Yolanda Hoskey’s photography is an unapologetic ode to melanin. In this storytelling climate calling for change, she fights the system by creating flawless images of black art that she adorns as ‘a little creativity mixed with a little ghetto’. An East New York native, she uses her inbred New York swag to shake the room, challenging traditional social norms and putting use to the phrase “young, gifted, and black”.
A graduate of the City College of New york, Yolanda holds a BA in Theater. She now spends her post graduate years hosting her podcast (@becasueimtipsy), styling, and of course, creating beautiful images, proof that artistic development is anything but linear. We caught up with the self proclaimed ‘pretty and ghetto’ photographer to discuss the importance of remaining unapologetic, and how to remain grounded in your creation in the midst of absolute chaos that is the year 2020.
She wears her authenticity on her sleeves. What you see is what you get. A reminder to us all to live as unapologetically as possible.
Read our interview below
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity
What sparked your interest in photography?
What drew me in was the lack of representation. Black people are not one-dimensional or monolithic, yet most times we are portrayed that way. We come in all different types of shades, sizes, socio-economic backgrounds…..there’s so many different types of black identity. I want to show people the way I see black people. Which is unapologetic. Beautiful. So that sparked my interest in photography.
Black people are dope and I want to show people that we are amazing and dynamic. Representation truly does matter. Growing up. I thought I had to be one type of black so once I got older I was just like “well if I’m not seeing me represented in these spaces, then I’m going to go out and create that type of representation”. I grew up in East New York in the projects. People that I grew with used to always “other” me, but from a very young age I decided that I wasn’t going to let their perspective of me define me.
You amplify black voices by creating images of art that depict classic beauty and regalness. Where does this concept stems from?
I don’t typically go for people who are traditionally beautiful or what society would deem as beautiful. I go for people who have a very unique beauty about them, and beauty is a completely subjective topic. In trying to amplify black voices, black women, black men, you need to show variety. It is not a one-stop shop or a one-size-fit-all kind of deal when it comes to black people. I find people beautiful on different levels and spectrums. There’s something about a person that makes them beautiful, and I’m not talking about their face. So when shooting, I keep that in mind. And when I show my models the photos, they’re like *gasp* “I can’t believe that’s me!”. And I’m like, “It is!!”.
We’re often so fearful of judgment that we don’t operate in our natural spirits, so when shooting I’m trying to get that out of them. Their organic spirit. Their beauty. I’m just really adamant about the fact that black people are not monolithic and I want to show that range and variety. And then pushing the bounds, because I know that they can do it. That’s what I try to achieve, at least in my photos.
We’re often so fearful of judgment that we don’t operate in our natural spirits…
Why do you think that it’s so important for black female artists to be unapologetic?
Because I know how difficult it is to get to that state. I have a first-hand account of how it feels to be unseen, to feel “othered”, to feel not beautiful. I 100% wholeheartedly know how that feels, and it does not feel good. It’s hard when you’re trying to find yourself in this world and you’re just not seeing yourself. Again, representation matters, and I know that we say that, we preach that we believe that but we often veer into one style of representation. As a person who is a direct product of living in an impoverished environment, I am very adamant on expressing the authenticity of that background in my work.
My background doesn’t make me any less great, but I felt that in the people around me [growing up]. There was just this hopelessness of “I will only ever be a victim of my circumstances” or “I am not destined to be any more than what I am right now”. I think that’s really sad. As a child. I told myself “I will not allow myself to fall victim to this”. One thing my mom would say to me growing up was “this world can take everything from you, but they can’t take your mind” So grow it, nurture it, build it. Construct your mind in a way that no one can take it from you. Always seek knowledge and always be a student. My creativity is a manifestation of my mind. My creativity is my art. And no one can take that away from me. So if I’m leaving something in this world that you can’t take away from me, it’s going to be black people as I see them. A multi-faceted race. A culture.
You have a photo series called “soft” where you portray black men being vulnerable and emotional. Where did that concept stem from?
There’s a general consensus of black masculinity that most people have that has been more detrimental than it has been helpful. And I think that we’ve gotten to a point where black men feel ashamed for feeling emotions. When did emotions become this negative thing? When did being emotionally intelligent become this negative thing? I don’t think that black masculinity is one thing. We need to see more images of black men who are vulnerable, and not see that as a weakness. Black men who are free, and not see that as a weakness. We need to see those images because we need to start deconstructing the systemic oppression that has been placed on black men throughout generations.
Black men need to begin to heal. If my photo series could have touched at least one black man to feel like it was okay to be vulnerable and emotional, then I’ve done something. I have nephews. I don’t want them to grow up and think that their emotions are a crutch, or a burden, or that they should be ashamed for feeling their emotions. “They are less of men because they have emotions”….. who told us that?
The underlying mission of art, in my opinion, is to change how people experience the world. how do you wish to change the world?
There are so many things going on in this world, but we only have one shot at this thing called life. So one day I asked myself “what will make this a little bit better for me?” I have the pre context of me being black and a woman, right? So what could make this more worthwhile?
Every time I get fearful, I’m like “who told you to have this fear?”
When I was in the third grade I realized that I was destined to be a creative. And I knew that passion was put in my heart for a reason. I want to be a living testament that anybody can do anything their heart desires because we’re amazing in our own light and in our own way. The circumstances and conditions in which we were raised do not define our entirety. It does not define our future or our forever. We can take control and we can be in charge of what we want from this life. I truly used to believe that I’m not destined for things like this. But then I said “well who told me that I couldn’t? Who told me that these things were impossible?” So every time I get fearful, I’m like “who told you to have this fear?”
We are creators. We create our own reality. Success will come from an alignment of opportunity and hard work. As long as I live my purpose pushing forward, forever being a student, and moving with a mission, there is no way I can’t achieve what I want to achieve. I want to evoke that message to everybody. That’s how I want to change the world.
In regards to your artistry, was there ever a time when you wanted to give up? If so, what did you tell yourself to quiet those thoughts?
Yes, there was a time. A month into lockdown, I was having a conversation with my friends about the new normal, re strategizing and re-planning what my life would be because of this new reality that we’re living in. I refused to adjust. For me, not being able to shoot how I wanted to shoot completely reduced my vision. At that time, most photographers were worried and some adapted [to this “new normal”] with FaceTime photoshoots and things like that. But to me, photography is an in-person thing.
So I had this moment where I didn’t know what I was going to do because here’s this career that I’m trying to build, and now it’s stagnant. But then I asked myself, “What can I control?” Well, I have my camera, and I have my mind. Then, a bunch of different photo series came to mind. [Pre lockdown] it was very easy to get wrapped up into the monotony of life. This current crisis really forced me to ask myself “What do you want? Because now you got time.”Covid shook every creative to their core. When all of this happened I was processing everything, trying to decide where I fit in this massive puzzle. But in the end, I had to figure shit out and stick to the vision, because what else was I going to do?
What advice would you give to any black female creative looking to live their best ‘pretty and ghetto’ life?
Trust yourself. Trust your visions. Always be students of the craft. The fixation on getting things right or perfect is an illusion. There is no right or perfect when it comes to art because art is subjective. Do what you feel and create what you desire.
Trè is a Brooklyn based artist. She is a theatre actress, writer, amateur photographer and professional chef, at her house. She is a plant mom of 4.