Gioncarlo is a writer and photographer from Baltimore, living and working in NYC. 

He attended Towson University in Maryland before tiring of the white, languid, phallocentric ideas of his institution, and dropping out to move to New York. He is currently freelancing and has written and photographed for The New York Times, The Fader, Philadelphia Print Works, and Apogee Journal among many others.

My work is often about longing for community. So much of my life has been a desire to belong, to feel enveloped in a space and included. I find myself in many intersections: gay, Black, fat, femme, etc. However, even in these intersectional spaces I often find myself on the outside looking in. Much of the work that I make is a dissection of this desire to belong and the convoluted relationships between my intersections, and how this conflict resonates throughout so many Black and LGBTQ+ experiences. 

I use photography as a tool of reconciliation. It allows me to connect with people in a tangible and authentic way, and oftentimes to lift people up and create space for vulnerability. My approach to language and photography is often anthropological and political, dissecting rituals, exploring notions of identity, and agitating cultural norms. 

How does poverty affect the strength of community? What does a portrait mean to a group of isolated persons? How can we do less harm to people more vulnerable than we are through reckoning with our own role in their vulnerability? How do you accurately tell a story without erasure, domination, or gaze? Which has more value for disadvantaged communities, inclusivity, representation, or positionality? Questions like these drive my work and form my photographic sensibilities. The aim is to confront these ideas in a way that illuminates Blackness in its simplest forms, irrespective to whiteness or the politics of domination.

© Gioncarlo Valentine

© Gioncarlo Valentine

© Gioncarlo Valentine

Congratulations on winning Juror’s Choice in our recent exhibition, HATCH! Can you tell us what first drew you to photography?

Thank you so much, I was extremely excited when I found out my work was chosen. I felt incredibly affirmed. 

My iPhone 3GS and my desire to make pictures of my best friend at the time drew me to photography. In 2010 I purchased a Sony NEX5N and a Pentax K-X (in Ruby Red), because we had literally depleted my phone’s memory with the pictures we took in the bathroom mirror. The photos we took were less about vanity, and more about autonomy and ownership. We wanted to be seen, to be valued and adorned. But I think I was always very close to the medium. The older that I get the more I understand my constant proximity to my family’s archive. We were very transient and I was the keeper of record. I kept, and still keep, all of the family photos. I bought (read stole) so many disposable cameras from the Rite Aid as a kid, it was important for me to document the good times, because although my family’s experience was incredibly jarring, there were so many laughs and entirely too much love. This too needed to be documented.

© Gioncarlo Valentine

What helps you sustain your current creative practice?

I am driven by nothing more than photography and writing, these are more than the areas that I’ve excelled in the most, they are the areas that have made me most human. My ultimate goal is to find a version of mastery in these mediums, to have a career like Hilton Als or Dawoud Bey. To have a legacy that shows Black folks who are underfunded, under-educated, but overly ambitious and incredibly devoted, that they can topple these structures and create a space for their excellence to speak. I want to demystify the exhausted notions that in order to achieve photographically, you have to have an MFA, go to Yale, or regurgitate work that is completely interchangeable. 

I always envision having a career that is sectioned off in eras. I want to have an era where I’m shooting documentary and photojournalism. I want to have an era where I’m shooting musicians and writing profiles. I want to be a photo editor at The New York Times. I want to teach at some point. I want to start a non-profit organization for transgender women and men of color, in Baltimore. 

Achieving these dreams/goals is the driving force of my life and I have very few days when I’m not working toward it.

I write constantly. I submit pitches, essays, and photographs non-stop. I’m always jotting down ideas and applying for residencies, fellowships, and grants. I’m always building community with the people who inspire me most. Cultivating those spaces and working from that kind of atmosphere keeps me inspired.

What’s next for you?

2018 is going to be a lot of hard work, more than I’m used to. I’ve signed up to do way too much stuff already and the year is just beginning. I’m still working on my Trans Quality of Life photo project which centers the stories of seven Black, transgender men and women, in an attempt to show the nuances of the Black trans experience. The project has been incredibly informative and challenging. I don’t imagine it will be complete this year, but we’ll see.

I’m working on a few other photo essays/stories for some of my favorite publications as well. I’m applying for everything under the sun, because there’s nothing cute about a broke ass artist. And I’m working on a manuscript for my debut book. She’s very busy. Lol

What other artists should we be keeping an eye on?

Stephen Obisanya is such a brilliant photographer. His photographic eye is concise and audacious. He is incredibly devoted.

I’m obsessed with Zora Murff’s work. I usually find it hard to be interested in the MFA approach to photography. I find that it’s always lacking something. It tends to center coldness, emptiness, isolation, and antiquated notions of imagery. Black people are incredibly warm, colorful, soulful, and lively so this approach to telling our stories rarely makes an impact on me. But Zora is masterful. His work manages to blend a studious approach to creating images and offering context, while keeping the soul of Black folks intact. I am so impressed by him.

I love Ethan James Green’s work, he is absolutely brilliant. I’m crazy about Meron Menghistab’s work; it’s playful, intricate, and expertly rendered. I’m an enormous fan of Brad Ogbonna’s as well. His images are overflowing with personality and life, just like him. He’s amazing! I’m obsessed with Haruka Sakaguchi. She is a phenom. That woman is dedicated to telling stories with grace and care in a way that enamors me. I LOVE Elliot Jerome’s work! He’s like an alien in his approach to beauty. He sees so many things that most people ignore. His work is so fascinating. I also love Emir Fils-Aime, Dana Scruggs, Retina Stewart, and Ryan JenQ. All brilliant artists who make beautiful, evocative work, and do so exceptionally well!