We all know that feeling when we’re watching someone talk about something they’re passionate about: their hobbies, hopes and dreams. Whether that’s someone close to you, or a stranger – it’s always enthralling to witness someone be completely immersed in their own world, even when it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and especially if there’s no talking involved. Prompted by this sentiment, artist and photographer, Sonny, depicts these moments in his work.
As you scroll through Sonny’s website and Instagram, you’re met with spunky, daring and emotive photographs. The artist is talented in making his images seem instantaneous and fleeting, when they’re actually grounded in the culture-driving media of that moment in time. All the while staying true to the authentic image that drew him in to begin with.
Through Sonny’s compassionate viewfinder, we identify ourselves in our and others’ worlds, but we’re also introduced to new perspectives, and different experiences: the grueling, the lonely, the carefree, the peaceful, the hopeful and the spiritual coming of age. He lays it all out in the images. Sonny’s work captures all the states of living and breathing in the world as we know it, whilst hinting at questions of the teetering future: What does it look like? How can we make it better?
Sonny’s attention to composition and message are part of what makes his images speak for themselves. Worth a thousand words, right? Try all the words and all the feelings; all the books, music, media and culture; and all the existential ponderings of a life yet to be lived and a moment frozen in time. Sonny is there, camera in hand, hand on heart.
FRONTRUNNER talks to Sonny about how loss and grief in lockdown affected his creativity and what he did to cope and reignite it, as well as some tips that no artist should underestimate.
What are two words that describe your art practice?
Culture driven and vibrant.
Are you a full-time artist?
For now just part-time, but hopefully full-time someday very soon.
What attracts you to the images you capture? Is it unspoken stories, colors, people, composition? What themes are you pursuing?
I have always been drawn to the moment when someone is completely immersed in their own world; moving and thinking freely. Once I’ve captured that moment, I try to create and expand within it. While a lot of my work stems from spontaneity, it is always rooted in composition. If it doesn’t occur naturally, I need to make sure the shot is framed correctly in post; I am very particular about that haha. Though the subtle image can carry such spectacular weight, I tend to produce images full of color because colors are so well retained by the individual’s visual memory, and I want my images to last. The only real theme I’m pursuing is people’s understanding of the world, their world in hopes of recreating the future. True empathy is, in part, rooted in the strength of one’s imagination and I am always trying to create with that in mind.
Take me through your creative process. How has 2020, COVID and all, affected your art or your process?
2020, had me in a creative slump for a good while, as I know it did with many others. I lost some people I loved and then COVID reared its ugly head and I really kind of lost sight of myself. I felt stuck in a world that was mentally, very difficult to maneuver through, and was burdened by this unrelenting and seemingly impossible task to make work that spoke to the times we were living in. So I resorted to diving into research. Just reading for hours on end about other photographers, their inspirations, their politics, and then chronicling everything I was learning.
Those first 6 months of COVID, and everything they brought for better or for worse, led to these last 4 months being full of marvelous creativity. Something clicked, I think it was a multitude of factors including turning a new age, and understanding that loss can sometimes create room for growth.
I am constantly thinking about photography, music and fashion, so when an idea pops into my head that I feel needs to be remembered, I’ll jot it down or type it up. Then once I have more time, I’ll extensively plan out how I want the photo to look, how I want the shoot to go, what I want to say with it all, etc. That process entails a great amalgamation of the music, films, books, photographers, fashion, sights and concepts I’m consuming at the moment. I have photoshoots/framing ideas that I planned a year ago that I still pull from when creating ideas for a current shoot. So the creative process is all over the place and constant haha. When it comes to the moment of photographing the subject(s) or street photography it’s focused but spontaneous and driven by the world they’re in at that moment.
How do you keep your creative engine running?
By always exploring. Whether that’s discovering new photographers, listening to records, reading, writing, or meditating. One person can only stretch their imagination so far, so I find I need to dive into the ways in which others see, speak and maneuver through the world. That drive to expand my perspective is what really keeps me running. Keep on pushin’!
Your website is incredibly cool. You have a ‘listen while you look’ button that redirects users to Nina Simone’s beautiful album, ’Silk & Soul’ on Spotify. Why that album?
Thank you! With people’s attention spans being as short as they are these days, I assumed that by the time someone scrolled through the entirety of my website the first song would have just concluded. So my intention was for the viewer to just hear Simone’s “It Be’s That Way Sometime.” The whole album, but that first track in particular has such a freshness to it. It’s light and inviting, but brims with the energy and great weight, all carried by Simone’s electrifying vocals. The song feels familiar yet intriguing and I think it sets a good pace for viewing the images.
Tell me about this image.
This image was taken of my good friend Kerr the morning after Election Night 2020. The hangover was gently looming and the votes were still being tallied, but the sun was coming out. Kerr had his Mamiya set up with a handheld flash and I asked if we could hang up this teal cloth he had for the light to shine through. The flash ended up fraying the right side of his face and body which kind of draws you into the eyes. Kerr is an incredible artist with a beautiful future and he is constantly expanding his vision through his work and this image encapsulates that world on the cusp of tremendous change. I worked with the background coloring in post a little bit to really bring his face to the forefront. I have taken many photographs of Kerr but this one is by far my favorite; I feel like every time I go back to this image I learn something new about him. I just dig it. It feels like a heavy but triumphant image.
Where does experimentation fit in for you?
Experimentation is everything. I really admire and respect those who have their one medium, or even one camera, or lighting trick that they’ve used forever and stick with it. I want to use whatever is at my disposal to portray the moment. I like to try something new, even if it’s the smallest tweak, every time I capture an image. I think the editing process is also a great time to experiment in any way you can to convey the message. As well as collaborating with others and working within their vision; beautiful work can culminate from that. I personally feel the need to regularly challenge myself to grow through my art, and that doesn’t happen without experimentation.
What is a creative tip people shouldn’t underestimate?
Doing the research, taking risks and surrounding yourself with people who have differing visions. Research can seem mundane and even daunting, but it is crucial to understand the ways those in your field work and those before them worked. I think you need to take risks often in the way you approach your art/creative endeavours. Plan out and do the research beforehand if need be, but don’t ever just stick to the plan. Gotta take risks to expand. Cannot stress enough how important it is to be around people that encourage your creativity and see the world differently from you. You need people who believe in you but challenge your vision. It’s that environment and those conversations that lead to the most rewarding risks and the greatest progressions as an artist. Don’t waste time on people who view the world in only one way.
What are some hopes you have for this new year? (personal and/or other)
Would love to do some creative direction work for some photoshoots/fashion campaigns. I’ve been vigorously working on a clothing line for quite some time now and am very excited to get it off the ground and running and out into the universe! Also hoping to shoot through 200 rolls this year; practice, practice, practice baby! I would love to help my friends thrive in their pursuits in whatever ways I can, and make my godmother Michelle proud.
My greatest hope for this year is that we can begin the process of completely defunding the police and learn how to dismantle the many other systems of oppression in this country. We also really need those in positions of great power to begin to take drastic measures to help preserve what we have left of this beautiful planet of ours.
Can you shoutout other emerging artists you admire.
I feel fortunate to know some wonderfully talented friends who are making really beautiful art. Please go check out the works of Kerr Cirilo (@kerr4995, kerrcirilo.net), Antonio (@5seater, depressedgoods.com), Alina Celik (@alinacelik, alinacelik.com), and Tywen Kelly (@tywensnotes). Love y’all!
Keep up with Sonny’s work here:
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