Photographer & Filmmaker, LaQuann Dawson is unapologetically creative and staying consistent with what’s important to him, art, while not compromising his vision.
I feel so healthy and protected most of the time, and I think that is because of the way I’ve chosen to navigate my life, my relationships, and my career. Trusting that people will see value in the images that I put so much work into isn’t always successful. But it does feel like what I am supposed to be doing right now, and I just have to keep listening to that, being kind to people, and being kind to myself along the way.
– LaQuann Dawson
What attracted you to photography, and at what point did you know it was your calling?
Hmm. I started shooting when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I’d take pictures of my family, of “nature,” and more than anything I’d take portraits of myself. I was essentially trying to have a bomb profile picture on whatever social media was popping at the time.
I’ve been playing with cameras ever since. Fast-forward to 2016 when I moved to New York. I worked in the corporate fashion scene as a designer for almost two years. After my time there ended and I sort of couldn’t get back in and didn’t want to either, I took that as a sign that my focus and my energy needed to be shifted completely.
Ever since I’ve spent almost all of my time trying to build myself up as a photographer and filmmaker.
Who are some of your influences?
Beyonce, Terrance Nance, Deana Lawson, Dashawn Usher, Saskia de Borchgrave, Prince, and Rihanna. Influenced by love, and people, my brothers, my sisters, my parents, by Black people, kind people, by dance, and poetry. I’m influenced a lot by femininity, sex, and laughter.
Subconsciously, I am influenced by a million things and people that have built me into the person that I am. Most everything that I say, do, and put out are genuine expressions of how I see the world and how I see myself.
Is there one particular photographer’s work that draws to, and if so, why?
There isn’t. I don’t spend a lot of time revisiting any one person’s work. Much like music, I’m drawn to specific, singular images or songs than I am bodies of work or albums. I think it could help me grow as an artist to study individual other artists more intentionally, but at this point and for a long time, I haven’t been that way.
How would you describe your photography?
Mmm, I wouldn’t – I’d love for people to see what they see and experience the images on their own. I would say, and to loosely quote one of my favorite writers, “Don’t [just] read sex here.”
When I speak to people about my work and they share what they see, so often they are only witnessing sex or sensuality. I challenge viewers to look beyond sex and look for a story. Everyone won’t see it, but I’d appreciate folks looking a step further. Sex can be so easy to see.
You’ve had a very successful 2019. From working with NYLON to shooting the Jack’d campaign. What was your favorite moment of 2019?
Thank you! 2019 was one of the most challenging, most heartbreaking years of my life, but I certainly worked my ass off. It’s nice to be seen. My favorite moment of 2019 was probably dancing at the OVO Fest in Toronto with my best friend.
I worked so hard and traveled alone so much up until then, and it was so great to dance, take a break, smile and be gay as shit for a second with someone I love. No work, no emails, no boys, no pressure, and I had no money either, but I was so happy.
When I’m creating or want to test concepts, I usually use my boyfriend as my muse, but I notice that you tend to use yourself? Why is it vital that you use your likeness for your visions versus another person?
So…to be honest, I was my first ever subject. I’ve used myself as a test subject for such a long time from the age of 12 to 25. I’ve noticed so much change and growth.
The parts of myself that I loved and appreciated ten years ago are so different from the parts I appreciate now. Self-portraiture and self-practice have been such a huge part of my work and my personhood.
As opposed to using other people as test subjects, I can use myself because I am patient with myself. I am forgiving, I know how to direct myself, I can be ready on the fly and I can shoot for hours and hours with minimal resources.
It has been great for me as a person growing into self-love. I get to archive myself. In that process, I can do so much reflection, not just physically but where I was emotionally, geographically, mentally –who I was dating, who I lived with, what my dad said to me that day, what album Beyoncé had out at the time, etc. I can look at and reflect on my maturity level, and how I saw the world, how I dressed, and expressed myself.
It is a personal and ritualistic process for me that I’ve grown to value so much. I think that if I hadn’t mused myself at such an early stage, I wouldn’t be as confident or as self-aware as I am today. It has been such a big part of my life’s work, and it’s incredible to be able to grow as a person while practicing my art.
Test models aren’t the most reliable, and if I don’t like the images after the shoot, I can always just lock them away and never speak of them again. You can’t do that when you’re using other people’s time.
Gender fluidity also seems to be a recurring theme in your art. Why is it important to you to explore gender fluidity, and what do you hope people take from it?
This phrase “gender fluidity” is so interesting when directed toward me and my work. I don’t ever think of this phrase when I work, and I don’t have a particular takeaway in mind for anyone who views my work.
I just like glitter, and I think long hair and women’s clothes are fun and exciting to look at. Self-expression, genuine self-expression is vital as hell to me. I grew up being looked at with the most disgust; still even today. It used to be heartbreaking. It hurt, (even more), to repress how I wanted to express myself or to pretend I wasn’t attracted to things I was drawn to.
Since I was six years old, I’ve been intensely and naturally attracted to belly shirts, cartwheels, ponytails, and the color pink. I’m grown now, I buy my clothes, and pay my rent. I’m going to ponytail and belly shirt y’all to death.
There is no agenda and no intention further than this: I like what I like. Should there be any takeaway, I just want people to know that I am sharing things that make me feel happy, proud, confident, and free.
If you could have the opportunity to photograph anyone of your choice dead or alive, who would it be and why?
If I’m honest, I can’t think of a single person. I love the people I photograph now. Most of my work is my shooting friends and the people in my neighborhood and community. I love it so much. It makes me feel safe; it is exciting and fun and doesn’t always feel like work either.
I wouldn’t consider myself a fashion photographer, and I’m not a celebrity photographer, and I have a long way to go. I love the lane I’ve found for myself, and it feels right. The people in my images are who I am supposed to be photographing. I want to focus on and appreciate them.
With us being fresh into a new year, what’s next for LaQuann?
Films! Tons and tons of video work and tons of directing. You’ll probably see a little less of my face this year, too (a little), but I am super excited about all of the video work I’ve been planning and working on.
There are so many stories I want to tell, and mapping out and organizing video shoots, dance scenes, and interviews the last few months have brought me so much joy. I cannot wait to share.
What piece of advice would you give to an emerging artist trying to live off of their art?
I know it sounds corny, but move with love. And please be patient with it. The love of self. The love of others, and the love of a situation it all deserves so much patience. I know it’s hard sometimes, but it is required.
Everything cannot and will not go exactly how you want it to, especially when working with people, people who do not yet know you. Stand your ground and be true to yourself, your value, and your morals, but offer all of it patience. Learn how to communicate your needs and your wants.
Learn how to put numbers on your worth and the worth of your time and of your work. There’s something to be said about working with people, organizations, and companies knowing that you put your all into communicating what you need from them and what you can offer to them in return. It won’t work out every time, but it is worth the learning to exercise asserting yourself and to seek understanding.
I feel so healthy and protected most of the time, and I think that is because of the way I’ve chosen to navigate my life, my relationships, and my career. Working in corporate settings and working in fashion revealed itself to be something that was no longer for me.
I almost immediately listened and worked on my transition into being a full-time image-maker. This is one of the most challenging things I’ve done in my life, and I know it isn’t for everyone. Trying to survive on my own and trust the process.
Trusting that people will see value in the images that I put so much work into isn’t always successful. It feels like I am supposed to be doing right now and I have to keep listening to that. And, being kind to people, and being kind to myself along the way.