Black joy through the lens of Adrian Octavius Walker

Adrian Octavious Walker Capturing Black Joy through portraiture | Soho House

The portrait photographer talks to us about the art of capturing authenticity

Friday 11 February 2022 By Abigail Hirsch

Photographer Adrian Octavius Walker is no stranger when it comes to portraiture. With a background in sociology, he is adept at setting a tone of comfort and confidence between him and his subject. By creating this open forum, the creative draws energy out of his sitters, offering a platform to see people ‘how they see themselves in the mirror’.

Here, we talk to Walker about capturing Black joy through portraiture.

Adrian Octavious Walker Capturing Black Joy through portraiture | Soho House
Adrian Octavious Walker Capturing Black Joy through portraiture | Soho House

What sparked your love of photography?
‘Seeing people how they see themselves in the mirror brings me immense joy. As a child, I was curious about my surroundings, and saw the world from an artistic perspective. I was also interested in learning more about people and the intricacies of their lives. Visually telling people’s stories became a top priority.’
 
How do you capture Black joy through your photography?
‘I like to take my time with my sitters. I get to know them, make them feel comfortable, seen, and relaxed. This environment generates the energy to make a great portrait. Playing the right music and having items the subject needs in the room to bring them joy brings out the best in an individual.’

Adrian Octavious Walker Capturing Black Joy through portraiture | Soho House

Portraiture is such a unique type of photography – how do you approach working with your subjects?
‘Most of the time, I work with individuals who I’m already close with, which typically makes things easier for both of us. I approach each session with ease, and I like to ask how they would like to be seen, especially not knowing what state of mind they’re in currently.’
 
What’s the response from subjects when they see the way you’ve captured them?
‘My sitters always walk away pleased with my work. Being a sociology major was a cheat code for my work; it taught me how to interact with people, no matter what background they come from. I love giving people grace and hearing them out. After we both catch a feel for one another, magic is made.’
 
How does your work contribute to the canon of portraiture in America? What legacy do you want to create?
‘Having two kids really brings a lot to perspective for me. I want them to look up one day knowing their father is one of the best image makers alive. I keep artwork throughout our house so that my children know it will always be a part of their lives. Another legacy I want to create is ensuring other artists and image makers know their worth, no matter who they’re working with. As soon as we step into a room, we must know that we own the space and hold onto that confidence.’