Photoset: Malcolm in Millennia – by Chris Mena

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Over the summer of 2018, I had the opportunity to visit Cincinnati and experience the people of The Queen City. Carrying my Olympus OM-10 on my neck started several conversations with local strangers (a darkroom teacher even stopped me to ask if I was shooting film).

People were curious not just about the camera, but also about my Dominican heritage and why in the world would a New Yorker go to Cincinnati for a vacation. The answer? Nobody ever tells me “I’m going to Cincinnati“. It’s always L.A., Miami, London, Cabo, Puerto Rico, Cuba, etc.

It’s never Cincinnati and I was curious.

Anyway, according to the 2010 census, the population of Cincinnati is about 44.8% black and 49.3% white. Although the data is about 8 years old, this showed, and I often found myself being the only Latino in the room. Because of this detail, the subject of race was in the back of my head. Nevertheless, the hospitality and reception of locals spoke volumes to me. And while race was often a subject of conversation, the tone was so much different there. The tone was so much different in real life.

The contrast between the warm and friendly interactions I had with these real-life strangers versus the tensions I see on social media every day got me thinking. Not only do we have our eyes constantly glued to our screens, but also biases are being built on people we’ve honestly never met.

I happened to be working on a Malcolm X concept to shoot the week after, so I tied the two ideas together along with some inspiration from Gil Scott-Heron, some trusty ILFORD HP5 PLUS, my Pentax 645 and Kodak XTOL developer.

These images are the result of that.

If Instagram shut down tomorrow, would your images still matter?
If Instagram shut down tomorrow, would you go out to make friends?
If the internet shut down tomorrow, would you have anything left to say?

Cheers from New York City,

~ Chris

P.S: The model’s name is Adrian Baidoo, he’s an actor and overall amazing person. The shoot took place in Harlem, a Manhattan neighborhood. Also, Kenya, if you’re reading this, thank you for making this stranger feel at home. Say hi to your friends for me.

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