Myles Loftin has been shocked by the spate of police shootings of young Black men such as Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford. But he’s not surprised.
“For as long as the United States has been a country, Black men have been painted in the media as savages, criminals,” Loftin, BFA Photography ’20, says. “These inaccurate depictions trickle down and become ingrained in the minds of the people who see them.”
When police officers stop a Black man driving a car, “they feel threatened automatically because they’ve been fed these negative images for so long,” says Loftin, whose observation is backed up not only by his own experiences as person of color but also by a recent study by the American Psychological Association.
“You may not realize,” the Parsons School of Design student continues, “but these images really affect us.”
Loftin is combating these skewed representations through art. He created HOODED, a series of photographs that contrast sharply with the media’s often menacing portrayals of Black men. In his photos, young men of color are pictured before vibrant backdrops, smiling and laughing while wearing hoodies of different colors — a means of subverting negative associations between the article of clothing and the Black male body.
While the photographs provide an antidote to negative stereotypes of young black men, HOODED: A film by Myles Loftin explores the mainstream perceptions reinforcing those stereotypes. In the three-minute film, the subjects of Loftin’s photographs listen to a speech by Hillary Clinton in which she refers to African-American youth as “superpredators,” and the 9-1-1 call made by Trayvon Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman, in which he justified his suspicion of Martin, in part, by the fact that he was wearing a hoodie. Midway through the film, the poet Leo Avedon reads his piece about the fallacy of “respectability politics” — a phrase related to the idea that Black males should dress and act differently if they want to look less dangerous.
“A lot of times, portrayals of people of color are not created by people of color,” Loftin says. “They’re being moderated or censored by others. To have uncensored, unadulterated images of Black people is important because it reflects reality — it’s the real thing.”
HOODED has garnered praise from the BBC, Vice, and the Huffington Post, among other publications. Loftin came to the attention of the media after racking up thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter, where he shares his work documenting people of color.
Loftin’s approach to HOODED was shaped by his education at Parsons. It’s at the leading art and design school that the photographer has been encouraged to branch out to other media, such as video, and take a thematic approach to his work.
“At Parsons, I’ve been challenged to go outside my comfort zone,” Loftin says.
For his next project, he plans to tackle the idea of cultural appropriation.
“Kylie Jenner, Katy Perry, and other white celebrities get praised for putting on different styles, while the Black people who originated those styles are bashed for it,” he says. “Kylie is considered a trendsetter, while someone who comes from the culture that created the trend is considered ghetto or ratchet. I want to change that perception.”