After decades of art and activism, the photographer is releasing his first photobook.
“There’s this thing, I call it ‘death by research’,” Ajamu X explains. In the background of our video call sit stacks of photobooks, a shirtless Black action figure standing on top of them. “Universities, arts institutions, those kinds of places, they love to have conversations about race and class, gender and sexuality. You can talk about that until the cows come home. For me, as an activist, it’s about action – what are you actually doing? What are you changing that’s long term, that’s not just a band-aid?”
As an active member of Black British LGBTQ+ activist circles and initiatives, X’s career has celebrated “the Black body, erotica, pleasure, joy, and activism,” for decades. Now, the photographer has decided it’s time to publish his personal archive in a retrospective book charting his last three decades of work. “Books on Black British queer photographers are extremely rare,” X explains. With a history in punk/DIY publishing, crowdfunding the book became the obvious move. “Using platforms like Kickstarter allows you to bypass the traditional conversations with institutions, explaining and justifying your art. Folks like myself have been doing that forever,” X says.
X’s work has always been grounded in rethinking the singular and authoritative gaze of sexuality, desire, beauty, and gender. His work pulls apart bodily conventions, especially Black male ones, allowing for portraiture that demonstrates another type of masculinity, Blackness, and gender. X is not interested in subverting the white gaze, as this in itself is too binary an approach. His work, both in the studio and through his activism, has always championed the complexity and nuances of a Black queer experience.
Within six days of launching the project on Kickstarter the £15,000 target had already been hit. Desire for the book is clear, with an avid audience fervently supporting the cause. “It’s [the donators’] book just as much as it’s mine – It’s very much a joint venture between 300+ people. X sees the success of crowdfunding as evidence of a hungry audience.
After years of activism and exhibiting, X has a clear vision for the book. By removing conventional funding from the equation fully, he is able to create exactly the archive that he wants. “I was too frustrated, waiting for people to come to the party,” he says. The party in this case being one of Black queer thought, a place beyond understood expressions of gender norms; the place where he and his archive live.
“My mantra, my punk politics are all in this book. I need to get it done, if I want it done right,” X explains. “It’s about creating something that is beautiful, first and foremost. Within this moment, I think people want to go back to those things that are more tangible and tactile, sensuous and pleasurable. Books always do that,” he says.
Isaac Huxtable joined the British Journal of Photography in October 2020, where he is currently the Editorial Assistant. Prior to this, he studied a BA in History of Art at the Courtauld Instititue of Art, London.