Special Report

Reporting Black America

Black photographer’s work reveals the power and beauty of Blackness

i_D_EricHartJr+1: Photo courtesy of Eric Hart Jr.

Eric Hart Jr. can still remember the words his aunty gave him when he was around 13.  

“‘You need to know who you are, and what you’re capable of,’” Hart recalled her saying. “‘You are so powerful,’ she told me. And that stuck.”

Through his photoshoots with Rolling Stone, the Washington Post, and New York Magazine, and while working with artists such as Spike Lee and Flo Milli, he’s kept those words close to him.

“It was one of the first things ever that I really feel changed my way of looking at life,” said Hart, with a smile.

Hart is a 21 year old artist, and a senior at NYU. He’s gained recognition in the past two years as a strong, blossoming photographer, so far as to receive a hand-written note from Beyonce thanking him for his work.

“She’s everything,” said Hart. “And so to be recognized by her was just amazing.”

Drip2_EricHartJr.: Drip 2 by Eric Hart Jr.

A decade before Beyonce’s shoutout, Hart got his start in Macon, Georgia, taking photographs with an iPod touch. Out of boredom, he would capture moments in the life of his cat, or just things in his yard. And it was also on that iPod that he found inspiration. In addition to enjoying clips from the show Glee, Hart also began binge watching music videos.

“That was my first introduction into like, real art,” said Hart. “Even now, on my senior thesis, I made a playlist of songs that feel like they’re images. A lot of the shots I take are what I imagine to be the music video for a certain song.”

For Hart growing up, Black representation in art usually meant Tyler Perry movies. But to him, those stories were always missing something.

“When I think about Blackness, what I’m looking for there is also that element of queerness,” said Hart. “A lot of the times when I’m taking photographs, I’m speaking to the child who wanted to see himself. The child that couldn’t find his own stride. For me, that’s self love.”

Hart has previously said that being queer is something he thoroughly enjoys. But loving himself, he says, is something he had to learn.

Eric_Hart_Jr_12: Photograph courtesy of Eric Hart Jr.

“I was taught religiously, socially, being from Southern America, in Macon, Georgia, ‘You can’t be this. You are not supposed to act this way, you are not supposed to love this way,’” said Hart. “When you get to the place where you can finally say, ‘I love this. I love this element of myself. I love this part of me,’ it really is something that inspires me to create.”

Looking at Hart’s photography, it only takes a moment to see that self-love often manifests itself as confidence in front of his camera. His models hold their heads high, often looking down the barrel of the lens, their faces stoic, powerful. This confidence is something he searches for in his subjects. 

“Once I walked out of the train, it was kind of windy,” said Olajide Adeleke, describing the summer day on which he modeled for Hart. “It blew away the sweat, whatever beads I had. But it wasn’t from being anxious, it was the heat.”

Adeleke, who would describe himself as quiet, cool, and outgoing when he needs to be, modeled for Hart’s Unravel series. Even before collaborating with him, Adeleke had been an admirer of Hart’s photography for a while.

“It’s real dramatic.” regarded Adeleke about Hart’s work. “The way he captures people, they never shy away from the reality of being seen. He’s really able to capture the essence of an individual.”

SUITGROUP+115: Photograph from Unravel by Eric Hart Jr.

Unravel, like much of Hart’s work, is centered around the study of masculinity as a form of power. It is that essence of masculinity that Hart wants to capture within queer bodies, trans bodies, and Black men.

“I think he wants to approach it as a way to reclaim Black bodies,” said Adeleke. “You can go to a museum, and see how Black bodies have been beaten and treated like nothing. But to see power in the photos that he’s taken, life in the power of Black bodies, and the power in Black bodies owning the life that they have, knowing that they’re there without having to be hurt? That’s what’s up. That’s for real.”

Adeleke remembers Hart as someone who greets people with open arms, someone who will smile warmly at you, and hear you out when you’re speaking. If you ask Hart what his happy place is, he’ll tell you it’s listening to Beyonce, or eating his grandma’s spaghetti. He, of course, has ruts of self-doubt, and dreads the idea of succumbing to being average. But, when he finds himself in those moments of despair, his solution is simple:

“I just create more,” said Hart. “When I’m creating, that’s where I feel at peace, that’s where I feel comfortable, and that’s where I get that sense of connection to what I’m doing. That’s what always brings me back to ‘This is who I am and this is what I’m capable of doing.’ And so I keep going.”



Other Stories in Special Report: Reporting Black America

Sonic Serenity: A review of the music that carried Black folks through 2021

Vanessa Handy December 16, 2021

Despite uptick in diversity numbers, Black students say inclusive spaces are rare

Sanya Khurana December 16, 2021

African students says mispronouncing their names is a form of racism

Eniola Oshiafi December 16, 2021

Young adult Black immigrants forge new lives and battle racial inequalities

Shawn Kang December 13, 2021

The Chaotic Birth of a Coffee Shop

Austin Barron December 12, 2021

Afrobeat musicians make strides

Kirill Bykanov December 11, 2021

For young Indo-Caribbean adults, culture is complex and a source of pride

Vanessa Handy November 28, 2021

Challenges persist for Black women who seek degrees in STEM

George Papazov November 27, 2021

Black bookstore owner say last year’s surging sales was part of anti-racism movement

Eniola Oshiafi November 27, 2021

Choosing natural hair for children

Sanya Khurana November 26, 2021

A Black artist refuses labels

Monique Ezeh November 26, 2021

Some Black Parents are Choosing Afrocentric Preschools for their Children

Sanya Khurana November 12, 2021

The quest to diversify NYC’s specialized high schools 

Vanessa Handy November 11, 2021

Healthcare disparities hurts African immigrants

Shawn Kang November 8, 2021

African Women Migrating to Escape Oppression

Eniola Oshiafi November 8, 2021

Black New Yorkers Want Manhattan’s First Black District Attorney To Be ‘Tough’

Austin Barron November 3, 2021

The only woman of color in Nashua’s city council is reelected

Kirill Bykanov November 3, 2021

Black doulas are challenging rampant healthcare disparity

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi October 26, 2021

Interest in African art is growing

George Papazov October 15, 2021

Black queer community often at odds with police

Monique Ezeh October 14, 2021

Celebrating the Everyday Normalcy in Black Life

Austin Barron October 10, 2021

Liberation through imagination

Vanessa Handy October 10, 2021

Penfield’s Black Supermoms Make Sure School Kids know Black Kids Matter

Sanya Khurana October 8, 2021

Elizabeth Wellington on “Choosing Blackness”

Sughnen Yongo-Okochi September 20, 2021