Q&A: Photographer James Drakeford

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
From the March 7, 2013 edition

James Drakeford believes in the power of images. As a freelance photographer, images are his part-time profession and full-time passion. Drakeford feels African-Americans are subjected to negative stereotypes because society is too often subjected to negative images of the community.

So Drakeford’s photography project, “Black Innocence,” focuses on children as a way to combat those stereotypes and present the community at its most positive and pure. Drakeford says the goal is to, “introduce a counter narrative of hopefulness, courage and natural innocence.”

There were a lot of different things that inspired this project. I wanted to capture images that show African-Americans in a positive light because images are very powerful. When you constantly see an image, you take that in and it makes you feel a certain way. Another inspiration was social consciousness for adults. I think we speak very carelessly; specifically, African-Americans degrade other African-Americans so freely, as if it’s all good. But there’s power in words and the things that we say. I feel like we [can] speak things into existence sometimes. So I want people to become more conscious and realize how they influence kids — how the things they say and the way they live have a direct impact on the way kids grow up.

I wanted everything to be real raw, authentic and natural, so I felt like kids were the perfect subject. I also chose kids because I love kids in general. I was an education major [at Ohio State], and I consider myself a teacher even though I’m not teaching right now. I see a lot of hope in kids. They have limitless potential and possibilities to what they can do. Kids are also so natural. They don’t act. They are genuine and could deliver the raw emotion I was looking for.

My father always enjoyed taking pictures. He would take pictures of our family and whenever I had sporting events he would be there taking pictures. That sparked the curiosity [with photography]. His pictures had meaning to me, and the ones he took are the ones I appreciate and remember today. Throwback Thursdays, always gotta pull out Pop’s old pictures.

I’m pretty nervous because I feel like I’ve hyped [the exhibit] up — I want it to reach as many people as possible, so I wanted to hype it up. Now the pressure falls back on me. As far as having a gallery opening it took a lot of work, but all you have to do is do the work. I’ll have 25-30 images at the exhibit and an opening reception with a Q&A session.

I want to continue the Black Innocence pictures in some way. It may not be photographing children; I might branch off of “Black Innocence” and do something with African-American professionals or artists. It doesn’t even have to be African-Americans. It could be just anything that documents life. I’ve also been thinking about doing a photo shoot with a local semi-pro skateboarder, Taylor Nawrocki. He’s a great guy, and I want to show what it’s like to be a skater, just document his lifestyle.