Saturday, January 2, 2016

Uncomfortably Intimate, Bafflingly Beautiful

Field Niggas (2015) - Allah
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Kalik Allah has been photographing people in East Harlem (Lex & 125st) for years with his analog 35mm camera. Field Niggas is an extension of his practice with a small DSLR (shot in half the normal speed). The power of his arresting images is in his subject looking back at you straight in the eye. The experience of their lingering glance is bafflingly beautiful and uncomfortably intimate. I haven't felt like that probably since Robert Bergman photo exhibit in 2009. Accompanying wild tracks of its many subjects conversing with Allah give necessary context to the images presented. Obviously, Allah being a brother from the neighborhood gives him advantage to take these intimate photos at night in East Harlem. And the young photographer is not shy about his involvement in the process. He is seen and heard throughout the film.

Shot in the shadow of Robert Gardener incident during the Summer of 2014, the tension on the streets is reflected in the film as well. Police presence is everywhere and Allah includes them in his universe too. These young officers might be voiceless and distant in the film, but that doesn't stop Allah from getting in their faces and share his photo albums with them.

With the evocative title and constant presence of old chain gang songs, Allah draws parallels to the present inner-city life - poverty, drugs (it seems the drug of the choice at the moment is K2, the synthetic cannabis) & single motherhood. Field Niggas is a great snapshot of the nitty gritty present of the street people. But Allah seems incapable of staying away from beauty- time and time again he revisits pretty faces lit only by the dim street lights.

Please visit Khalik's Tumblr