Paradigm Gallery presents Shawn Theodore's recent photographic work entitled Night Stars, marking his first show with the Philadelphia gallery. Shawn is most famously known for documenting the "collective Black consciousness" and has previously photographed subjects like Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history. We explore how Night Stars aims to fill in the gaps of Black history.
Shawn's oeuvre spans what he calls 'Afromythology', a space in which he reimagines the real and imaginary futures and histories of African Americans. It's undeniable that Shawn's work is beautiful and ethereal.
The past is incredibly important to the award-winning photographer, as it allows him to connect dots and fill in our archival knowledge of the Black experience. By finding recurring themes, like spirituality and generational knowledge, his work ultimately sends a signal that the Black consciousness is never complete, that it can be added to through generational shifts.
Night Stars is made up of statuesque portraits, with the colour blue weaved throughout. The colour blue is significant to the understanding of the series. It is believed to be used to ward off evil in African culture, so Shawn has set out to see what that influence looks like in today's context.
The series is reminiscent of 19th-century Cyanotype, a photographic printing process used well into the 20th century as a cheap way to produce copies of drawings. It was rare to see Black subjects in these images – and so Shawn's decision to place the Black community front and centre is defiance in itself. This is a perfect example of filling in the archival gaps and reintroducing a community that has long been omitted from such practices.
Shawn tells us the reason behind his use of the indigo-hue: "To create in blue, one must first understand its powerful nature. There has to be a world that exists inside of the colour. A spiritual process is happening that is begging us to look inside of it, and somewhere within it are answers".
He goes on to explain the regalness quality of the colour in his work and what it's attempting to represent: "Featured in this collection are portraits made of bejewelled deities in the indigo-hued ether, the fervour of fête revellers, the quiet stillness amongst the dense foliage and haints of Low Country of South Carolina, possession in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and sunrise reverence at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. At the centre is the viewer, who stands at the bardos of these seemingly disjointed experiences, their presence unifying the real and unreal".
Indeed, the "disjointed experiences" become anything but once you reach the end of the series. The subjects are united in more than collective consciousness and can find a connection in the rich hues of Black history. The blue light is shining on them, wherever they may be, and that alone unites them with their ancestral lineage.
Through contemporary photography, Shawn has left markers for others to build upon. Night Stars is filling in the gaps and showing us a possible future or past. After all, in Shawn's blue transcendental world – anything is possible.