When the subject matter is so close to the heart that it becomes the heart, the end result is Tau Battice’s “Harlem I(nf)lux,” “Afro Latina: Intimacies and Identities” and “Daddying.” It is with a click of his camera and tongue that he wrestles and summons the spirit out of people. For with each snap, each chat, he brings them closer to him and, thus, closer to themselves. The subjects speak, but not through voice –Battice’s own expert eye illuminating others.
There’s a conjuring of DuBois. Souls of black folk, the agent for which his photos hover before our very eyes. What we witness is a stripped down identity, bare boned and stunning that takes allegiance with a higher calling for justice and truth.
Black is beautiful is not a slogan. It’s a mantra Battice chants to his subjects. In a white-washed world where ghostly standards intimidate and European ideals continue to dominate, Battice aspires for the unbridled, for a non-colonized gaze, for a heart that beats not for capitalism or propaganda. He is a modern day hero of the anti-hero variety. He is a blessing and a beast. He is a soldier –armed with his camera and mind, not gun and brawn; he fights the good fight, shakes up notions, and imposes images that defy social canons.
Battice presents enduring stories –stories that deserve more consideration than ever before, worthy of every eye. He seems to be telling us a history that has been ignored for ages.
How do you approach your subject matter and subjects?
For the most part, I photograph my indignations. Much of my subject matter has been bothering me and particular communities for years. Combined with conversation, these images allow me, but more-so my partners, to purge, to get free. Hopefully, the camera allows me to document those very real but silenced narratives. Where images are concerned, photography is not just a way of liberating bodies, but also, and even more importantly, a way of liberating minds.
Regarding my physical approach to my subjects/ partners, for my Harlem and South Bronx personal projects, I walk the streets looking for energies or certain looks that I think will resonate 50 years from now. With “Afro Latina: Intimacies and Identities” and “Daddying,” I meet partners strictly through word of mouth. It’s a slow process, but it works well for me in terms of getting to know my subjects intimately before we even photograph.
Or better yet, what attracts you to your subjects?
Simply put, our shared humanity. My parents were teenagers, my father was Rastafari, and they lived in the so-called ghetto. Coming from that setting and growing up keenly aware of perceptions and lived outcomes, I am organically attracted to the stories of those on the fringes: the marginalized, the mute, the subaltern, the counted-out, the excluded, el subestimado. And so these are the people I strive to help articulate their stories.
In under 10 words, what do you hope to capture with your portrait pictures?
Deity, dignity, high humanity, realism, natural beauty, majesty, agency, universality.
Which piece of literature would be indicative of you as artist and person?
Notebook of a Return to the Native Land by Aimé Césaire.
Women have been dehumanized and limited in many ways, I’m paraphrasing you here, but why did you feel it was your duty to help break, or at least loosen, these chains for the Afro-Latina?
I am constantly reminded of the phrase, ” To whom much is given, much is expected.” So, I am duty bound–if I come into some sort of helping light, freedom, or higher consciousness— to help mi vecina into the light. The Afro Latina project had been in my bosom years before I started photographing it. When I first started teaching college writing, I had a newly arrived Dominicana student who would soon share her stories of the internalized racisms, color-isms, and hair-isms within her home. I was moved and saddened by what she was enduring as an African descent Latina in a mostly European-norming culture. The more I researched, I realized the inter-generational racial trauma and skewed beauty standards visited upon her and millions of other Afro Latinas and, indeed, black women, had robbed way too many women of being fully confident, self-loving humans. I took a personal vow to address the issue with a journalistic article of some sort. That buried essay became the “Afro Latina: Intimacies and Identities” book project.
Who would you call your biggest influence?
If by influence, you mean inspiration, three of multiple come to mind readily. First, Bob Marley, for his grueling work ethic, the use of his songs to bring people together, and the personal anthems he has given me. Where my photography is concerned, I’ve internalized that bit of 1979’s “Zimbabwe” when he sings, “arm and arm with arms, we’ll fight this little struggle, cause that’s the only way we can overcome a little trouble.” Those “arms” for me are my camera and my pen. Second, Irving Penn for his clean, revealing portraiture. A yellowed copy of his “Worlds in A Small Room” is constant companion and re-invigoration. Third, veteran documentarian Jamel Shabazz for his genuine love and respect for his subjects. I am also inspired that he never attended any fancy photo schools, photographed his instincts and passions in the streets for three decades, and has published five photography books to date.
In reference to your upcoming project titled “Daddying” can you please address the issue of mass incarceration of black men in North America.
This blight of mass incarceration of black men in America has been going on since 1619, so I’m not sure how much new insight I can bring to the topic. Clearly, mass incarceration of a disproportionately high number of black men wreaks havoc on the black family. Too many locked away fathers computes to too many dysfunctional young men. As incarceration relates to my ongoing “Daddying” project of Black men with their sons, I can see how the viewer would juxtapose the photographs with the rough reality of 1.2 million black American children currently having a parent locked up in a state or federal faculty. Or that 1 in 3 black men in America can expect to do a jail or prison bid in his lifetime. And then, of course, there is the narrative of the black man as hyper-sexing, but hypo-daddying. He is hardly around. And black boys are the worse for it. Well, I also know a contrary but totally ordinary culture of lots of black fathers who are not just around but full participants and loving guides in their sons’ lives. In fact, when my mother moved to America in the 1980s, I was raised by my father in St.Kitts-Nevis. This project, then, is a reflection of my personal reality, my normalcy. If “Daddying” simultaneously indicts mass incarceration and willful black father absenteeism while celebrating father-son relationships, then missions accomplished.
Find his work here:
WORDS BY: Jacklyn Janeksela
PHOTOS BY: Tau Battice