Eric Hart Jr’s first photo book explores power and vulnerability

The photographer talks about seeing his images in physical form and how the process of putting the book together has informed his whole practice

When we last spoke to photographer Eric Hart Jr he was studying at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and picking up commissions for the likes of i-D, Rolling Stone and Dior. Since then he has made it onto the Forbes 30 under 30 list, continued racking up work from big editorial clients,  and just this month sees the UK release of his first photo book. 

When I Think About Power, published by Damiani, presents 60 black and white portraits focusing on “the concept of power in relation to the queer Black experience”. “Work regarding identity is so important to the contemporary art world because we are living in such a time when identity is under the microscope,” Hart tells CR on why now felt like the right time for his book.

“Discussions and dialogue surrounding the nuances of identity are present now more than ever and art has always been a tool for processing and understanding what is going on in the world. In the age of inclusion and representation, it’s important to have well-rounded, varying perspectives and make sure we are offering works that question how we can complicate our own representation even further to make sure this era of inclusion is not some sort of trend, but a new beginning.” 

Hart also says he’s at a turning point in his life where he finally feels he’s standing on his own two feet. “I recently graduated and am existing as a full blown adult on my own,” he says. “Photography has been a catalyst for me learning how to understand the power within and becoming more comfortable in my own skin. So in just creating work that contributed to this journey, the book just naturally became what it is.”

The images range from 2019 to present day and the process of creating it brought about a sense of self-discovery for Hart. “The motivation to create was always there, this process has just given me the tools to recognise and verbalise it. I witnessed the growth of myself as an artist who is a critical thinker,” he reflects.

“Through the process of verbalising to my muses what I was trying to evoke through the lens, sitting down with respected mentors and photographers in critique, and even just questioning the things I attached to power, I’ve reached a place where I feel like I have a purpose with my camera.”

Looking at the images in a physical context also challenged Hart to think about how his images speak to one another. “Working on a book almost highlights elements of your work that could easily go overlooked,” he explains.

“I think as an artist, subconsciously there are parts of ourselves that exist in our work and seeing this body of images come together has allowed me to realise themes in my work that weren’t necessarily intentional.” The notion of touch and connection, for instance, is something that the photographer has come to realise is present throughout his work.  

The freedom Hart has felt while working on the book has been one of its joys, and it’s shown him what he wants his photography to be: an exploration of the juxtaposition of power and vulnerability.

“I think my biggest takeaway from this journey has been learning that opposing forces can coexist in harmony. The work has opened me up to understand that power and vulnerability can inform one another, and that there is beauty in conflict as well as conflict in beauty,” explains Hart. “I think that’s what these frames showcase and now when I step away from the work I see these notions exemplified plenty in my life.” 

When I Think About Power, published by Damiani, is out now in the UK;