To be in dialogue with Texas Isaiah, then, is something profound. That is, to be in conversation with him is an opportunity to think alongside an artist for whom the concerns of lineage, pleasure, and safety are key. As his interlocutor, you are deliberately ushered into study with him. I experienced this potent dynamic for myself after receiving an invitation to be a critical dialogue partner to the artist as part of his 2020-2021 artist residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Throughout this collaboration, we asked questions, together, about the expansive nature of self-portraiture. We exchanged notes about the scholars and thinkers who guide our work and sought the best ways to describe an ethos of care in front of and behind the camera. All of this is another way of saying that mostly, we were always in dialogue about the very condition of the photographic image itself.
“First, during this moment, photography is one of the most challenging practices to engage with because it’s readily accessible and the most greatly consumed,” the artist tells me during a mid-summer phone call as we discuss the storytelling possibilities of photography. “It’s also harmed a lot of communities and continues to, and I’m greatly interested in that rehabilitation.” This intervening gesture is full of gravitas. To be imaged is a deeply political process and can communicate, as an act of repair, multiple truths about the realities of those who are captured. In Texas Isaiah’s images, sitters are not simply placeholders for a vague nod to representational politics. They also inform, and contribute to, the emotional and formal registers of the photograph as co-conspirators.