TABLE OF CONTENTS

TEXAS ISAIAH

Texas Isaiah, My Grandson’s Stretch (Capricorn Moon), 2016, ink-jet print, 20 × 30".

TO BEGIN, I must disclose that Texas Isaiah has photographed me at some of my most vulnerable moments. He has photographed me topless. He photographed me right after I got engaged (a fact that was, at the time, unknown to him), and when I was heartbroken after things ended. On a few birthdays. With lovers. He photographed me earlier this year in Los Angeles, while I was in hiding, battling crippling anxiety. I was hopeful, nervous, and afraid. In his image I look exactly like I felt. It’s one of the most honest portraits ever taken of me.

Texas Isaiah feels you as much as he sees you.

The thing that most stands out to me about his work is the consent. His sitters know they are being photographed, and they look at him with eyes that answer the questions he proposes.

How do you feel?

A softening of the eye.

What does this experience mean to you?

An exhale.

Texas Isaiah, My Name Is My Name I, 2016, ink-jet print, 20 × 30".

All caught on camera and presenting a true aesthetic of pure emotion. There is a narrative in place, and in Texas Isaiah’s images you are set in the middle of a moment. These pictures are as cinematic as they are archival.

After Texas Isaiah makes a portrait of you, you retain an emotional marker.

Texas Isaiah tells me that New York can feel like the entire world but that it is not. This is a sharp critique coming from a New York native who is able to capture New Yorkers in all their vulnerability. He uses these interactions “to be reminded of what it would be to exist outside of a binary, or to deconstruct a binary within myself.” He has made several portraits of young Black boys. Perhaps this is a way to imagine an adolescence for himself, a time before gender is taught, one that allows the body freedom and movement. These images encapsulate this spirit, his spirit.

I visited Texas Isaiah in Los Angeles in January 2017, a few months after he’d moved to that city. There, he had begun to produce some of his strongest work to date: deep, jewel-toned color portraits that feel like velvet, despite his color blindness. I noticed that his photography had become explicitly self-reflexive. He has since portrayed himself in repose in his home in LA. In the nude. It lets me know that this new location has afforded him space to see himself. His residence in LA is a place where a trans, queer, disabled Black individual, Ki’tay Davidson, passed away on December 2, 2014. His work has adopted a more spiritual and ceremonial turn. Of his ancestors, he tells me, “You know them well.” I spoke of a new depth of knowledge in haptics. He spoke to me of topophilia, a strong sense of place that is tied to cultural identity.

Texas Isaiah, In Estranged Tunes (David for Capricorn Moon), 2017, ink-jet print, 54 × 36".

Texas Isaiah’s photographs make me think about distance and the archive, and the material that comes out of that. Why do we value images from so long ago over those from yesterday? Is yesterday not an archive? What about an hour ago? Texas Isaiah’s images are a material culture supporting a life being lived in real time. His art raises the question “What is a while in a short time?”

After Texas Isaiah makes a portrait of you, you retain an emotional marker. He captures the depth of the moment, but you retain the copyright to your narrative. The focus and care that he gives to Black and queer and trans people acknowledge that we have not always had a consensual space in the history of photography and imagemaking. He brings a proximity to this experience as a Black trans man. He knows that photography can be a violent space for many, including himself. His eye is subjective. This is neither voyeurism nor spectacle; this is a knowing image. This is an image of intimacy and relation.

Texas Isaiah, Floyd, 2018, ink-jet print, 36 × 54".

Texas Isaiah tells me that he approaches photography with the knowledge of what it feels like to do something for the first time. Is this why I get butterflies in my stomach whenever his lens is on me?

Tiona Nekkia McClodden is a filmmaker, visual artist, and curator based in North Philadelphia.