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Photography

Lawrence Agyei Creates Photography That Speaks to Real People

When Lawrence moved to Chicago from Italy as a teenager, he went to the library and taught himself how to speak English. When he needed a job, he taught himself how to code. And when he wanted to shoot, he taught himself that, too.

When I was 8 years old, I saw my father pick up a VHS camera to shoot home videos, weddings, and just typical family outings. I remember being so inspired, thinking how you can document every single thing. Whenever my father went to work, I’d pick up the camera myself and record my friends around the neighborhood, directing and shooting at the same time. Once my dad found out I was using the camera, though, I stopped. Fast-forward to my senior year of high school, when I needed an art credit to graduate. I wanted to take a painting class, but it was full, and the only art class that was available was film photography. Taking that class reminded me of the feeling I had when I picked up my dad’s camera.

I studied and learned about photography. I started creating personal projects and telling everyday stories. I wanted to create images that capture the beauty of blackness and blend the African diaspora together.

Photography is a way for me to speak without having to say anything. I’m very reserved, so photography gives me a voice. Photography gave me a real outlook on life, not just from my point of view, but from the world. I’m always looking at archives, whether it’s from my family’s own photos or old photography in general. Shooting with film has made me appreciate the art form in so many ways. I love how I can pretty much think about and compose the photo in my head before I press the shutter. I love how I can have conversations with my subjects about anything and everything during the shoot. Every shot is important; you only get 10 shots per roll, so I’m very intentional when it comes to actually taking the photo. My most recent project, “Last Born,” tells a story about two brothers immigrating to the US in search of a better life. I collaborated with my good friend Josef Adamu, cofounder of Sunday School Creative (creative consulting, photography, brand development, and more). Josef has worked with everyone from Air Jordan and Teen Vogue to Mick Jenkins and Jazz Cartier. In “Last Born,” we wanted to tell the story of two siblings in Chicago through fashion and warm colors.

As an artist, I have a responsibility to reflect the times. Everything I create has to reflect the current times we live in. Immigration has become a hot topic in the country, and I wanted to tell this story about overcoming the hardships of moving to a new country. This is my story—I’m Ghanaian and moved from Italy to the US in 2007—and it’s the story of many others.

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This article originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2019 issue of Sixtysix with the headline “Lawrence Agyei.” Subscribe today.