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https://alphauniverseglobal.media.zestyio.com/Alpha-Universe-Rhonisha-Franklin-Alpha-Female-Plus-Grant-Composite-Horizontal.be110857376e1c1dc5afaa178864837f.jpg
Photos by Rhonisha Franklin

Alpha Female +: An Inside Look At “The Subtle Strength Of Kings”

Portrait photographer Rhonisha Franklin was awarded the first Alpha Female+ Grant for her project, “The Subtle Strength Of Kings.” Last year Franklin completed a personal project called “Profile Noire,” that showcased the beauty of women of color, and this new endeavor is a companion project that, when completed, will feature 100 Black men through authentic portraiture. The Alpha Female+ Grant helped Franklin complete the first phase of the project and we connected with her to learn more about it and see the photos. See more on the project below, and learn how you can apply for an Alpha Female+ Grant here.

Portrait photographer and Alpha Female+ grant winner shares the first phase of her grant-winning project, “The Subtle Strength Of Kings.”

“Shortly after finishing my project, ‘Profile Noire,’ I kept getting asked, ‘What’s next?’,” says Franklin. “I actually fought off the idea of doing a companion project with men because I wanted Profile Noire to stand on its own, but I just kept getting this urge to focus on Black men because they have a story to tell and a voice that needs to be heard as well. I settled on the fact that this could be a good balanced project to Profile Noire and as 2020 unfolded, it confirmed to me that this was a project I should be working on.”

Franklin wanted the subjects in her new “Subtle Strength Of Kings” project to have the same real presence that the women in “Profile Noire” did. Inspired by artist Barkley L. Hendricks, she let them show up however they wanted to physically portray their true selves and let them choose the music they wanted to listen to during the shoot.

Olu Burrell

“A few years ago I stumbled upon a new word I had never heard before: Sonder. Its origin comes from an online site called “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” and translates into “the realization that every stranger you meet is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” As we traverse this world it can be tempting to ‘otherize’ people by assigning them to a stereotype or dismissing them as an antagonist in your life story, but sonder has taught me to lead with empathy and curiosity rather than with judgement.”

Music Choice: Robert Glasper

Alpha-Universe-Alpha-Female-Grant-Winner-Rhonisha-Franklin-Olu-Burrell-1.jpg

Olu Burrell. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

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Olu Burrell. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

Alpha-Universe-Alpha-Female-Grant-Winner-Rhonisha-Franklin-Olu-Burrell-3.jpg

Olu Burrell. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

Come To The Shoot As You Are...And Bring Your Own Music

“I didn’t want it to be very posed,” explains Franklin. “When I photographed the women, they had flowers and makeup and all of that. I wanted the men to come as they were, as their best selves or however they thought reflected their humanity the most. Many times in society, Black men are seen as a threat first before they are seen as human, and so sometimes their humanity is lost in that bias. I wanted them to be able to reflect their humanity in what they chose to show up in, and to also have them explain in their own words what their humanity means to them.”

As part of the project Franklin spoke to each about their music selection for the shoot and why they chose it. She also asked each subject one question, how they define their humanity, and she purposely didn’t put any parameters on their responses. “I didn’t want to put any constraints on the words that they chose or massage it into what I wanted it to be. I wanted them to express what it is to them, and so I tried my best to just throw the question out to them and let them embrace the notion of the project however they felt best.”

Alfons Prince

“I define my humanity by being human and embracing everything that comes along with being a human. Also, expressing empathy for everyone because I know how hard this life is.”

Music Choice: Stevie Wonder

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Alfons Prince. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

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Alfons Prince. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

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Alfons Prince. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

Since Franklin allowed the subjects to choose the music playing during the shoot, wear whatever outfit they felt best and did not give any restrictions for responses to her question, each series in Franklin’s portraiture project has a certain uniqueness. Because the men were able to authentically present themselves, the photos and feedback gave their own original takes without external influence – something she thought was important. Just as important, though, was her desire to connect each series in the project.

Creating Commonality From Person To Person & Frame To Frame

“I chose a royal purple color background,” explains Franklin, “the purple background combines the calm stability of blue and the fierce energy of red. The color purple is often associated with royalty, nobility, luxury, power, and ambition. Purple also represents meanings of wealth, extravagance, creativity, wisdom, dignity, grandeur, devotion, peace, pride, mystery, independence and magic.”

Dwayne Lawson-Brown

“I'm a creator. I work to create peace. I create via crochet/poetry. I've played a role in creating a life. Sometimes it feels like I'm at odds with the world - like seeking peace puts a target on my back. But the things I've created, the way I co-parent, the way I express myself... that speaks beyond what the world wants to offer me. Creating allows me to claim my humanity, even with everything in the world attempting to take it away.”
Music Choice: “Grooves For Fall” playlist on Spotify

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Dwayne Lawson-Brown. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

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Dwayne Lawson-Brown. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

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Dwayne Lawson-Brown. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 800.

Mutiple Photos To Show Multiple Dimensions

In addition to the familiarity provided by the vibrant purple background of each frame, there are other common elements in the project that helped to tie it all together – like the lighting and framing of each shot. By keeping the number of variables in each frame at a minimum, the important differences of each subject were really able to shine through. She also selected the same number of images for each series: three.

“I operate in threes,” explains Franklin. “I kept going back and forth about whether or not to continue with having three photos of each, or if I just wanted to do one of each subject. I just kept coming back to the number three. You can get into the numerology of it, but three just makes sense to me. I’m not necessarily an even-numbers person, I like things in odds. That’s just how I see things and that’s why I chose the three different images. I like to have an assortment of them sitting and standing in the series, and then I always like to have one of them doing something different.” 

Drew Anderson

“A man in the physic

An infant in spirit

To which should you listen?

Unabridged anti-ambivalent

Misfit with innocent intent

The most bedazzled brick in the road to the abyss

A goddamned blessing

Brother

Son

Bothersome

Bothers some

Unbothered

From gumbo to mumbo

Born a wodi and grew into a youngin

They say I don't age but the facts was

I just did it backwards

I'll tickle your funny bone

Then while you laughing

Fiddle with your metronome

Clobbering time

That thing

That thing

Never just one thing

The tooth in the truth, but I say no sooth

Yet let me read you your fortune:

"You'll fall in love

And hate yourself for it…"

I chew lies and spit prophecy

Humility mixed with infamy

Don't come for me if I didn't send for thee

Heaven on my breath and hell on my heels

Plucked the feathers from an angel

And wrote this with the quills:
 
The gentleman
From Louisiana
Is reclaiming
His time.”
Music Choice: Raphael

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Drew Anderson. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

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Drew Anderson. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

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Drew Anderson. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

“When I’m working with them, I’m talking with them and capturing them in the moment. I don’t necessarily pose every shot or let them know when I’m about to take it. I like to get different looks and capture the moments of them laughing or thinking about something. We all have different facets of ourselves, and I think that showing it through three images is a great way to present it. Sometimes you might present yourself a little more professional and other times you just want to be comfortable, breathe and relax. I’m able to show those varying dimensions of these men through the three different photos.” 

Michael G. Knight

“I express my humanity through the practice of medicine. As an African-American physician, I am blessed with the opportunity to impact the lives of others by empowering them to live their best and healthiest lives. A person’s health impacts almost every facet of their daily experience, and the ability to educate and assist my patients to achieve optimal health is the greatest gift that I have been given. As a community, we are often burdened with a disproportionate amount of health challenges, rooted in systemic injustice and social and economic inequity. Through education, research, and clinical care, I am working to reverse those statistics, and to achieve health equity for communities across our nation.”
Music Choice: John Legend

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Michael G. Knight. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

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Michael G. Knight. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

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Michael G. Knight. Photo by Rhonisha Franklin. Sony α7R III. Sony 50mm f/1.4. 1/125-sec., f/2.2, ISO 640.

See more about the Alpha Female + program, how you can be part of our community and how to enter to win an Alpha Female + Grant HERE.  

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