The controlled power of the American photographer’s work undercuts the idea that nudity always equates to vulnerability…

D’Angelo Lovell Williams, Fleurish, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Mack
D’Angelo Lovell Williams, Fleurish, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Mack

Fleurish is one of the more restful, careful photographs in Contact High, the debut monograph from Mississippi-born artist D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Their images focus on Black and queer intimacy, using a mixture of animated self-portraiture and guided collaboration to explore sex, Black ancestry and the queer pastoral.

The vulnerability typically signalled by nudeness is subverted in Contact High. Williams’ poses demonstrate a high level of physical control and self-assuredness, whether through demanding yoga positions, sexually charged poses with partners, or shots of masturbation captured in a bathroom mirror. Family members are included as instruments of tension, comparison and gradual reconciliation: Williams grapples with their father’s unease with their queerness, while exploring colourism, masculinity and ancestry in shots of them together (they arm wrestle topless in one, for example).

“The body is a life-giving force, the cradled flowers in bloom, while discarded baskets of dead shrubs lie below”

Williams’ unwavering stare into the lens is a constant among this wide array of movements, a clarity of intention sometimes betraying a self-destructive impulse. In one shot, Williams sucks in their stomach while grabbing their neck. The book’s cover shows the artist posing with a handgun pressed deep inside their own mouth.

Fleurish feels more contained and stable, speaking to Williams’ use of domestic spaces as sites of Black daily life. The body is a life-giving force, the cradled flowers in bloom, while discarded baskets of dead shrubs lie below. Fertility, regeneration and domestic beauty come together around the magnetic Williams, just one moment of self-love and introspection among many.

Ravi Ghosh is Elephant’s editorial assistant

Contact High by D’Angelo Lovell Williams is out now (MACK Books)

 

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