IDENTITY IN FOCUS: MARK AGHATISE
Written by Devyn Springer
Following part one of my Identity In Focus series, which you can find here, is a feature with the wonderfully talented photographer Mark Aghatise. Mark is a Black, New York based photographer whose work features a strong emphasis on using the body to expand narratives around Black people, through the visual intricacies of fashion and form. I came across Mark’s work on Instagram, after a friend of mine suggested I check out his photography. I was looking for other queer Black boy artists whose work I could view for inspiration, searching through the web trying to find artistic narratives that spoke to me and mine on a similar wavelength as the work I put out myself and finding Aghatise’s work feels like a blessing.
Aghatise says he love to “explore repetition and movement, and the intersection of both.” This can be seen in his photographic composition; the positioning, and always keen styling, he gives to his models. His attention to detail and the wistful boldness created in his work is matched by the impressive work put into the photographs, which he said is sometimes choreographed. “A lot of times, I choreograph my models and capture their movements, which are the photos you see. We do this over and over again and I select images based on which nuanced moment strikes me the most.” This gaze situated on movement, or rather the act of moving, manifests in a photography style that explores and portrays the Black body independent of white narratives and gazes. When viewing the work on his website some of the most striking images are the deep black-brown-blues of skin, coated in yellow and red hues, that often stand out more than the outfits they are wearing.
“I am so constantly inspired by women, especially the women I see in my commute,”says Aghatise. “Older black ladies in NYC, and in general, have the style game on lock! My mother, and my grandmother, and many of the women in my family are stylish both by culture and by virtue.” Aghatise say he is always “amazed” by the innovation in presentation of the self that Black women construct, and the way their forms and figures within self-presentation continually push boundaries. “Photographing women, especially black women, is a challenge for me because of differences in body shape and movement compared to most men, but I do find that there is something loud that comes from the way black women photograph and can stare back at the viewer of the image. ”
In contrast with when he photographs women, Aghatise says when he styles and photographs men he treats them as a reflection of himself but “in bodies that perform or present differently” than his does. “It is almost as if I try to animate myself in them through the styling and the movement and positioning. I am more comfortable photographing men, because I have a better understanding of my own body and form, from which I have learned to direct and move theirs.”
“I have really bad anxiety and OCD and use my art as a method of understanding both my anxiety/OCD, abstracting the two from me, and examining them through another's body.” This abstraction of the self through others visible in his art can be why Aghatise’s photographs can feel therapeutic and powerful when viewed, because they are a refashioning of his own self. It is in this imagination of the self, one that exists through projecting a narrative and cultivated gaze onto other Black people, that his work reminds me of legendary Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee, whose photographs had a similar attention to detail and reshaping of the self through others that spoke to many people.
“I find it so fascinating the ways in which nuance appears through the cracks when you repeat a movement or process over and over again, likewise, I love seeing and learning where the body fails in function or form.” Truly, it is in the intentional effort to present the body as a projection of self, movement, and underlying powerful reclamation of narrative that makes Mark Aghatise’s work so delightful. I nearly stalk his Instagram and Tumblr, waiting to see new images appear because I know they will not let me down.
A series exploring race and artistic creation
by Devyn Springer