In photos: Left -- Model: Maryika Stubbs; Makeup artist: The Face Gawdess, Twilisha; Hair: Darrell Michael; Designer: Dante Stylings; Wardrobe Stylist: Styld N’ EMRGD, Jasenya;Jewelry: Kiashi Kiashi
Center -- Model: Maxine Lawson; Makeup artist: The Face Gawdess, Twilisha; Hair: Hollywood Magic, Maxine Lawson; Designer: Dante Stylings; Wardrobe Stylist: Styld N’ EMRGD, Jasenya; Jewelry: Kiashi Kiashi
Right -- Model: Simone; Makeup artist: The Face Gawdess, Twilisha; Hair: Darrell Michael; Designer: Va’Ceia Designs; Wardrobe Stylist: Styld N’ MRGD, Jasenya; Jewelry: Kiashi Kiashi
Earlier this summer, when Cohoes resident and artist Essence Todman heard about local Black Lives Matter protests, she knew she wanted to support the movement.
However, it wasn’t a protest that she had in mind, but a photoshoot.
“I’m not a protester . . . But I still wanted to be a part of the movement because it does affect so many aspects of my life. I’m very creative and I love fashion and I figured that that was a way I can be a part of the movement and show my support,” Todman said.
She brought together fellow Black artists, business owners and models from around the Capital Region and organized a Black Lives Matter photoshoot at the Albany Barn.
With protest signs in the backdrop declaring “Don’t shoot,” “When will it end” and “Stop killing us” some models stand in powerful poses, with hands at their waists or with a raised fist; others portray frustration, anger and weariness.
One model, Rhea Parson, screams at the camera, with her hands outstretched. Another, Kevina Burgess, has her hands to her head and eyes closed.
It was a pose that wardrobe stylist Jasenya McCauley knew all too well.
“I was very connected to the tired part of the photoshoot,” McCauley said, “I liked how it connected the beauty with the feeling at the time in a way that was interesting but also meaningful. It just wasn’t a pretty picture; you could also see different nuances of what the models were trying to portrait and then Essence’s editing brought the message that much clearer.”
McCauley owns Styld N’ EMRGD, a styling and wardrobe management company based out of the Electric City Barn and while she’s been involved with many photoshoots and fashion shows over the years, she’s never participated in anything quite like this shoot.
“I think a lot of people just wanted to be a part of it because of the purpose and the meaning behind it,” Todman said, “It got really big really quickly. Originally, it was only supposed to be me, one or two models, one designer and the makeup artist. Then I got two models interested, then three, then four, then five, then two designers [and] a videographer.”
Twilisha McClelland, a makeup artist who owns The Face Gawdess, got on board as soon as she heard about the photoshoot’s theme.
“As a makeup artist, I often focus a lot of my artistry on Black women and specifically darker-skinned Black women because, as a dark-skinned Black woman, I’m very familiar with the obstacles and limitations that makeup presents to us and has presented for the entirety of my lifetime and career as a makeup artist,” McClelland said.
“It’s really important to me to be able to be part of helping Black women to see that they can be fashion-forward and bold and exciting and beautiful as well. They have just as much space to be in magazines as anybody else.”
For the shoot, she created bright Afrocentric looks, like the neon purple optical illusion featured on Burgess.
“I like that one because it was in line with the simplicity that I wanted but it also brought in my aesthetic with the neon. I’m very passionate about bright colors and neon,” McClelland said.
She started her business back in 2012 and has specialized in maternity body painting and editorial makeup since then. For the last few years, she’s worked with Todman on various fashion-forward photoshoots, but this one felt different.
“I don’t consider myself a protester. I don’t believe that that’s my space to be in but I do want to support the movement and support Black people and I do want our voices to be heard. If I can do that with my art, that’s how I will do it,” McClelland said.
The Afrocentric clothing, designed by local companies like Va’Ceia Designs and styled by Jasenya, paired with the makeup design and the model’s poses, made for a powerful visual statement.
“I gave little direction with the models because I already knew they were active in the protests and this hit our community so I told them ‘Just look defeated like you’re done with this, you’re tired of hearing the same news over and over and over again.’ Then the other [direction] was was ‘Get angry. Be angry that we have to keep going through this,’” Todman said.
“People were screaming when I told them to be angry and stuff, that’s why you can see the emotion on their face ... They just let it out and screamed. It was perfect.”
In some ways, it's been a tough year for the photographer and fashion designer, who owns Essence Latifah Photography. She lost her brother, and fellow artist, Duane Todman, this spring. The homicide victim's life and work were recently celebrated with an exhibition at the Albany Center Gallery.
“I felt like I wanted to be a part of the movement, I wanted to show my support because it’s something that he would have done. My brother was really big on helping the community and being part of the community,” Todman said.
From her perspective, editorial photographs are a way to quickly get the Black Lives Matter message across.
“I just wanted to bring awareness because it’s easily digestible. Fashion is something that people will actively look at so it was a good way to create something that can be easily digested for other people who [don’t] necessarily understand what’s happening,” Todman said.
Some of the photos from the shoot will be featured in Féroce Magazine this September, for the magazine’s annual People of Color edition.