RBA: How have you been doing? Are you in Detroit right now?
DT: Yeap, I’m in Detroit, Ml
RBA: Nice, did you grow up there?
DT: Yeap Born and raised on the East Side of Detroit
RBA: How did you get started with photography?
DT: My interest in photography started in 6th grade when the first season of ANTM came out, I was like this little gay kid, who was a loner, and seeing that show, the models, the photography etc really set a flame under my ass lol=
RBA: Looove. Who was your favorite model?
Right! Lol All Time Dani Evans from Season 6 (beautiful country black girl) and Naima Mora from season 4 (she was from Detroit!)
RBA: I’m curious about your alter ego Dion, how did they first develop?
I started creating Dion in 2015/2016 my first year of grad school. After producing a triptych named “I wish I was perfectly happy” where I would visually dissect myself, by pointing out flaws, societal views placed on my body etc. My then Graduate Advisor asked me what I did love about myself. I started thinking about what I love about myself and the thing that I did love were the same things I was told I wasn’t supposed to love because they were too femme, or for girls
RBA: Do you feel like Dion has changed your relationship to yourself?
DT: Oh yeah, by working through Dion I’ve found myself becoming more confident in myself, how I present myself, I’m reminded that my body is to be desired just as much as the next, if not more!
RBA: Dion often seems to be pictured with other people? What is their relationship to other subjects within these frames
[IMAGE: Three people in front of a window. One stands, one sits, and the third reclines on the floor.]
DT: I try my best not to always photographed Dion with other people, because I really want Dion to be the center of attention, but like in any of the images where there is other people they are either looked at as protectors, lovers, in the same vein as the Lions at the feet of kings/queen in old paintings. Like in this image, Dion in the center on attention
RBA: Are there things you feel like you consciously resist when you’re making work?
DT: I’ve just started to make it a mission to make work with love, and joy, and to stay away from black Trauma, or Pain… there’s already so much of that in the world!
RBA: How did you first get into self-portraiture specifically, did you start out with that or shift into it?
DT: Lol funny thing, I started in high school when I broke my leg and had nothing else to do, but it has always been a part of my practice.
RBA: I feel like ideas of the ‘backdrop’ reoccur in your more recent images
DT: Yeah I like the idea of the construction on the image, experimenting with when it’s a photo and when it’s documentation. It’s also something I’ve always loved when I was younger looking at photos of family members when they were going to cabarets and take these GHETTO ASS photos in front of backdrops lol. That shit was Iconic to me! Like I love this!!! It’s so black I love it! lol
[IMAGE OF A GROUP OF PEOPLE IN FRONT OF A PAINTED MURAL]
RBA: Can you talk a bit more about shine, and your use of shimmering materials?
DT: I’ve been using gold metallic backdrops because when I think of the black aesthetic. Specifically coming out of Detroit I think of things being very bold, braggadocious very Gaudy, loud, very in your face, and with the black velvet backdrop I think of award shows I’m thinking about the step and repeat that you would see at the Grammys or at the Oscars, VMAs
It’s a way of presenting self
RBA: What was an artwork you saw that changed the way you think about art?
DT: Glenn Ligon to disembark. It’s not a photo, but it provided an emotion I didn’t know art could provide, I was 18 the first time I saw it, I was fresh outta high school!
RBA: On the flip side Is there an artwork that confirmed something you didn’t like about art?
DT: Richard Prince and them stupid ass Instagram Photos!! Like so white men can just get away with anything and be praised for it!WTF! It’s lazy and problematic!
RBA: Can you tell me a bit about #Project20’s
DT: Yes, so project 20s is an ongoing photo project. I was inspired by two hip-hop songs one by Kendrick Lamar named chapter 6 in one by Kanye West named We Don’t Care, both songs address specific ages that are like milestones for young black people in urban cities. This idea came to mind when I was living in Chicago and I started to realize how rapid gentrification and displacement were within black and brown communities. So I am photographing up to 200 black and brown people between the ages of 20 and 30. The motto of the project is you take us out of our hood I put us on your white walls
RBA: Were these analogue images?
DT: No they’re digital images that are then turned into Cyanotype, and toned in black tea or coffee which is how it gets its different variations of the color
RBA: Why did you choose this process for this project?
DT: I liked the idea of me being able to not have control of how the photo would it turn out by using Cyanotype in coffee or tea nothing is ever perfect, things are rugged, things are inconsistent as far as coloring there are different variations I just enjoy the fact that each individual image would have its own identity in the same way that every individual person has their own identity
RBA: How has your conception, and treatment of American blackness within your work changed over time?
DT: Well I got the term American blackness from Ta Nehisi Coates, it explains how black people and people of African Diaspora have a very different experience in America than say Europe or Brazil or Canada. Black Americans have a very distinct experience and I feel the more I understand our experience the more I start to see the beauty in it, the beauty in our aesthetic and culture. This is something I also just observed being in Detroit which is as of the last American census the blackest city in the country. Over time, I feel that the idea of American blackness is like forever expanding and forever evolving, and I feel like my work really doesn’t tackle everything that is being an American black person but it does tackle some of it, you know so like what it means to be black and queer and American. What does it mean to be black and poor and American what does it mean to be black and other and American
RBA: When do you feel like an artwork is finished?
DT: When I feel it in my gut that I’m done! I often will take some photos and sit on it until I’m comfortable with it until I feel that it’s right!