_xST / Shawn Theodore on Artblog Radio
Jennifer Zarro talks with photographer Shawn Theodore, alias _xST, about his work--including why he shoots in large-format and how people react to his photos. -- Artblog editor

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Shawn Theodore’s self-assigned moniker, _xST (pronounced “exist”), stems from Black existentialism. An equally affirmed and robust existence is also present in the subjects he photographs. At times, the people in his pictures gaze directly into the camera as though wanting to engage. They pose, they often seem dressed with stylish purpose, they are present.

Take a look at the relaxed and warm face of James of Ruscomb St., for example, and note the multiple shades of blue and denim clothing, the fashionable cap askew, all against a soft slate- and cream-colored background. Other figures become silhouetted shapes interlocking with urban shadows or starkly posed against textured and painted cinderblock walls, the ready-made backdrops offered up by the city. People and places are interdependent; bodies and architecture are equal parts of a carefully composed whole.

Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore
Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore
Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore
Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore

In subject matter and style, these photographs may be like paintings by Barkley Hendricks or Aaron Douglas. Theodore once meticulously re-created with photography Hendrick’s iconic 1969 oil painting, “Lawdy Mama”. But this is not to say that his work mimics these forbearers. For all the people who pose with stylish flair, there are also many who are caught unaware either driving in their cars or weighted and resting after lugging shopping bags down the long blocks of Philadelphia. And underneath the images’ meticulous and formally constructed surfaces is a narrative about the uncertainty of the urban spaces that serve as the setting for Theodore’s projects.

Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore
Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore
Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore
Image courtesy of xST / Shawn Theodore

What we learn from Shawn Theodore in this edition of Artblog Radio is that the walls, buildings, and urban locations in which he works are threatened by gentrification and shifting urban economies. In light of this, Theodore’s photography is important as it creates an archive of the everyday existence of people in a city in flux.

This Artblog Radio interview was conducted in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia on March 18, 2016.

Tags

_xST, artblog radio, philadelphia, photography, shawn theodore

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