Chicago soul singer also performs well behind the camera, photographing architecture and places

February 8, 2013

Yaw Agyeman is a fantastic singer.
 
He possesses a dense, silky voice that has gotten notice around town--and is bound to get more (we'll hear him sing a bit later).Yaw, who performs under his first name only, is a poet and an MC. He's part of a new breed of aware, creative young black men and women who are impacting the city's music, art and culture.
 
And as it turns out, Yaw is also pretty good with a camera. Between gigs and other duties, he photographs the city and other places he's traveled, often focusing on architecture, infrastructure and urban spaces. Look at the poetry in the photo above of Garfield Blvd with a solitary, red-capped figure striding across the uncommonly empty street.
 
Or this nighttime photo looking east on Randolph Street from the EL stop on Wabash:
And this photograph of artist and spoken-word poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph sitting alone in the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia:
His images are thoughtful, subtle and soulful. Quietly powerful. Not unlike the music he makes. So I caught up with Yaw to talk a bit about what he shoots. Any why.
 
Q: What grabs your eye?
YAW: I am interested in how space plays out; how God paints a specific picture where the objects within, are intentionally placed in a certain space, or not. I am interested in the intention of a picture or scene and being able to intentionally capture it. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to snap the button at the right time, on the other occasions the delete button is my friend.

Q:. What kind of camera do you use? How often do you carry it?
YAW: My iPhone has been my buddy and most of my pictures are taken with that camera. I also have a Nikon D5100 that I am learning and getting more comfortable with. I always have one or the other with me.
 
Q:  I look at the images and I can't help but think there is a somehow a relationship--a similar vibe---between what you shoot and your music?
YAW: Well, perhaps my affinity for improvisation and an organic experience informs my photos as they do my music. I try not to be influenced by a script--instead, the moment. Most of my shots have occurred out of an almost impulsive reaction to the story that my eyes have created. My task immediately is to translate it, as I feel the scene and the moment.
 
Q: Tell me about the image of Garfield Blvd. What's the story?
YAW: It was snapped from the roof of a building on the corner of 55th and Prairie. I, with a wonderful team of creatives and builders were repairing the roof. Through the persistent and important work that Theaster Gates and the Rebuild Foundation are doing, this and other buildings will activate a kind of movement towards the south side. I seek to document where I have been, so I snapped.

Q: Of the images we're viewing, what's your favorite and why?
YAW: The Annenberg Center is my favorite photo: One, it's black-and-white. I've developed a love affair with black-and-white images because it is void of the suggestions that color makes. The nakedness of black and the nuance of its varying degrees of shade, seem to me to be the most efficient mode of storytelling. Naked. And two, the photo is of Marc Bamuthi Joseph, one of the geniuses of our time in a space that housed his work [red, black & GREEN: a blues]. In this moment he seems to be anonymous and powerful. There is a story, succinct and clear. This is what I saw. And I'm happy that I was so blessed to capture as I saw it.
 
Q: What's cool about photographing Chicago?
YAW: There is so much history in Chicago; so many stories that are being lived out and not published. It seems that Chicago doesn't end or that it is always moving and changing. That challenge is thrilling: to always have something to capture, to always have work.
 
And before we go--as promised--let's hear Yaw sing (and there is more here):