The Villain

Artist: John Edmonds
photography | Inkjet print | 762x610mm | 2018

Making Black queer collectivity and self-awareness central to his work, John Edmonds explores the aesthetic possibilities of intimacy and desire in his photographs. Recalling earlier eras of studio photography, he carefully choreographs his subjects and settings to create portraits that engage and challenge the art historical canon. Edmonds uses a 4x5 studio camera or a medium-format Hasselblad, which heightens the staging and details visible in each image. The photographs’ pristine clarity and meticulous compositions highlight the complicated relationship between photography and Black subjects. Referencing the legacy of Harlem Renaissance portraiture, and using African objects (some drawn from traditional contexts and others manufactured for decorative purposes), Edmonds recenters people of color as self-possessed individuals, in contrast to narratives prevalent in modernist photography of the 1920s and 1930s that often objectify Black bodies. By carefully lighting and arranging each composition to emphasize the glow of a sitter’s skin, the edge of a cheekbone, or the sheen of a wooden statue, Edmonds creates portraits that interrogate and celebrate Black identity and expressive culture.


Whitney Biennial 2019 | 2019.05.17 - 2019.09.22 | Whitney Museum of American Art(New York City, NY, United States)