Mo: What do you feel like is lacking in the photo community that you wish to see more of?
Bon: Right now, I would say honesty and risks. I feel like these "risks" that are happening right now are not risky at all. For example: there could be a series based on real individuals that are part of the LGBTQ community. It's a nice action, but stop presenting it that way to sell something.
Mo: We're doing this thing that should've been done at least five years ago, but look!
Bon: It's fine if you want to state that this is the first female or African American photographer to shoot this cover, but let's actually support that in the long run. From my personal experience, in the past year, I've lost jobs where they'd say, "You'd be perfect for this because you fit the profile." And I'm like, wait a minute. What do you mean? They'd continue with, you're Asian, you're doing this type of work, et cetera, et cetera. It would fall through and then they'd tell me that they wanted female photographer that was this profile. I get that you're trying to diversify, but you're creating profiles to fit an agenda. I should've stopped them the minute they said they're looking for a photographer that fits this. I think that me being in my position I could've called them out, but I wonder what younger creatives would say who don't have that kind of work opportunity. Are they speaking out? It's a tricky thing. I've been in that position where you're younger and you know you need to go with it because of the opportunity you've been given.
Mo: And for younger artists, I think there's always going to be someone taking that opportunity regardless because maybe the check's good or the client is a title they want in their roster. I guess it's about informing the client about what they're doing, and if that's not possible then at least showing that to the community is important.
Bon: Yeah, and some people might not want to hear it, but I'd rather be honest with fellow creatives that this is something that should be fixed or approached differently. Honesty also comes through criticism, as well. I feel like a lot of people have not been able to take criticism lately. Practicing how to talk to fellow artists in an effective way helps that. Back to your question—the answer is communication in the most general sense.
Mo: It's funny because the most accessible channel for artists and viewers is the internet. So you'd think that, that might be the best place to introduce that criticism. I guess, for me, my passive criticism can be how I engage with someone's work online. Granted, I can't see everyone's latest post all the time so I can't comment or like everything, but if I like majority of someone's work but not that image or two, maybe—just maybe—I'm not that crazy about that one image. And that's fine. But even then, it's a stupid way to provide “criticism”.
Bon: It's a shortcut. I'm gonna just keep scrolling. [both laughing]
Mo: Nonetheless, it's great to have spaces like Red Hooks Labs where you can engage with curators and authorities in photography and receive that needed criticism. One thing I can think of, though, is that if you are shooting something popular like a magazine cover, the number of people paying attention to the personality or spectacle you shot will automatically open you to that criticism.
Bon: I mean, the title of being a photographer is evolving so quickly as an individual. There is this kind of pinnacle point of holding integrity and still being a great artist. There are a few people who still fit this profile, like Spike Jonze; someone who can do a fashion film, a skate film, commercial, and short film. And then there's Yara Shahidi who's a producer, actress, writer, and voice for her generation. So I feel like that's a path most photographers and directors should take because it's going to start weaving out people who have great work but also have a voice that stands out. Not just a voice through their work, but what else are you doing? Because of the culture we're in now, people want to know. The audience is much smarter and can see through everything.
Mo: I don't think there's that much room left to be the elusive artist who says nothing and pushes out work. We all have this growing accountability of having to speak and I’m hoping that benefits people. It makes no sense if you're creating great work and not sharing your thoughts alongside that. Certain visual mediums only have so much capacity to say something. As much as I love photography, it can't say everything.