Jan 25, 2021
Donavon is an American photographer with an anthropological approach to the medium. In his series 'Languor', Donavon looks back on the story of New York's Central Park as a site, that at the time of its construction, was occupied by free black people and Irish immigrants who had developed a property-owning community there since 1825, and when clearing began, these residents were evicted under eminent domain. In this way, this work is for Donavon an exploration of the poetic and allegorical links between Black people and nature.
am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?
DS - My name is Donavon Smallwood. I’m a 26 year old photographer born and raised in Harlem, NYC. I came to the medium of photography from an interest in anthropology — was planning on becoming an anthropologist my entire life until I took a photo class in high school and realized how they can basically be the same field. I ended up studying comparative literature and documentary film in college with full intention of being a professional photographer one day.
am - What does photography mean to you?
DS - Photography has many meanings for me, but one of the most striking is its potential simplicity and the power it holds in saving time you will never have again, and not only can you keep that time saved, you can share it with anyone anytime. The times I thought I would lose forever whether it be with family, friends, loved ones, places, or just ideas, these can come back to life in an instant — like with films — it’s a time machine. We can cross over oceans and share our emotions and connect with each other on a truly divine level; you could see a photo project about ordinary people, you can see it anywhere and feel a connection with them. Powerful stuff!
am - What is 'Languor' about?
DS - 'Languor' itself is my way to use the medium of photography to explore the poetic and allegorical links between Black people and nature. The work presents itself as an interaction between images of NYC’s Central Park landscape and genuine portraits taken within the space. With the history of the park being constructed by using eminent domain to strip landowning African-Americans of their property/homes in mind, many of which formed this community to escape the unhealthy conditions and racism found in the other inhabited parts of Manhattan - this is an examination of nature, the negation of civilization, home, and the possibility of escape; centering black tranquility among the chaos of nature space, history, and life today.
am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?
DS - I have a lot of photographers and/or artist I love and admire, I spend a lot of time looking at art not only because of the beauty that is found there, but I believe art to be an education that requires cultivation. A few of my favorite photographers/artists would be Judith Joy Ross, Bryan Schutmaat, Betye Saar, Emma Amos (RIP), Vanessa Winship, Mark Steinmetz, Paolo Roversi, and Barbara Chase-Riboud.
am - What is your favourite movie?
DS - My favorite film would have to be 'One Day Pina Asked…' by Chantal Akerman.
am - What is your favourite photo book?
DS - My favorite photo book is either 'Greater Atlanta' by Mark Steinmetz or 'Portraits of the Hazelton Public Schools' by Judith Joy Ross.
am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.
DS - Thank you!!