Projects.
Taking his talents and unique qualities, Sargent released his first book, in 2019. He opens the book by utilizing his gift of writing to illuminate the conversation around the Black body in the marketplace, featuring the work and stories of 15 Black photographers. But more importantly, throughout the glossy pages, the reader can witness racial transformation within the fashion and art worlds. Publications like Sargent’s book give a platform to the Black voice within our culture. Sargent continues to inspire popular culture through his visions and goals and is undoubtedly a name to remember.
Marcellas Reynolds: 2019 was major for Black books. “Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful” was released in May. Then in October, I published “Supreme Models: Iconic Black Women Who Revolutionized Fashion.” “The Rihanna Book” was next and later your book, “The New Black Vanguard,” was published. When the press began to come in, all our books appeared on numerous “Best Of” lists. I love it when the press links our books together.
Antwaun Sargent: Like Amazon, they often do that, which I love. One of the amazing things about those four books is that they are four very different books that intersect in different ways. They are really about various aspects of our journey and different ways to look at the Black experience in fashion and art. I am similarly comforted that there was not just one of us but four of us out there. These books show that there is a history. Not only is there history, but it’s also rich and contains a lot of different personalities who are interested in different questions as it pertains to race and beauty and representation and action.
Macellas Reynolds: Exactly.
Antwaun Sargent: Right? So, think about how in one way, there’s advancement there. Solely in terms of representation, but then there are the limitations of not having your beauty and sense of identity captured from a community’s space. Now, fast forward to the fifteen young Black photographers from around the world, in “The New Black Vanguard,” who are thinking about those questions as they are taking images of Black models. Your book, “Supreme Models,” and Kwame’s book allowed us to see the history and see how those early models paved the way for new models and the photographers in “The New Black Vanguard.” Because what you have then through those images is a training of the eye and the photographer’s aesthetics, taste and understanding of what is possible in photography and the depiction of Black women and models in an image. It is great to see all of our books out there because it allows others not to flatten the conversation.
Publications like ours expand what it means to be Black and what it means to have Black artists creating and representing the race in the space of magazines and photographs.
It has a tremendous impact on our definitions of what we see, how we should see it, who’s beautiful, and why they’re beautiful—all of those kinds of questions that I wanted to get at with “The New Black Vanguard.”
Macellas Reynolds: Both of our books have seen a bump in sales since George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the protests. I knew the need of Black people to see ourselves and feel that we were a part of, not separate from, the American and the global experience.
Both our books are sitting on the same shelves with a book about Peter Lindberg or Chanel. I look at the bestseller lists, and you’re right there beside me. There’s something beautiful about that because we’re competing at the same level as everybody else.
Antwaun Sargent: We need to see ourselves, that is true. To take that one step further, we need to see that our contributions to culture matter and are affirmed just like everybody else because they’re just as innovative, if not more.
It’s about applying the same rigor to Black innovation and Black artistic production that’s applied to the Peter Lindberg book or the Chanel book or applied to the Marc Jacobs book because, unfortunately, people often only see value in Blackness once affirmed by a Vogue or a White institution. It was about stepping away from that and saying, “No, no, no, this has value.” That’s why it was also crucial in “The New Black Vanguard” only to highlight the Black models that they shot. I was trying to make a statement about how Blackness exists in a universe of its own that’s in communication with itself.
I wasn’t interested in making a book that said, “We’re just like you,” because I think our diversity and experiences are different and should be valued as such. I was more interested in locating the value and connecting that value to a history that was just as dynamic and rich as a White history of photography. They’ve kept us out so long that I see very little value in knocking on the door. I see very little value in sitting at their table. I see more value in “How about I build my own? How about I start my own project?” I’m not saying we shouldn’t be in Vogue because we should. I’m just saying that there are other avenues outside of continuously valuing institutions that devalue themselves by doing racist sh**.
Macellas Reynolds: While writing “Supreme Models,” I was very focused on the idea that there was a space where people of all races would be interested in a book about Black models. And it has happened. I’m thrilled my book is doing well. I’m thrilled your book is doing well and so is Kwame’s and Rihanna’s.
Antwaun Sargent: I’m excited because, in terms of Black talent and artistic production across the spectrum, so much is happening. It’s weird to think that with the world and politics being what they are, we’re having this kind of renaissance. Issa Rae is representing for the awkward Black girls. Lena Waithe is doing her thing for the LGBTQI community. You have Terence Nance, who’s doing this super art house, experimental stuff. And that all exist. Michaela Coel, doing her British Black girl thing with “I May Destroy You” on HBO. All of these perspectives are allowed to flourish. We must figure out how to continue that progress. Magazines need to get on board. Our books are a step in the right direction.
Read the full interview at lastylemagazine.com/featured/antwaunsargent
THE NEW BLACK VANGUARD
BY ANTWAUN SARGENT
BOOK EXCERPT FROM THE NEW BLACK VANGUARD BY ANTWAUN SARGENT
BY ANTWAUN SARGENT
PHOTOGRAPH CREDITS: Photographer: Nadine Ijewere, @nadineijewere on Instagram; Story for: @I_D on Instagram; Styling: @Bojana_Koz on
Instagram; Hair: @Naokikomiya on Instagram; Makeup: @celiaburtonmakeup on Instagram; Props: @thomaspetherick on Instagram;
Casting: @aamo_casting on Instagram