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Exclusive: Myles Loftin Talks 'HOODED' And Politically-Charged Art

As expected, this season in fashion has been rife with political motifs. The troubling waves currently dominating numerous countries for a plethora of reasons have provided fodder for more than just shocking daily headlines—additionally, they’ve inspired the artistic community to, as Nina Simone said, fulfill their duty of “reflect[ing] the times.” Balenciaga paid homage to Bernie Sanders by using his campaign’s branding as inspiration for their own prints, while other brands like Gypsy Sport kept things more subtle by designing clothes that focused on our country’s neglected homeless youth, particularly those that are trans.

While it’s important to have brands with large platforms take a stance, it’s perhaps more intriguing when an artist embraces politics without the potential for fiscal gain. Enter 19-year-old Myles Loftin, a photographer and videographer who focuses on documenting boys of color, due in part to their typically false or total lack of representation. In his powerful portrait series and video, both titled HOODED, Loftin explores how fashion relates to racial profiling. About the project, he writes:

“I created a multimedia project that humanizes and decriminalizes the societal image of black boys and black men dressed in hoodies. The media has always put a negative light on black men in hoodies and even when you google ‘black boy hoodie’ you get images of criminals while the search “white boy hoodie” produces cookie cutter stock photos of white teenagers smiling. I photographed four black teens/men and portrayed them in a positive light that is in direct contrast of the media representation that has oppressed us. The final product is a series of photographs, screenshots and a film that attempts to shift perception.”

Check out the videos below, as well as an interview with Loftin about his powerful new work.

When did you start taking photos, and when did you decide to do it professionally? 

I started photography about five years ago. It was in the summer between 8th and 9th grade and I’ve been shooting ever since. I feel like maybe it was 10th grade that I realized I wanted to do it professionally because that was when I started charging people for shoots. But most recently, it was last year that a lot of things started happening in regard to my photography where people were interviewing me and featuring my work in different places and even asking me to shoot things.

How do you choose which projects you want to be a part of now that you’re more in demand? 

Yeah, I think right now is where I’m making that transition with being more picky as to what I do and what I do for free. It’s funny because I was just talking about something like this; one of my friends, he was hosting a talk with these photographers, and one of my questions was, “How do you determine what you do for free and is it worth it to do it?” And she was talking about if it’s something that you need for your portfolio and it’s something that you don’t already have, then it’d be okay to do it for free because it’s something that you need. But if it’s not something that you need, it’s something you’d want to get paid for. So right now, I’m just trying to figure out which things I’m going to do for free and who I choose to work with.

That takes a little bit of soul-searching, as well. 

Yeah, it’s a lot. I’m still figuring out.

And with this project in particular, was this just a total passion project that you ideated and came up with on your own?

Yeah, I have a journal and sometimes I write ideas that I have and I just go back to them and develop them and stuff like that. I had kind of been procrastinating on actually completing the project; it was just sitting in my journal and doing nothing. And then I was taking this class in school and for our final, the teacher said we could do whatever we want as long as we could explain it to the class, and basically we had to fill out some information form or something. So I figured I might as well do this project for my final to get it out of the way and stop dwelling on it and having it sit in my journal. So I just shot it for my final project.

Were you comfortable off the bat doing work that was politically charged? 

Yeah, I think that I was always pretty much comfortable speaking on things like that. I mean, I think this was one of the first series that I’ve done with my photography where I included political statements in it, but I feel like in my mouth and on my social media, I’m pretty vocal about political issues, especially on Twitter. I was part of a collective, actually, last year, where the driving force behind it was political activism and social activism.

Who are the boys that you’re featuring in the video and the photos?

So the boys in the project, they were all friends of mine. A couple of them go to my school. One of them goes to NYU and the other goes to BMCC. But yeah, they’re all people that I know personally.

Got it. Also, I love the incorporation of the Google Search images. How did you come up with that? 

Thank you! Yeah, the idea just popped in my head, because I remember seeing posts on Twitter where it’d be like comparisons of what you see when you look up certain terms on Google, and I don’t think it was even those specific phrases, but when you look up “three teen girls,” then you find all these pictures of white girls and stock photos of them being happy and playing with each other. Then you look up “three teen black girls,” you see mug shots. Even when you look up dreads, you see pictures of white people with dreads instead of black people with dreads.

Even outside of stock photos, like thinking more about art or fashion editorial, do you think the representation for black individuals is still off? 

Yeah, definitely. I mean it’s improving, slowly, but still today it’s off.

When you talk to other artists, how do you encourage one another to use your craft to make a statement? How do you tackle the issues? 

One of the best ways to tackle it is to just put yourself out there; putting out the positive side. The side that the media doesn’t really show accurately. Me being a successful black photographer is one way of rebellion against the media which is trying to portray a different image of what black boys are.

Outside of the obvious, how was it different filming for the video as opposed to the shots? Was it more impromptu or was it really scripted out?

It was pretty scripted out. I had video references and everything. I knew what I wanted to do; it was just about executing it and seeing if it would all work. I had ideas of things that I had never tried before, and I wasn’t sure if they would really work like how in the video, where the boys are spinning, I wasn’t sure how I’d do that, but I ended up having them sit in rolling chairs and filmed with a tripod as I spun them around. It was pretty funny.

Is there anything else you’d like us to include? 

Two things. One is the poem that was read in the video, and it’s in the first image, I just wanted to make sure that they were properly credited [to Leo Avedon]. And then I was going to talk about how I was a little bit nervous doing this project being photo and video, because I’m not used to doing video, this was only my second or third video project, so it was really stepping out of my comfort zone doing it. But it definitely helped the whole project come together.

Photos and video courtesy of Myles Loftin

Poem by Leo Avedon

Stay tuned to Milk for more on art and representation. 

Click for Myles Loftin’s Instagram, Twitter and website.

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