When the colors of creativity collide with the resolute spirit of resilience, masterpieces are birthed. This holds true for Marc Safran‘s “Afro Fashion – Joseph Collection.” Winner of a Photography 2023 Gold Award, this evocative series featuring Black Monarchy Clothing is more than just a set of images; it is a testament to the human spirit’s power to find beauty amid adversity. In a narrative that crosses boundaries of fashion, culture, and personal tragedy, Safran invites us to step into his vivid world of storytelling.
As a seasoned photographer, always looking to diversify his portfolio, Safran discovered an unexpected muse in a young Sudanese immigrant named Kaji Modi. Little did he know, their meeting would ignite a remarkable creative collaboration and etch a significant mark in the heart of the fashion world and beyond.
By: Marc Safran
In a quest to diversify my portfolio of photographic models, I reached out to a friend in Syracuse, seeking connections with the local Sudanese immigrant community. This endeavor led me to a young woman named Kaji Modi, who was based not in Syracuse but in Buffalo, NY, approximately 160 miles away. Despite the considerable distance, Kaji reassured me of her willingness to participate, even suggesting that she could stay with cousins in Syracuse.
Kaji requested that I pick her up from the local bus depot two days before the session. I was apprehensive about the shoot’s viability with Syracuse’s notorious winter weather and the daunting round trip via Greyhound transportation. I silently feared that the challenging logistics might inevitably lead to a cancellation.
However, in a twist of events, Kaji asked if she could bring a friend who owned a car, adding that her companion was involved in fashion design in Buffalo. Intrigued by the spontaneity this could introduce to the creative shoot, I agreed, curious and expectant about the potential unfolding of the session.
On the scheduled day, I was introduced to two exceptional individuals: Kaji, a beautiful 19-year-old Sudanese woman who had moved to Buffalo with her family, and Phylicia Dove, a New York City native who had established a niche clothing store called Black Monarchy, specializing in Afro-centric styles. Phylicia had brought an array of stunning robes and dresses from her “Joseph’s Collection,” designed with vibrant, irregular patches symbolic of Joseph’s biblical coat of many colors.
Initially, my plan was to shoot modern-style portraits of Kaji. But upon seeing Phylicia’s spectacular outfits, my creative instincts took a different turn. I requested Kaji to incorporate tribal makeup patterns and pose wearing these distinctive robes and accessories against the backdrop of a dark canvas. The lighting setup was minimalistic, a single softbox feathered to provide diffused light, enhancing the ambiance of the photographs.
The resultant images were absolutely stunning. Kaji’s introspective expression and rich ebony skin, offset by the patchwork colors of Phylicia’s designs, created a visual narrative of immense beauty that left us all spellbound.
However, our joy was subsequently overshadowed by a dreadful event. Several months after the session, a horrific racist attack occurred in their neighborhood, perpetrated by a white supremacist. This tragedy claimed ten innocent lives, casting a pall of grief over their community. Amid this, Phylicia stepped up, offering much-needed support to the affected community. This series of photographs thus immortalizes not only an artistically transformative session but also serves as a tribute to their resilience amid adversity.
You can check out more of Marc Safran’s work here.