Ones to Watch 2021: Clifford Prince King

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Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 20 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 450 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate. Throughout the next few weeks, we will be sharing profiles of the 20 photographers, originally published in the latest issue of BJP, delivered direct with an 1854 Subscription

“It’s all the hidden things, the small stuff that makes up a Black queer life”

“My work is a stopping action,” Clifford Prince King explains. “It allows me to pause, step out of the space, and capture it.” Born 1993 in Tucson, Arizona, King is a self-taught photographer, beginning his craft through a childhood love for the camera. After leaving high school, films such City of God (2002) a tale of a photographer and drug-dealer set in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and the works of Ingar Bergman became his references, with cinematic tableaus having a clear influence on his images. 

© Clifford Prince King.

Four years ago, King moved to Los Angeles. There, he “started becoming more comfortable with my sexuality and who I was,” he explains. King found and became involved in a local Black queer community, and began taking photos of the people he met. He compares his photographs to film stills, each providing a window into the largely unexplored world of Black queer intimacy.“The images have a sacred quality,” one of King’s nominators, Chiara Bardelli Nonino of Vogue Italia and Uomo Vogue, explains.“They are icons, imbued with regal light and protected under a curtain that can be looked at only with a certain degree of attention and devotion.”

© Clifford Prince King.

In the series while night comes on gently (2020), King documents connections, interactions and meetings with friends, and lovers. The viewer is welcomed into private scenes and momentarily invited to watch; the shutter clicks, a fleeting moment eternalised. Emma Bowkett, the Director of Photography of the FT Weekend Magazine and UK-based curator also nominated King, and describes this space as a “glimpse into a wider narrative that is never fully revealed, one which evokes a softness that is rarely afforded to Black men.” There is a shared understanding between King and the consciuos queer audience. “It’s all the hidden things, the small stuff that makes up a Black queer life,” he says. References to queerness and Blackness are scattered throughout the works, anchoring them to a “continuum” of yearning, memory, and tenderness – “one ongoing story,” King says.

© Clifford Prince King.

In the spring of 2017, a year after moving to LA, King was diagnosed with HIV. Before the diagnosis he had begun documenting moments of intimacy, and continued to do so. The photo diary has found a new life in his debut photobook Orange Grove (published by TIS), named after the street on which he lived. “The goal is to create a familiar, physical, and personal account from that time,” he explains. “When I was diagnosed there was a grief process, an acceptance, and a sadness. Since then I’ve realised that grief isn’t a one way street, and these photographs capture all of it.”

King wants to tell a story that resonates with his community, to invite more people living with HIV to talk about it more openly. In the US, Black gay and bisexual men are the most likely group to be affected by HIV, with 37 per cent of new diagnoses found in the community. His images do not tell a woeful story, but one filled with an unapologetic, sensual, and warm life. “These stories are out there, but some of them have been lost,” he says. “I think that while we still can, we should speak for ourselves, for the better.” 

Isaac Huxtable

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.