Entanglements: 005 - Nakeya Brown & Larry Cook

Nakeya Brown and Larry Cook, DC-based photographers and newlyweds, recently participated in Art on the Vine's newly established Savage-Lewis Residency on Martha's Vineyard. Tasked with creating both individual work and a collaborative piece, the work will be on view for the 4th annual art fair on Martha's Vineyard. The two discuss collaborating as artists, as a couple, and how they've navigated the art world together.

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Background Building at Shearer Cottage, Martha's Vineyard, 2018.

Larry: When we were first approached about the residency and being asked to collaborate on a piece what went through your mind?

Nakeya: I was nervous and excited because whenever you have two minds come together you’re definitely going to have an opportunity to break some of your rules and adopt each other’s rules. I wasn’t sure of what that collaborative work would look like. We had lots of conversations before the residency trying to figure out how we wanted to collaborate: Would we want to respond to each other? Are we working together on a single picture? Are we working separately on the same ideas?

N: How about you?

L: I definitely felt need to visualize our final collaborative work early on but then I realized its best to enjoy the process no matter what the result is. And to your point about breaking rules and adopting new rules, I do feel like I adopted your process of color mood boarding. Seeing how you would pull from different visual references such as architectural magazines and antique magazines to study different color palettes and color combinations then using that as an inspiration for some of your decision making. I feel like I began to pay much more attention to color in my own work. It was one of the benefits of being able to see your process in a more intimate fashion while away at the residency.

Nakeya Brown, Primary #2 and #4, 2018.

L: So in reference to the piece that we collaborated on, how was it working with black male beauty products?

N: I remember some of our earlier conversations you asked me why I don’t use black male products or would I ever shoot black male products? You were the one that sourced all of the products. And in that process, I was able to learn more about you and what it was like growing up for you by hearing some of the rituals that you practiced. So for me, working with the male beauty products as it directly relates to our collaboration was a chance for me to explore you visually and put you in front of the lens in a more abstract way.

L: One of the things I realize that with men is we are not always vocal about our grooming rituals or processes. I think this is due in part to the guard that we put up.

N: Why is that?

L: I think it’s not easy to be vulnerable and let your guard down. We’d rather give off the impression that we got these waves because we have them naturally, and its not due to the fact that I brush my hair all day every day, wear a wave cap when I go to sleep, and use an “S Curl” kit. The collaboration also allowed me to really think about what are the things that have been passed down to me and ask what have I learned from my dad, uncle, cousins and friends. I began to start thinking about these things and think back to my own childhood. I even started to think about things not related to hair, like cleaning my sneakers with a toothbrush, and other practices we employ to keep ourselves up in our appearances. One of my favorite parts of the collaboration was going into beauty supply stores and looking at objects from an artistic standpoint as far as color, composition, and text. The visuals embedded in the products share the same pallets; the stock images share the same aesthetic.

Untitled.jpg

"Starting a new body of work at the residency,

I realized how important it was to receive your validation in the work I was creating. As soon as I finished shooting and had a contact sheet, you were the first person I wanted to see the work and give feedback. Throughout the residency, I looked for your stamp of approval." 

Larry Cook, Untitled, 2018.

N: They tend to be the same person, or they repeat.

L: Right, growing up and seeing these images repeatedly, it impacts how we choose to perceive ourselves. I also had a moment of disbelief in the products I would put in my hair and the damage is does. I had to question what drove me to make those decisions.

N: I think that's part of the beauty in collaborating with each other, because it gave you a chance to think outside of your usual way of working and outside of your self. I feel inspired to hear you were able to go down memory lane and reminisce about some of these issues that are embedded within our community regarding appearance. You were able to affirm and question those boyhood experiences creatively and by having honest conversations with your closest friends and family.

L: I am going to continue to explore black manhood in order to be able to discuss some of these more personal choices. I have been thinking about objects, their connotations, and how to visually interpret that.

N: You and I have been collaborating since before the residency. Whenever we had ideas, we'd just be like ‘hey what do you think about this?’ or ‘hey I’ve been thinking about exploring that’ or “should I do this show?’, so I feel like we did a lot of consulting and understand the struggles of navigating the art world and how difficult it can be to work full-time and make work full-time. Even before we got a chance to go to Martha's Vineyard and work together, we've been collaborating, just in another way.

L: Starting a new body of work at the residency, I realized how important it was to receive your validation in the work I was creating. As soon as I finished shooting and had a contact sheet, you were the first person I wanted to see the work and give feedback. Throughout the residency, I looked for your stamp of approval.

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Even before we got a chance to go to Martha's Vineyard and work together, we've been collaborating, just in another way.

Whenever we had ideas, we'd just be like ‘hey what do you think about this?’ or ‘hey I’ve been thinking about exploring that’ or “should I do this show?’, so I feel like we did a lot of consulting and understand the struggles of navigating the art world and how difficult it can be to work full-time and make work full-time." 

The Shearrer Cottage converted into a darkroom for loading film, Martha's Vineyard, 2018.

N: What will you miss the most about Martha's Vineyard?

L: The peace and the serenity. Being at the Shearer Cottage, it was right in front of The Baptist Temple Park. I spent a lot of time there shooting, meditating, and often thinking about what it meant for that particular location to the people that have worshipped there.  I still think back to being at the place. Also, just being able to work freely and uninterrupted.

N: What advice would you offer to other artists that fall in love?

L: I would advise them to embrace it, be vulnerable and let your guard down. It's more important to be open, its rewarding and comforting to have that be a part of your relationship. You can learn so much from each other.

N: I love that. Being an artist married to an artist comes with so many rewards. Your contacts are now my contacts, it’s the ultimate networking tool. I also always have a date to our art events, fairs, openings, and talks. I know I have you by my side or as back up to take care of our home life.

L: As artists, there’s a misconception that making our work is all we do. We are in our studios 24 hours, 7 days a week then we appear at openings and talks, then it’s back into the studio. That’s a really difficult lifestyle to maintain when you also have real life responsibilities and bills. The truth of the fact is most of us will have other commitments going on at the same time like full-time work or caring for families. There should be more discussions about artists working in that way.

N: What's a disadvantage of being married to an artist?

L: That you take up all the space in the storage unit.

N: What is our next collaboration, outside of more babies?

L: More babies.

Editor's Note: Nakeya and Larry's entanglement is published, in physical form, in this year's Art on the Vine Catalogue. Visit the fair August 12-15, 2018 and pick up your copy.

Check out the full Entanglements series here