Jonathan Gardenhire

Thelma Golden describes the African- American male as “one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century”—invented because “black masculinity represents an amalgam of fears and projections in the American psyche which rarely conveys or contains the trope of truth about the black male’s existence.” Over the course of my life, having to search for depictions of black men in popular culture, literature, and contemporary art have had a significant impact in the way I view myself and navigate through this world as a black man. Representations of black men are embedded with an unforgettable history of mistreatment and misrepresentation. Many of the images that I grew up looking at were some of the negative representations of black men both our global society. Such depictions have aided in creating and understanding my images as refreshing interpretations of myself and black men around me.

My work explores representations of race, kinship, and sexuality, most often with an emphasis on black masculinity. My practice critically examines how constructions of power, value, knowledge and social change are produced and shared in the cultural sector. The images serve to depict my own sensitivity, sensuality, forgiveness and quest to figure out what it means for me to be black, through portraits of other men and still life’s of objects that I associate with black culture and memory. I am questioning the notion of a prototype of the black male, individuality and diversity of the black male and “performances” of the black male body. By performances, I simply mean actions. In this instance, all of my images are actions by black males whether performances by me, performances for me, or for everyone else. I am also interested in how the black male body navigates through various spaces, from personal, to professional or social. The images rely heavily on the performances of black men then and now, but also explore my own sexuality and question my lust for the black male body.

I question if my own fascination and lust for and with black male beauty is a product of historical determinants or if my sexuality is truly independent from them. The images then juxtapose the fascination with the black male by society  (a fascination that is determined, in part, by this unforgettable history) with my own fascination (based on my homosexuality but also my own blackness). The only way I have had to understand and love myself as a black man was to appreciate and love other black men. Because of this complex structure, it is crucial for me to use different methods of photography, such as studio portraiture, and contemporary methods, such as appropriation. It is also crucial for me to practice a holistic approach to helping to improve and uplift the visuality of blackness through civic participation, community service and volunteerism.

Franz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks, a text about the psychology of the racism and dehumanization of people of color has been described as: “full of discontinuities, changes in style, merging of genres, dramatic movement from analysis to pronouncements, switches from objective discussion to deep subjectivity, transfers from theory … complex use of extended metaphors, and not least, a number of apparent contradictions.” It is this type of mediated visual schizophrenia that I am most interested in; how the violent proliferation of image production helps to illustrate the complex relationship between the representation and politics of race.

I am constantly struggling to get at something; searching for something new. I am trying to locate what Carrie Mae Weems described as, “the who and what of yourself,” but perhaps all of this suggests that I am searching for the who and what of humanity. I am working at exposing a new sensitive element in the algorithm that makes up black people, denouncing the mainstream perception of blackness and illuminating the complexity and multidimensionality of Black reality. I expose a new “realized” negro that is, in essence, truly diverse with a rich history of good bad and ugly, but rich, nonetheless. I use photography to illustrate various personal explorations that try to unfold, reveal and thus teach; to use one word: love. I hope for the humanity of black people to shine through every single image, unapologetically, though sometimes problematically.

b. 1992, Lower East Side, New York.
Lives and works in the Lower East Side and Harlem, New York.


2014 BFA, Photography Parsons The New School for Design

Solo Exhibitions

A Mighty Fortress is Our God and Other Pictures, Medium Tings Brooklyn, NY, June 25 – July 16, 2017

Selected Group Exhibitions

2018 Aperture Summer Open: The Way We Live Now, Aperture Foundation, New York, June 27- August 16, 2018
In-Between: 2018 En Foco Photography Fellowship Exhibition, Andrew Freedman Home, Bronx, New York, June 6-July 6, 2018 In a Silent Way, Curated by Stephanie Baptist, Cenre Cultural Douta Seck, Dakar Biennale, May 2018
Art in Ad Places, LUCAS LUCAS, Brooklyn, NY, Opening January 26, 2018
That Which is Fundamental, The Kitchen, New York, January 2018
‘Building Stories’, MOREArts Engaging Artists, Flux Factory, October 2017
VICE Magazine Photo Show, House A/Type, New York, Summer 2017
That Which is Fundamental, Slought Foundation, Philadelphia, PA, Spring 2017
‘Movement is Rising: Demystify, Destroy, Rebuild’, Gallery Aferro, Newark, New Jersey Oct 19- Nov 6, 2016
‘Respond’, Bronx Art Space, New York, Spring 2016
Parsons BFA Thesis Exhibition, Milk Gallery, New York, May 2014
3 Gallery, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, 2014
3 Gallery, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, 2013
‘Found Photography’, The Case, Parsons The New School for Design, New York, 2013
Selected photos, “13”, Lombard-Freid Projects, Chelsea, NY, June 2011


2018 En-Foco Photography Fellowship, NY
2018 Innovative Cultural Advocacy Fellowship, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, NY
2017 Ace Hotel 24 Hour Artist Residency
2016 Engaging Artists Residency, MOREArt, NY

Awards/ Acknowledgements

2017 Prize for Research in Social Practice, MOREArt 2016 New York State Assembly Citation
2016 New York Public Advocate Recognition Certificate 2016 New York City Council Citation
2016 New York State Senate Proclamation
2016 Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition 2014 LaGuardia Presidential Scholar
2013 New York City Council Proclamation
2013 New York City Mayoral Proclamation
2011 New York State Assembly Proclamation
2011 New York City Council Citation

Lectures/ Talks

2018 L.A.B. Series at The Kitchen, January 16, 2018
2016 Parsons The New School for Design
2015 Cornell University
2012 Question Bridge: Black Males Blueprint Panel Discussion, Brooklyn Museum


2017 TAGTAGTAG Magazine, 5×5: Beneath Our Glory

Additional Education

2010 International Center of Photography Imagemakers Program – Photography Coursework 2008 School of Visual Arts – Color Darkroom Photography Coursework
2008 NYCDOE Summer Arts Institute – Darkroom Photography Coursework
2007 NYCDOE Summer Arts Institute – Darkroom Photography Coursework


Vassar Review: Flesh and Form, Spring/Summer 2018
In Conversation with Leslie Hewitt, VICE Magazine Photo Issue, August 2017 Review by Antwaun Sargent, Creator’s Project, July 2017
The Tenth Magazine Volume 4, January 2017
The Tenth Magazine Volume 3, January 2016
Nat.Brut Journal, No.6, November 2015