David Uzochukwu on the subject of the body

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Uzochukwu reflects on the subject of the body within his work, and beyond it, at a time when the bodies of others feel more distant than ever, and our own bodies have become emblems of illness and danger

David Uzochukwu’s contorted bodies ripple through space — bent, tense, naked. A figure lies aside a pink lake, its back turned, red oozing from beneath its waist. A nude, amorphous form strides out before the ripples of a sunset, arms elongated; muscles tensed. A bare torso emerges from swathes of long grass; a limp figure, with jagged fins, lies slumped atop another man.

The surreal has always intrigued Uzochukwu, who began photographing aged 13. Vivid colours, bold forms, and an intense sense of the textures depicted, compose his varied oeuvre. Alongside personal and editorial work, the photographer has also collaborated with artists including FKA Twigs, Little Dragon, and Pharrell — translating each of their distinct demeanours into his static images.

Below, Uzochukwu describes one of the many bodies that populate his oeuvre and reflects on the subject of the body within his work and beyond it.

It is refreshing to see bodies visualised the way they can feel: filled with life, capable of wonders. Multifaceted representations of bodies of colour and all kinds of hybrid bodies interest me. I think of Lynette Yiadom Boakye’s portraits full of colourful blackness; Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight; and Ali Abbasis’ Borders.

The body’s duality interests me. It is possibility and limitation in one pulsing home and prison. As the final frontier of the self and a tether to society, it unites the intimate and political. The body is our undeniable connection to nature. It governs us. We try to govern it.

My body can easily become a target for violence. The space it occupies matters. However, before now, I had never seen my body as such a serious threat to others. Taking responsibility for it has become essential so as not to endanger others.

I photograph the body thinking about what it’s feeling. When I photograph someone, they should be filled to the brim with emotion. Then, even their static body radiates tension.

Experiencing new dreams inspires me. Dedication. Chosen family. Wild gardens. Everything combining strength and fragility. The way FKA twigs’ home with you charges at you after the refrain: ‘When I visualise / All I see is black.’

Others should feel at least a fraction of what I feel after I photograph them: seen, recognising yourself in something out of the ordinary. It is special not to feel lonely. Especially, when we have tucked ourselves away in one way or another.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she was Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.