Xhosa Fray-Chinn: Beauty in Blackness

Xhosa Fray-Chinn is a photographer, creative director, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. The artist’s ethereal images center beauty in black experience.

Production / Direction

Hello! Can you please start by introducing yourself and the work that you do? 

My name is Xhosa Fray-Chinn. I am a filmmaker and photographer based out of Brooklyn. I’ve been in New York for three years now. I got into photography more heavily last year, prior to that I was mostly doing filmmaking and video. That’s where I am right now, working on both fronts, trying to keep busy with both. 

What inspired you to go into photography?

Photography is such an interesting art to become proficient in because you realize that everything we know is from photos and visual evidence. I fell in love with the act of being able to capture moments. Having a film background, I always wanted to blend those two. That is why I started with photography, I like being able to capture moments and make them stand still and have the story be told that way.

Was it hard to move from that film mindset into photography? Is it easy to work between the two?

I used everything that I knew from film to do photography. I approach it the same way, except instead of moving the camera around it is capturing specific still moments.

I think photography has helped me with filmmaking because it forces me to slow down and look at each frame as a separate story to tell. 

Is there a specific reason why you only shoot with film?

I shoot digital when it’s required, like if someone asks for it, but I try to only shoot on film. There is something about preserving old techniques and bringing them into the new world. That hustle of committing to film makes me appreciate and enjoy the art more.

Can you talk more about why you shoot with expired film? Is it about the unexpectedness of it or the colors that it can produce?

I think it’s all of that. Shooting expired film is an experiment. You have no clue what is going to happen with the film and it is a new experience every single time, I think that adds to my wanting to continue with it. 

Do you think that color plays a big role in your work?

Most definitely. I think when I picture my stuff, I picture a euphoric state and color is such a big factor in that. I love shooting black and white as well but colors tell stories. I come up with different color palettes before shooting and make sure things line up the way I want them to. I think I am very sensitive to color in my work. 

Do you plan a lot before you go into a shoot or do you work more intuitively?

That’s interesting because when it comes to filmmaking, it is so much planning. I’ve noticed for me though, with photography, I come up with the concept but every shot isn’t planned because I like letting things happen. Things happen with photography that I can’t plan for and I capture it. 

I saw that you worked as a creative director also, can you talk about what that looks like for you?

Most of my shoots are creatively directed by me. Usually how that happens is I’ll be out and about doing whatever and I’ll see something that inspires me and I’ll want to recreate that moment. It doesn’t have to be in the world even, it could be on television or movies, I am inspired by literally everything around me.

I try to think of how I can make moments last forever and in doing that I come up with these concepts and work to execute them the best that I can.

You mentioned earlier how you want your photos to be dreamy or ethereal, can you talk about what drew you into that aesthetic?

When I think of euphoric, dreamy, or ethereal, I think of the best version of life possible. Everyone thinks dreams are these crazy things but I try to bring them into reality. I think that is where a lot of my inspiration for my aesthetic comes from--wanting to make life feel like a dream, like the best version of what you could experience in a moment. 

I really like what you said about “making your own world” through photography.

Exactly, you can really create anything you want with photography. I can make people float, I can make people look like they are falling into the sky. There is so much you can do that I think you really can make your own world through it. 

Do you think that is why you shoot portraits?

I do a lot of street stuff as well but I think it got to a point where I either keep it to myself or I do it for the practice of shooting. I like to shoot people a lot more now because of that, because I am able to create my own narrative. I especially like shooting black models and putting black people in these dream-like aesthetics, it is very beautiful and I want to see more of it. 

Can you talk more about centering black experience in your work?

I look at what is happening in the real world and put black people into that world but not in the way that people are used to seeing them, that is what I mean when saying capturing the black experience. I see the most beautiful version of black people whenever I see them and I am trying to capture that on camera whenever I can. It is me trying to create a narrative, which a lot of black creatives are doing, taking their version of what they see and expressing it in the most elegant way, in the way that we are not used to seeing, not what has been shown to us in years prior. 

Do you think you are going to continue working with both photography and video moving forward? How do you see your practice progressing in the future?

That’s a good question. It is something I think about from time to time but I don’t want to stop doing one or the other, it is more about asking myself how I can continue to do both. Even if I am not doing both at a high level, doing them on my own, around my neighborhood, or in my house, that would still count for me. 

Definitely. Can also you talk about the zine that you made, “There Was Time, Then There Wasn’t”?

That was last year, around this time actually. There was such a weird energy when everything closed down last year and as a whole, everybody was trying to figure out what to do with their free time. Especially people who were working in the creative industry and were used to having shoots, being on set, being around people 24/7, it was all stripped away. There was that moment where people didn’t know what to do with their lives on the daily. 

The idea just sparked because I have always been a fan of physical media, at first it was going to be an online zine, the online thing was working well but because we were moving away from the physical world, everything is digitalized nowadays, I wanted to make something physical. 

I decided to get friends that I know to model for me and make a zine. We had all the time in the world to really do anything we wanted to so I wanted to find a way to make the most of it. That is how the idea came about. It is called “There Was Time, Then There Wasn’t” because we were so aware of time and then the pandemic hit and it was hard to tell if it was Sunday or Wednesday but it didn’t even matter, you just had to make the most out of whatever day you were living in. I am glad that it came out the way I wanted it to and people liked it and bought it. That was dope, bringing that to fruition. 

Do you think you will do something like that again?

Most definitely. I think I want to do it with a higher concept, this one was more about the pictures. If I were to do it again I’d want to have artist-to-artist interviews, have it not just be my photos, have different things going on with it. Obviously, with doing that I’d have to have other people helping out with it. I am waiting to get to a place where I am able to either fund it or pitch it to somebody for them to take over the idea. 

Do you think your interest in the physical influenced your move from film to photography?

Yeah, definitely. Whenever you think of art in the physical form you think of painting and stuff like that. With photography, you are able to print it out and have it exist physically on your wall. With video, you are given it through some kind of electronic device. 

What are you working on now?

Right now I have a few things that I am working on. I have something coming out this month, I have plenty of shoots, I am working on a documentary. There are a lot of projects in the works, stuff being written that will be coming out later this year.

We are finally able to get out and do more stuff again so we are prepping a bunch of projects at once that will be shot over the summer. That is where I am at at the moment. 

You seem to be having all of these different modes of working, like creative direction, filmmaking, photography, is it hard to switch between them or do you approach them all in the same way?

I think I try to look at them like they are all the same, just to make it easier on myself, but I know that each project has to have a different approach. I am very aware of taking time off and decompressing when I need to and making sure that I can mentally take on everything before I jump into it. I just keep doing that and take time when I need it and I can manage it all. 

Xhosa Fray-Chinn: Website | Instagram 

Interview by Riley Gunderson

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