‘Migration / Integration’ -Ishmael Claxton

Written by the artist;

Ishmael Claxton’s work brings together photography techniques from his experiences as a documentary, experimental and high art photographer. He shoots and develops on expired film, a process that gives the work a sense of the multiverse.

Ishmael is a Brooklyn native, raised in the early 90’s in a New York City in the throes of change. The power structures in the arts were shifting as African Americans found their footing, with major figures like Jean Michel Basquiat and Gordan Parks gaining attention. Minority middle class neighbourhoods that had been destroyed by drugs were being gentrified by young people from the upper-class of the midwest. Ishmael is one of five kids, raised by his mother who was a school teacher and active in local and national political movements. He gained political awareness through his involvement with youth organisations and the evolving culture around him.

Ishmael uses art as a means of political expression to explore race, gender and politics. His images contain moments of harmony within conflicting compositional elements. He fuses new and old styles in his work, and plays with layers of film and digital photography and printing. His inspirations are Irving Penn, Cindy Sherman, Erwin Blumenfeld and Louise Dahl-Wolfe.

With an insatiable appetite for learning, Ishmael’s curiosity shifts between art movements, new artists, global politics, nature, climate change and color theory. Ishmael continuously aims to push his creative expression into new realms. In his current series, Migration Project, he incorporates multiple forms of photography to tell stories from Sub Saharan Africans migrating to Europe.

The Migration project is a series of portraits based on the ever-changing landscape of the world. The project began in Ireland in 2015 when I saw the poor conditions throughout Europe and heard the public’s opinions on migrants. People are migrating around the world now more than ever and each person or group has their own reason for migration. The story behind this series is about an individual’s transformation in the new world wherever they go people build homes and create families. They retain their identities while attempting to take on a new one.

The first part of the series was photographed in Ireland with the help of Violet Ogden. I started to take pictures of people from a broad spectrum of ethnicities, including individuals from India, Africa, Eastern Europe, and South America. The images took place in different locations using various light sources, such as natural and studio light, or a mix of both, to best fit the person – tracing the various ways in which people integrate and make cross-culture connections in their new homes.

The photographs have many layers: first, a gaze into each one’s personality; second, while sitting for the session each person is asked a series of questions that reveal more about them. The project weaves the various elements together to create a whole new and different perspective to the standard portrait.

In 2017 I went to Morocco to work on project from a different prospective while I was an artist-in-residence with Culture Vulture. At the residency I expanded on the project to include locals by getting to know various subcultures and how they are influenced by shifting thought behind migration. I then went on to meet people who migrated from various parts of Africa, Europe, and the Americas. I also chose to use more women in the project to give voice to how they have been treated in that part of the world. My experience of getting to know locals through art was an amazing experience. Afterwards I set up a photography studio during the last two weeks of the residence.

My long-term project will continue to expand by traveling to different countries around the world exploring the question of individual and cultural identity. In Europe, documenting stories of people who migrated there in last quarter century as well as the first generation of people born into a new land foreign to their parents. I am interested in showing the shifts in consciousness created by migration, integration, and cultural differences. I also plan to exhibit the prints from this project, both stand-alone or as part of a show, starting in Ireland and expanding globally as time goes on.

Yassine a morocco native help me build the darkroom in Marrakesh. He was pivotal in color processing aspect of the darkroom. Also Ruth Barry did all french the interviews for project throughout morocco as I photographed the subjects.

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