Before being a photographer, Matthew Usukumah is a storyteller. Through his actors’ bodies, postures, and clothing, he expresses the freedom and struggles to be who you are.
The mise en scène of Matthew’s photographs is studied, but their aroused emotions are real. The photographer places his actors in contexts as if they were on a theatre stage. Each photo is the scene of a play, the frame of a film, the verse of a song. Using images, Matthew tells the unfolding of a story, which often starts from a creative suggestion or the need to get to the bottom of social and human issues. He creates a series accompanied by texts that explain each scene’s evocative and poetic content.
The selected six photos are taken from different series, but they all revolve around a single theme: identity. They are photographs of people who express themselves or fight to do so. The role of self-reflection and introspection is well exemplified by the recurrent scenario of a bathroom, such as in The Enabler or The Woeful Hedonist. The bathroom becomes the metaphorical setting for an intimate moment of selfanalysis, an inner monologue on one’s vices and fears. The element of water is also symbolic in Matthew’s photos. Water, transparent and pure, calms the mind and reconnects us to our most intimate nature. However, what happens when others do not hear and accept our identity? The photographer also addresses the issue of vulnerability, of not being recognized, as occurs in the case of gender-fluid people. Some photos, such as Furious Mime, also display the anger that pervades people when they suffer violence because of their race.
Matthew is intrigued by the possibility of expressing himself through art forms, like photography. His style is extremely tied to the narrative as if his photos were all acts of longer pièce. From a technical point of view, his fine art photography is also heavily influenced by his career as a fashion photographer. The models are in scenographic poses, sculptural in the center of the composition. The use of light, clothing, hairstyles makes them very aesthetic but still uncoated photographs. The great fashion photographers like Richard Avedon, with his human portraits, Irving Penn, elaborate black and white, or Robert Mapplethorpe, the undisputed king of the rendering of bodies, are certainly relevant references.
Matthew Usukumah is a British-born but New York-based fashion photographer. After working in economics, he collaborated during fashion weeks with magazines such as V Man Magazine, Downtown Magazine, or FUSED. From the turmoil of 2020, he began to embark on the path of art photography, winning the award as Best Rising Artist at the Art Expo in New York already in 2021. His photos reach the intimacy of the spectators, like a confession.
Matthew Usukumah is the Gold Artist of the ArtAscent People call for artists. To see the full body of work and profile, get a copy of the ArtAscent Art & Literature Journal People issue.