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Symbols of Power and Pride — Myles Loftin

By Olisa Jr

Steering through an overly saturated world of misconstrued stories and poorly represented narratives, New York-born photographer Myles Loftin conjures up a sense of bold and beautiful clarity through each image of his. “My work primarily focuses on bringing attention to marginalised communities and individuals, and expanding the ways in which people view beauty and inclusion,” he shares candidly, giving a brief but tender introduction to his work.

On being a Black queer man, Myles’s work as a photographer is alluring as much as it is insightful. “I think people are realizing that queer people don’t have to be performing an idea of what you think of them, in order for them to fit into a certain space, and there are so many different ways in which we can just exist,” he explains, as we attempt to delve into the topic of queer portrayal in the creative industry. Unlike most, the New York photographer is understanding of the ways in which normalizing fragments of society can be done in a heartfelt and appropriate manner, as his images entwine a fine blend of transformative power and rich essence. At just 23 years old, it’s safe to say that Myles Loftin has become a trailblazer amongst his peers, forefronting a change of notions and systems into uncharted territory.

You mentioned you were able to make it to Fashion Week in New York. How’d it go? Where there any highlights for you?

Myles: I actually only went to three shows this year. They were all really good, and I got to see some of my friends. I worked on some images for my friend’s collection from her clothing brand. We shot a lot upstate and I’m excited to share them soon. I also got to see the Kim Shui show and that was cool. They had some Azealia Banks clothes, so it was great to watch.

With us coming out of COVID and having had a lot happen in the last few months, how’re you doing? In general and with work too?

Myles: COVID has been an interesting experience, to be honest. I feel like in the beginning, it was a lot of unknowns because everyone was uncertain where the industry was going. Zoom being a thing, and a lot of adjustments. Also me exiting school at the same time was a lot going on but also a lot of growth within the past year, and learning things about myself and the industry too.

In the last few years you’ve been shooting, in and out of school, how has the nature of your approach to capturing subjects changed?

Myles: I guess since leaving school, it’s definitely given me more room to explore the sorts of things that I am interested in photographing, and also given me a chance to focus. I’ve also fallen more in love with photography and gotten more involved with the process of pre-production and the actual shooting, maybe because I’ve been doing more commercial and editorial work. I think that has given me a sharper eye, being put in high-stress environments, where I’m required to think on my feet. With the personal work, it’s also been better because there’s a lot more intentionality with my work.

What qualities or ideas do you hope your portraits convey above all else?

Myles: I hope to convey a sense of intimacy and community, especially within my personal work. I wanted to showcase that feeling of closeness between myself and the subject with all of my work and have that translate to the audience, so they feel that sort of connection with the person in the photographs.

How would you define community? And do you feel as though there is a strong connection between queer black photographers within the creative industry?

Myles: I guess community for me are the people who support me and vice versa, who have common values and goals. We want to see each other doing well, and I feel like that’s what community is ...people who are looking out for each other more than they are looking to compete. Answering the second part, I think it’s definitely growing. Within the past five years or so, it’s definitely reached a point where I can see there are so many more opportunities for not only established black photographers but also the ones that are just starting. It’s amazing to see the differences from when I first started, things like The Vanguard and others alike. I do also think there are aspects of fashion culture that are so ingrained that it’s hard to move away from, but I do see a lot of progress.

Moving onto your thesis In The Life, which you describe as bridging the gaps of representation and expanding ideas of beauty and importance — what importance do you feel it holds now since being released?

Myles: I feel like, in terms of how a lot of people’s views or perspectives in regards to representation and inclusion, has changed in the last year but I guess it’s mainly been like a lot of white people whose ideas have changed about that. So, I guess in that way, my series may be taken on in a different light. People may actually take it more seriously now, and really consider how we are representing Black queer people, and is it done in an honest way or in a way that makes them feel seen? For me, I think the series has made me more want to showcase our community because of the response to the work, people being able to see themselves in it.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Myles: Well, I want to make it into a book, but I haven’t really done that yet. I still want to expand on the series, but because of COVID it got cut short, but I wanted to shoot more.

There’s a line in your essay that reads, “I think that taking photographs of black queer people in our homes, with our friends/lovers, enjoying everyday life normalizes our everyday experience. These photographs are not a spectacle of queer life, but rather a glimpse into the mundanity and humanity of our collective lived experiences.” — Do you feel as though photographers alike or brands have shared this same idea for a while now or do you think it’s something still being realized?

Myles: I think it’s something still being put into existence. I definitely believe that, as a whole, the commercial fashion industry has become more open to stories that aren’t so performative or take on the whole glitz and glamour approach for it to sell. I think people are realizing that queer people don’t have to be performing an idea of what you think of them, in order for them to fit into a certain space, and there are so many different ways in which was can just exist. I think it’s also passing across the message that our everyday lives are just enough to be celebrated and appreciated.

And through exploring that idea, would you say photography has helped you become more comfortable in your skin?

Myles: I think they’ve both been happening side-by-side; as I’ve been able to be more comfortable with my sexuality, I’ve also been able to show that more in my work. The only way I was even able to create In The Life, was being able to be openly queer, and understand and sit with that, and explore how that operates within the world.

Do you feel as though because your previous work has primarily motioned towards capturing queer or black experiences, people and brands expect only that from you? And what other focuses do you think your work would take on?

Myles: I definitely do think that a lot of the work people have reached out to me for has been because of that, but my work isn’t necessarily all queer focus, but usually POC, or fashion focus. Though I’ve been pretty cool with the work I’ve been doing since coming out of school, in regards to commercial work. I definitely would love to expand on the things that I do, but I feel it would lead to working with brands that I don’t necessarily align with or whatever. So I feel like I’m comfortable working with people who share the same ideas as me.

When did it click for you that you could make a living out of your work and become a lauded photographer? or is that still happening?

Myles: I guess maybe once I was in my sophomore year, I started paying for part of my tuition from the money doing photography. I think that was really the first time, and I think I saw that once I came out of school, I would have even more time to focus on it all. It’s still also something I am coming to terms with, being able to make money from photography and not need my parents to help. It’s surreal and I appreciate the fact that I was able to come to this place and have all of it.

Let’s talk about when you photographed Serena Williams. Talk me through what that moment meant for you? What did the process look like?

Myles: I was so shocked when I got confirmed I was really shooting Serena Williams. I feel like it wasn’t real until she was there. I have a pretty chill demeanour on set. Like I’m an Aquarius, so I don’t feel like I really showed any fanboy moments like that. Afterwards, when I got into the hotel room, I think then it hit. The preparation for that was probably a month of pre-production on and off, trying to figure out each set, ‘cause the whole idea was being able to have her in these different countries. She has a stand-in, so we would do the poses with her, and then when she came in, it was easy to just explain everything.

What are your hopes for the remainder of the year?

Myles: I hope that for the remainder of the year, I get some time to focus on expanding the work from my thesis project because it can be hard trying to balance the commercial jobs and taking time off to focus on this particular thing.

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