Deana Lawson finds her subjects out in the world. She discovers people “around the neighborhood … near public transportation, in beauty supply shops, fried-chicken spots, nightclubs, Family Dollar, churches,” the photographer said in an interview with the artist Arthur Jafa included in her recently published “Deana Lawson: An Aperture Monograph.” In 2011, she told the New Yorker that Nostrand Avenue, the A train, and the rapper Notorious B.I.G were among her main interests.
Born in Rochester in 1979, where she was raised, she attended Penn State as a business major before shifting her focus to photography. After receiving an M.F.A. in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2004, her work has been slowly gaining notice year by year. In 2011, she was included in MoMA’s annual “New Photography” exhibition, which was followed by a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013, and an appearance in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. In early 2018, she had her first solo show at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in Manhattan.
As her profile continues to rise, her work is becoming more expansive. She has moved outside the confines of Bed Stuy, where she is based, shooting photographs in South Africa, Jamaica and Haiti, among other places. Her images have appeared on album covers from the singer Devonté Hynes, and she recently photographed the pop star Rihanna. But the relationship between Lawson and her subject matter remains the same.
“When I’m looking for subjects and when I’m photographing someone, it always arrives from this undeniable attraction,” she told Jafa. “Like seeing a stranger on the street and the stranger seeing me.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Fall/Holiday 2018 issue of Brownstoner magazine.
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