© 2022

Fusing Place And Black Experience: With Emerald Arguelles

Interview, Words MARYAM ARSHAD

Location GIORGIA 


Visually complex photographs, intentional and emotional compositional choices and intangible ideas fuse together seamlessly across Emerald Arguelles’ works. The locales that run across her work are connected to her intrinsically, the intimate setting of a beauty salon to the diverse history of a coast. These landscapes are central in embodying the experiences - and lack of experiences - of the artist. In understanding the connections between the tangible and intangible, her work takes on a deeper, nostalgic meaning. The Black models radiate with her vision, and in embodying her ideas they bring the photographs to life. There is a distinct and effortless duality to lots of Arguelles’ works, where there is freedom there is conflict, where there is closeness there is distance. We spoke to Arguelles about the connections between experience, ideas and places - as an artist and as an individual.

As a Black artist, and in centering Black models, what does your work as a whole embody?

EA I believe my work embodies the complexities of Blackness, the beauty and glory of it. The intangibles, our love, grace, strength, the home we create in our presence, the sisterhood, the aspects that can only be felt and experienced—all of this is what I focus on and want to exude in my work.

Does each set connect directly with your most crucial life experiences, or are they merely a small insight?

EA I believe that it is both. Some of my photographs come from my own experiences but others do not. It's a way or a method for me to create the experiences I wish I had. It's a domestic fantasy in a sense.

My God Wears a Durag. The colour palette across this set of photographs meshes so well together. What was the significance behind shooting in this particular coastal setting?

EA The coastal setting was great because it was so majestic and otherworldly but also such a protest. The beach we shot has historically discriminated against the Black community, and by shooting this we created space for ourselves to be happy, carefree, and safe with each other. We created our own world.

Were your compositional choices intentional?

EA Yes, I wanted the colors to mesh with the coastal setting and I was blessed to find a Black designer who created these durags by hand. The models were my friends who trusted my vision and my eye, which I am always so thankful for.

Act of Justice. Where was this photograph taken?

EA This image was taken in Atlanta, Georgia. This was the most ambitious project I’ve worked on. I booked a space and invited about 13 models to the house. I was running from room to room shooting everyone in shifts.

The composition of this photograph makes it appear as a painting in a gallery and yet simultaneously so intimate and personal. The model's emotion and gestures make it emotional to look at. Was this duality intended?

EA The model and I have a great artistic chemistry and we work very well together. I wanted her to be portrayed as a modern Olympia but to exude the grace and strength that Black women so effortlessly portray. I was truly astounded by the result of this image.

Glory. These photographs are reminiscent of history and of the present. The setting here comes across as abstract and minimal. Where were these shots taken, and what vibe were you intending for?

EA These images were shot during quarantine and I had an intense need to create. These were shot on my balcony with fabrics. I created various shapes with the cloth to create something that didn't look like it was shot on my balcony. I wanted to use colors of fabric that meshed beautifully with the models skin tone.

Isn’t it Beautiful. This set of photographs gives off a beautiful, cinematic vibe. Where was this shot and why did you choose this place?

EA These images were shot on 35mm black and white film. I chose this due to the timeless quality of film. This was shot in a beauty salon in Savannah, Georgia, right before the pandemic. I chose this salon because of the relationship I had with the owner and the salon being Black-owned.

What significance does a setting like this have, as an extremely small, extremely localised place?

EA The significance of this space is the intimacy, the community in the space is one that is like no other. Also, being based in the South is a great intergenerational connection due to the history of Black spaces being a safe haven for marginalized communities.

Does this locale connect to your notions of identity and experience?

EA I grew up in a beauty salon surrounded by all types of people and that's where I learned beauty, acceptance, and the many forms of femininity.

Do you have any ideas you would like to explore further?

EA I want to focus on my diaspora. I want to be specific to my experience and fill in those missing spaces. I’m very excited.

Emerald Arguelles is a photographer and editor based in Savannah, GA. As a young visual artist, Emerald has become an internationally recognized photographer through her explorations and capturing of Black America. With an audacious mentality, Emerald relentlessly creates a communal space for Black folx in the modern world. Through her contemporary photographic work, Emerald acknowledges and honors the Black Community, alluding to the importance of cultural acceptance and appreciation that can be recognized for decades to come.


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