By Olisa Jr
“My uncle actually gave it to me when I told him I wanted to pursue a career in movies and cinema, so I’ve just run with it since then,” Andre candidly shares, speaking on the origins of his name Uncut.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and of Jamaican descent, Andre Uncut is the photographer offering an intimate sense and re-creation of nostalgia through his striking images, while painting sincere narratives of a beautiful Black odyssey. His photos don the remarkably glossy, intensely lighted, deep-toned characteristics of pictures from the late 90s and early 2000s which also come as a result of his decision to shoot primarily on film. His portrayal of Black women gives an undoubtedly strong sense of boldness, sexiness, and boundless love. "I was raised by black women and most of the celebrities I loved were black."
From recreating magazine covers featuring black women to shooting campaigns for FILA with an all-black ensemble, Andre’s work is focused on the portrayal of unapologetic blackness. Our encounter is enjoyable as much as it is enlightening; Andre and I discuss his childhood, his perceptions of creative culture, and his respect for the photographers that came before him.
You’re capturing the visual narrative of an era. Did you always want to pursue photography or the creative arts?
Andre: Well, everything really started off as a child, playing with my toys, setting up different scenes and all that, but I never actually had a camera. So, my uncle who’s actually a celebrity stylist would let me go on set with him for rap video shoots and stuff like that, and it was amazing being behind the scenes on these things. I didn’t care about being in front of the camera or anything else really. It was fun watching people come together to create, almost like a whole family. After that, I decided I just wanted to do this by myself and then I guess build from there.
How has your relationship with the camera and your work evolved over the years?
Andre: Just doing my research and everything. I actually didn’t want to do photography right away, but rather the video work first. When I did get into photography, and upon doing my research, it basically brought back all the things that I used to watch. The old music videos, the magazines like Vibe Magazine, Essence, and really just everything I grew up around. When I picked up that camera, that’s all I thought about. It related to not only me but everybody else who’s grouped that same way, so that whole nostalgic feeling is something really personal.
You speak on resonating with the sense of nostalgia and recreating it in your work and your life. Do you feel as though your decision to shoot on film and VHS adds any additional meaning or purpose to that idea?
Andre: It’s authentic to what it is. I feel like every photographer I’ve researched, I actually know most of them now. Eric Johnson and Jamel Shabazz, they all use film. And that’s like one of the best things to use because it captures a moment in time, and you don’t really know what to expect from it because it’s film and you can’t see what you shot, but as long as you have the confidence, and you know your lighting and everything, then it comes out the way it needs to come out. Even with polaroids, if I’m doing a 70s style shoot, then I’ve got to use polaroids ...it’s just right. With the VHS now, it’s something that’s low quality, the same way we had low-quality TV back then, and I want to give them that same feeling.
Speaking on the focus of your work, and your decision to capture Black women and the essence of black culture, talk me through the crucial impact your childhood might have had on this decision?
Andre: I grew up on music. I’ve seen black women on TV, from vixens to award shows, interviews to MTV moments, and the rest. Even going outside, it’s black people. I live in one of the most black-populated parts of Brooklyn. So, that’s all I see every day, and there's still no gentrification on this side, and even now, so you get what I mean. It’s really about reflecting on giving people back what they see too.
Where does the notion of storytelling find itself most expressed in your work?
Andre: I try to tap into every culture that I can, not only Brooklyn. I try to tap into New Orleans culture, Miami culture, Houston, California, and I try to speak to what they are as monumental places. And there was always a lot going on in these places. People had their own music, style, and movies. It was all very unique. There’s a different vibe to each place.
Do you draw inspiration from any podcasts, personalities, or social media pages that you feel effectively share the black story?
Andre: Honestly, I really don’t pay attention to most of the pages or that part of the media. I prefer to get my advice from photographers who’ve actually shot people like Aaliyah, Biggie, and names alike. I feel a lot of people don’t tend to respect people from the past, and for me, that’s really important. I like to listen to what they say because they’ve been there, they’ve done that.
On the growing idea that we can use the arts as a weapon for social change, especially in the era we live in — how are you able to portray that effectively through your work or take on the role of a photographic social activist?
Andre: My VHS documents and captures everything raw—it’s timeless. I went to this Black-trans protest a while ago and I documented it but never released it. I don’t believe in making a profit by documenting certain things that happen in our society today, but then I get to show people in the future that this is what happened. It’ll still maintain the same narrative, but then releasing it 5 or even 10 years after, it holds a stronger meaning and story.
It’s not news to anyone that in a time where everyone is desperately reaching to be inclusive, Black creators are still victims of improper representation or monetization of their work in the creative industry — what do you think is needed to change or fight this?
Andre: I feel like everyone should start pushing to make their own media companies and become less reliant on all these establishments. It’s already happening, and it’s all-black productions taking place. Even with me and my friends, we try to build a collective thing and pitch it to some of these companies. And I think being able to teach it to people younger than me the same way I would go to a mentor, I think through that, then things would change.
You did a shoot for Pro-Keds a while ago. How do you think that project was able to speak to your aesthetic and who you are as a photographer?
Andre: Pro-Keds was actually through my friends Whaffle and Sola. It was just being able to bring everything back but in a black way. He already started with them already but he put me on. We’re trying to do that with every brand we can think of, and bring it real black.
Do you feel as though you’ve faced any pitfalls, past or present, when attempting to bring your creative vision to life?
Andre: Speaking in general, I’ve missed many opportunities. There’s always going to be another photographer, so you’ve got to stand out—that’s what I do. Even if I take a break, when I come back, I prove that I’m Andre, and I do this. Last year, when everything stopped, and we had nothing going on, I was on facetime taking pictures, and I was doing that for a long time before that. It’s all about being creative...I was doing magazine cover remixes and all that. It shows and proves who’s really talented, outside of just having connections. I’m trying to get more into the fashion-oriented side of things.
You’ve also mentioned drawing on the past and gaining insight through the photographers that have done it before you, and I wonder, is there any part of our present time that you also look to for inspiration?
Andre: The present has a lot to do with the past—my work embodies that sense of timelessness. Every fashion or trend repeats itself in one way or another, so I guess nothing from the present really gets me—and that’s fashion-wise included.
Being influenced by the culture and life of New York City, what parts of it would you say you love to capture most? Why?
Andre: I love to capture Brooklyn most, and the culture itself, it’s all around. I love to make it look old, and create my settings. For example, in the promenade in Brooklyn, everyone has shot there, and I try to bring that sense of nostalgia back into my work and our time. It’s like a history lesson at the same time.