King Texas is a visual narrator and photographer from Brooklyn, NY. For several of years, he has worked in freelance and collaborative projects, such as capturing the downtown New York City nightlife scene with New Pop Media. He was also the co-producer and official photographer for Live at the Loft.
His interests lies in building a communicative space that accumulates organic experiences, vulnerability, and unheard stories. In each of his projects, he aims to create a safe space between the individual and the audience, himself and the sitter, in order to establish the highest level of comfort possible.
Always an excellent experience, talking to someone like King Texas, someone who thinks passionately about their art, and who feels it deeply. Getting to plum the depths of his practice was illuminating, in ways I didn’t anticipate and couldn’t have hoped to expect.
This interview has been edited for clarity and content.
So I dropped out of college, I think around 2006 or so? I was attending Queens Bar Community College. Jules Allen was my mentor, actually, a really awesome photographer, black & white photographer. So after then, I actually stumbled upon the scene at CBGB.
I started taking photos a year and a half before CBGB closed, I was in a band, so I did a lot of tour photography, live performance photography. And then, of course, CBGB closed down, and I started doing nightlife photography. I was part of a nightlife media company called New Pop, we documented a lot of events around the time the downtown night scene was emerging. So I did a lot of nightlife photography for a very long time, and then the New Pop Media kind of dispersed? It does actually still exist, Trevs runs it now. But yeah, New Pop was Trevs, Tone and I. So I think at the age of 20–21. So that was 4 or 5 years, and afterwards, I kind of went solo a little bit and started photographing events myself. And then I was part of a collective called Live at the Loft in Hoboken, NJ, so I lived in Hoboken for 8 months. And basically, Live at the Loft was similar to Unplugged, so we would invite 75–100 people to the space, it was a 4,000 square foot loft, we would invite a band, and we basically created a press kit for them.
So photography, live audio, live performance footage, the whole nine. So we did that, for I would say around 10 months, until the show was cancelled, and after then, that was 2012 and that’s when my solo work began.
I think it was just everything, the punk and hardcore scene was just DIY, so I feel like a lot of people were doing so many things, and it wasn’t just photography. It was a lifestyle at that point. I don’t think I had a good handle on why I was doing the things I was doing around that time. Because I was just so young, and that was the main reason why I stopped going to school, was because I just didn’t know what I wanted to do.
So that was just one of the ways to express myself, you know.
I think Live at the Loft was that moment. I’d had those moments in the past, but I didn’t grow up being a creative. I’m the first person within my family that is a creative. My family is from South America, from Guyana and Venezuela, so it was just completely new, I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel. I didn’t have that narrative of , “I first picked up a camera at four!”
So I felt like I had those moments throughout different times of my young adulthood, but I think Live at the Loft was the first moment where I was just like, “oh, I can do this” because I think it was more about finding the root of my voice, because I think prior was just that discovering what I wanted to shoot, who I wanted to shoot, and what that meant to me.
Yeah. It’s, my voice is very rooted in community. So I would describe my photographs in that manner.
Yeah. I feel like I focus on that a lot. I feel like I’ve been trying to focus on that in different ways, especially throughout the last year of, not only continuously shooting, but also the changes in the processes of shooting, I’ve been shooting a lot of film lately. And also with the introduction to a lot of other mediums, too, so it’s not like I just…if anything, I don’t look at a lot of photography. I look at a lot of sculptures, I look at a lot of paintings, you know, I look at a lot of different artwork, because I feel like that kind of helps me, like, inspires the kind of photography that I do.
I felt like I’ve…I feel like I’ve been in this weird alternate universe of speeding up, but yet, slowing down. Because I think there’s just so much physicality to it that I didn’t have within digital.
You know? It’s just like, 12 shots a roll, I shoot medium format so it’s 12 shots a roll, but also, there’s like 50 rolls here. It’s fascinating, because you’re kind of slowing down, and you’re kind of retraining your eye. And if anything, for me, it’s more so retraining my entrance to portraiture, as far as connecting with people and being present in people’s spaces.
I used film in college, it was right before digital came in, so I shot with 35mm, medium format, large format, I did everything, and I enjoyed it but I think at that time, it was just something that I didn’t have the necessary discipline to stick to, to be honest. I tried to get into film later on, but it just never felt right. So when I picked up a medium format camera, everything just kind of fell into place.
Yeah, I feel like it’s a very innate thing for me to do.
I grew up in Brooklyn.
And you know, I also traveled a lot. My dad worked for United Nations for 26 years.
So I did a lot of traveling overseas when I was younger. So you know, being a black kid from a very poor neighborhood, and then also having the opportunity to travel the world, I was just always interested in narratives. Especially the ones that were just very very difficult to find. So I feel like a lot of people, sometimes people ask me, “is this, do you think about who you’re photographing?” And I think I do, to a certain extent, as far as being conscious of a person’s space, and being conscious of their consent, and being conscious of the way that the interaction is primarily highlighting their existence.
But for them themselves? If they’re black, or if they’re not, not really, I think that it’s just something that I naturally gravitate towards. It’s just an innate thought for me.
Yeah! I think I’m trying to…I think as visual narrators, the one thing that I’m trying to seek out is just a blueprint of anything. So I feel like different…if you have one person like, I don’t think a photographer necessarily conquers the mission of highlighting a person in a very specific way, because I feel like people are multi-layered. So there are different ways for you to document a person, there are different ways for them to look at themselves. There’s no one person that can knock that all down.
But I think, within portraits, I want people to look at themselves and kind of remember where they were at that point, whether or not it was a good place or a bad place. I want people to be present when they look at their photographs. I want them to honor their presence and kind of…I want them to be still within that, because I feel like that is a very important thing. Within the aspect of being documented, I think everyone should be documented. I don’t have any restrictions…any unconscious restrictions on who I photograph. So I don’t look at someone and say, “oh, I like their outfit, I want to shoot them!” I don’t think about those things. If anything, I don’t photograph homeless people, I don’t photograph addicts, that is just my personal thing, those are the folks I just don’t…they’re not really present enough to give consent.
So you know, with everyone else, it’s just kind of like, I don’t think about those elements of how you’re dressed, or there’s something that you’re doing that interests me, I think it’s just everything that interests me within that. So I feel like everyone should be archived.
And that’s what portraiture is to me, it’s those remnants of being a part of an archive for people to witness, or just for themselves to witness. There’s a certain immortality that exists within a photograph, and everyone should be a part of that. There should be nobody that is excluded from that process.
I think with, especially of late, I feel like I’ve been photographing a lot of folks on the street that I may not know. Within all the portraits that I take, I actually know everyone, and if I don’t know them, they end up becoming a friend. I think it’s very important to know people’s names. Within the street stuff that I’ve been doing, that’s been a little, kind of difficult for me. Because it’s this…I don’t want it to be a fleeting moment, but it’s also not trying to disturb the moment that’s happening in front of me. Like I said before, I always try to make sure that they know I’m present in this space with them to photograph them.
Acknowledgement. If I take a photo of someone just right outside my apartment building and they catch me, you know, it’s just a smile or a head nod. Or, “hey, how are you, I’m Texas.” And that can either go left or right, it depends, but just being present within that space of them knowing that this is what I’m doing, I’ve already done it, and kind of taking it from there, whether or not they’re going to like that. But I think that’s still something that’s new for me, because prior to that everyone I took photos of I knew, either for a long time, or we’re hanging out which is what I usually do. We can hang out for an entire day, and then we take photos. It’s kind of like this really relaxing common environment in which I’m not just trying to take photos of you, I’m also trying to get to know you as a person.
That was in 2010. I went with Tony Sannah, around that time he was trying to build soccer camps for children I think in multiple vacant lots in Port-Au-Prince. So I was invited to photograph that entire process.
Sometimes it feels new, because I think also we, especially if you’re in New York, or any fast-paced city, you’re always moving forward, and there’s sometimes never really any space to sit down and kind of look back. So I have been looking at a lot of work lately, because I have been getting a lot of questions of how, when did you first pick up a camera?…like, I had somebody who just moved from Texas, and I was telling her how I started, and her face was just like…she was just like, do you realize how amazing that is? She’s like, I would have never known you were in a band, or on tour, or any of those things. So I think that in the last month or two, I’ve just been really looking at that narrative, but then also looking back, and seeing the ways that, I guess not only that I’ve improved whatever that may mean to me, that’s such a murky area, murky spectrum for me, but also I think it’s more so the work up to the work now, that kind of timeline of always wanting to do portraits, but the streamline of how that went about.
I think, I mean it’s all self. Waking up, taking care of myself, making sure I eat.
Making sure I have my meals, making sure that I’m looking at other people’s work, making sure that I’m obviously taking photos and that. That’s always the thing, but for me, improvement is also the things outside of the action of taking photos, you know.
Yeah. There are a lot. I’m always wanting to take better photos of people. I think that’s always going to be something that I want to improve on, I want to take better photos of people, I want to create better representations of people. I want to see people in a more open way, that’s always going to be something that I’m going to be wanting to improve on every day.
Huh, I haven’t thought about that.
I mean…huh. No, like, I haven’t really thought about that in itself, like improvement within that context.
I could be, you know, also that. I tell myself every day of that. Is it okay if we come back to that question?
A little under two years.
Inclusion. I think that’s something that I…has really affected my approach within photography, is the thought of inclusion. Because I think around that time, too, I was looking for trans or gender non-conforming artists. And that was very hard to find.
So, you know, I’m going to be 29 this year, so I was 27 at the time, and I was thinking, “oh, I’m an adult.” And I was searching for these artists or creatives that had a similar journey to me outside of race and sexuality. It made me re-evaluate a just a lot of shit. It made me evaluate my work, because at the time, it was…I could have lost everything. I don’t know how my family would have taken it, I don’t know whether or not, I didn’t know if my job would have taken it okay, or my friends, all of these uncertainties. I really had to think on top of life stuff, but like photography, what does this mean? What does this, moving forward, if I do decide to embark on this journey, what is this going to mean for work? So I thought a lot about inclusion, and you know, community…access to space, within the medium. Who has access to that space and who doesn’t. So it was all of these, and I think asking myself those questions, greatly influenced my photography, because also around that time is when I created, when I was first creating my own solo work. Those were definitely the things that I was thinking about, and those were the things that affected the work.
Yeah, I feel like I am, naturally.
Yeah, I definitely did. A lot of support, also some push back. Also that grey area of, like, people may accept you for who you are, but when it comes to the next person, they may not do that.
Yeah, it’s kind of like that weird thing. Especially during recent weeks. But, yeah.
Just like, you know, it’s kind of like…you get to see how your…your friends who are not of color feel about your existence when there’s all this, police brutality coming up, it’s Caitlyn Jenner, you know, it’s all of these things and you get to really see how people feel about certain things because of social media. It was very…I feel like people were really receptive, and I feel like my circle changed around that time, as well, because I had just…Live at the Loft had just ended, and I was just by myself for the first time, so it was like, “who do I hang out with, who do I vibe with.” And I did find old and new creatives to do that with. Ones who are also exploring the same themes that I am within my work. So yeah, very receptive, but also new folks.
Oh yeah. And thank you for stating it that way, because that’s how I view it. I do feel that I’m still learning how to be…have access to multiple dimensions. But yeah, it is like I’ve learned a lot, not only about myself, but in the people around me, and I feel like that transformation was basically having your head being wrapped in a plastic bag and somehow you finally put in a hole in there and you’re like I can breathe now! You know, like when you feel like you can breathe and feel like you can really maneuver throughout the world the way that you wish to. There’s a sense of perspective that comes with that, with the world that you see, because you’re finally like, you’re here. You can live, finally. You see that life in other things, it’s very easy to lose, kind of like having a near death experience, which it kind of was, you know? You walk out of there, and its like, boom, everything is just completely new. You feel like a newborn.
Yeah, it’s getting there.
I think comfort is something that we’re all always continuously seeking. It’s not something that, I never believe people when they say they’re fully comfortable with everything, because that’s not…
Yeah, it’s impossible. I feel like that’s an everyday thing, I’m becoming more and more comfortable, even during times where I’m like, “how much more comfortable can I be?” And it’s like, I can, you know? But yeah, I do believe that.
Yeah, I think about that a lot, how I, especially within creating archives of other trans folks. Photographing other trans people, gender non-conforming people, two-spirited folks, that’s something that I always look at, because even with…masculine and feminine presenting people, as well, it’s like, how…I think about that with a lot of people. If I encounter someone who has been photographed a lot, I actually look through those photographs and I’m like, “okay, this is the way that you’ve been photographed before,” so that kind of gives me a cushion on like, okay, this is what I want to do now, because I don’t want to repeat that.
And sometimes people would photograph other people in this like repeated fashion, this continuous way, and I’ve always thought of breaking out of that, but I always do think of this is how you’re normally presented within society, I’m definitely not going to do that. I want to try something new, but it’s because I also don’t believe those connotations of how you’re supposed to be presented. I’m forever thinking about that, especially since people who I’m photographing are thinking that as well. It’s not something that I feel like I can ever get away with.
I’m always going to be thinking about it, because they’re always thinking about it, as well.
Yeah, there is a…it’s interesting, because I always, I’m also very…when people see me, they don’t necessarily know where to place me. Because one, I look very young. And two, I’m two-spirited, so I’m very…me, I’m very…people can’t place me until I open my mouth.
Um, yes and no.
I mean, I wouldn’t label it like that, but it’s just more so, they can’t place me within their constructed gender spectrum sometimes. The interactions are like…they’re always good, but I guess I’m just not visibly hyper-masculine. By the time people want to react, they’re too busy figuring out, “who is this person in front of me and how can I identify them?” So it definitely has changed a lot. And you know, it does have to, because I do have to think about my safety in a lot of the times, especially when I’m out and about, if I’m doing street photos. So I’m still trying to learn how to navigate through that, like, how to be safe, but also interact with people. But also what happens if there’s a setback in the way that I’m interacting with people, and it’s interesting, as well, because there’s this conversation about gender happening in the United States of America, so it’s like how does that affect me, as an individual, or the way that people view me.
Yeah, it’s the same, yeah. I don’t think that has ever really changed. Not only dealing with interactions with people, but overall, the world. Always thinking about safety. I don’t dwell on it, but it’s something I feel very conscious of.
Mhmm. I feel like black women feel that way, too.
Yeah…yeah. I mean, I feel like every black person creates fear in white people.
Yeah, it’s different. If anything, I’ve seen the fear that I create within cis men, you know? Because I still go through this…like, I still experience misogyny within everything. If anything, I’ve been seeing the fear that I’ve created within circles of men. It’s not only, like, in context of race, but I’ve noticed that it’s within context of gender, as well.
We learn these things within the society, it’s like these threads of misogyny and sexism and stuff like that, you know. If you’re conscious of it, you can choose to undo that, if you’re not, you’re still redoing that…
Yeah. So I think that’s where it comes from, that’s why it’s complicated. You can’t just be all, “hey, you need to stop doing that!” It goes deeper than that. That’s where that comes from, and it also comes from people not being able to see you for who you are because of not being knowledgeable about, not only your history, but their history, as well. Especially if they are a person of color.
No, I don’t think it’s a setback at all. There’s really nothing that I can really do with that. I feel like that’s the other person’s issue, how they deal with that. That has nothing to do with me, that has everything to do with them, and so I don’t feel that it’s a setback, I think it makes people curious about me. But not in this way that they see me as a fetish, they’re just overall curious, not only about my presentation, but also what kind of camera I’m holding. There’s these other factors that kind of draw them to me, outside of my physical presentation.
Yeah definitely. Because people always want to talk, even if they feel like they don’t want to. People are always…they always want to have a conversation, they want to talk. People are quite lonely out there, you know. People are always looking to talk even if they have hesitation about that. So I do use different parts of my story to ignite those kinds of conversations. And most of the time, they are the ones igniting that conversation, rather than myself. They do it before I could.
It’s a lot of personal work. Not too much commercial work. Right now, I’m trying to gauge where the work fits in.
Where it fits in, where it belongs, how to distribute it. Because it’s not, for me, I don’t want to make it something that can just fit anywhere. So I have an opening coming up at the Studio Museum of Harlem pretty soon, I’m part of their Harlem Postcards.
Thank you. And last year, my work was at NYU for 3 months. So it’s gauging…okay, for one, the landscape has changed so much, in a pro and a con. So the pro is, galleries and these institutions are creating space for emerging artists and self-taught, self-directed artists, which is great. The con is since this is the time that they’re doing it and they’re very invested in doing so, it’s kind of figuring out what that means for self-taught and self-directed artists, what does that mean for emerging artists, how does that manifest. Since these spaces are now in 2015 like, “yes, we want to have space for emerging artists” but what does that mean? I’ve been trying to figure out where the work fits, and how the work can…how the work can be immortal. I can sit here and just be like, “yeah, I want commercial gigs” but it’s more so thinking about the longevity of the work.
And yeah, does it fit in a gallery, or does it fit somewhere else, and trying to figure that out on top of obviously monetary value; how to keep the work going. I’m in this space of figuring it out.
That space is just so, those walls can be so dull. And also, not a lot of people, a large part of my work is access. Work shouldn’t only be on a computer or in a gallery, which is why I love street art, too. I love that people…we paste their photos on the streets, because that is the one pathway that we all have access to. Not a lot of people have access to galleries, and if they do, it’s a very uncomfortable space sometimes. Galleries are owned by rich old white men. That’s the con of it. Like yeah, that’s great, but who has access to it, but also you gotta take it one day at a time, as well. I think there’s pros and cons to everything, but I think the major thing is wanting people to have access, not just only to my work, but to have access to work in general.
To get work out? The internet. Social media. I think that’s the one space to, that has that access, that leeway to getting that out.
Yeah, for the most part. I’m also thinking about street art, as well, which I’m probably gonna do this summer. But yeah, I think it’s just the internet, the greatest invention ever. But that’s going to shift as time goes on…
I want to do, um…
Hahahahha. Yeah! It’s emerging, in New York, at least. People are kind of putting up artwork as a protest to gentrification, but also, I feel like people are finding more ways to get their work out. Because these options that we have had are just so limited. So for me, I want to work with one of my projects, Blackness, I want to wheat paste a bunch of photos across New York, because that project in particular speaks to a lot of people who exist as they are in the world.
Yeah. For now, it’s thinking about a book, thinking about not only that, but thinking about an experience around that. Creating an experience around that. And it’s a continuous project, so it’s going to be going on until I’m no longer physically here. I’ve been shooting it since 2012.
It is. It is about representation, but it’s also about staying alive, in a lot of ways. I started that project after a couple of months dealing with grief. I lost a significant amount of people in a span of 7 months.
Including my grandfather. And a lot of them were high school friends that I went to Catholic school with. One of the people that passed, too, was a co-worker of mine. It was this continuous dealing with grief, and also, I was dealing with gender dysphoria, as well. It was a really shitty time. But I started that project not knowing…but the first 10–15 people, and even so now, I sit down with them and kind of explain why it started. So when I first started that project, it was like, I’m thinking about transitioning, but also, I’d lost so many people. So it was more than bringing people in to exist in a space and be represented, but it was also “I need to stay here and stay alive right now and I need to do this so I can keep going.” It’s the first solo, but it’s also the project that really saved my goddamn life.
For that, I’ve always been thinking about how do I issue those photographs into the streets, because it’s very much a dedication to the ones that I lost. And they were very much a part of the streets; not so much to the context of being hustles, or drug dealers, or whatever the case, but they represented that. So it’s like, how do I bring that back?
Yeah. I feel like that happens anyway. When we lose people, I think Tupac said it, “we let our dead homies speak for us.” I’m a firm believer in that.
(laughter) Yeah, he’s the greatest! But yeah, it’s about immortality and grief, resilience, and honor, as well.
Yeah. Within culture, within sexuality, within gender. Without saying so much. Without being like, “here are black people!” But also, not wanting to over-dress us, not wanting to overdo how we exist, you know. It’s more so like, here’s this person, and here’s this photograph of them. You may know their name, you don’t know anything about them except for what you see. You don’t know how they identify, you don’t know who they sleep with, you don’t know who they are when they go to bed. And I think not knowing those things is very important. Because you have no other choice but to humanize them, without knowing these details about them, that are frankly, none of anyone’s business (laughter).
So when you look at these photographs, you don’t know if they’re trans, you don’t know if they’re gender nonconforming, you don’t know if they’re gay, if they’re lesbian, if they’re queer, if they’re bisexual, if they’re intersex. You don’t know these details about them. And to me, that is what the spectrum of blackness is. It isn’t necessarily what you see.
Because blackness cannot be pinpointed. Blackness is ethereal, blackness is very much spiritual. You can’t bottle it down to these three words, five words, or down to this one person.
Yeah, which is something that we continuously have to fight against. We have to fight those notions, every day of our lives, even in the most subtle ways. So that was very important to me because people are already going to try and place you wherever they see fit, for you.
Always. That’s just also out of habit, because we want to know. And I’m very interested in the aspect of knowing. Why do we need to know these things? Why do we need to…they matter, but also, what is it within our curiosity makes us want to know this information about people? It’s just interesting, the aspect of knowing.
If I’m over-talking, let me know!
Ah, the process.
The process is the vessel. It’s kind of like…it’s like watching something come to life, and that’s such a very beautiful thing. Especially dealing with film lately, too, it’s like, I don’t process my own work, but you put in film, you crank it up, you shoot, you roll it back up, process it, then scan it. To be a part of that, that is just, it beats it, because you’re touching the DNA of someone’s existence. You’re actually really a part of this making of an image, and that is so powerful to be a part of. Rather than, you know, skipping these steps. It’s kind of like with anything, like DJs that still use vinyl, it’s a craft. And you’re using your hands and you’re in this, you’re a creator, essentially, in some way. And to me, that knocks out whatever result. If anything, if I see a photo of mine and I’m like okay, that’s a pretty okay photo, that’s a pretty decent photo. I don’t think about that. I think about it was so beautiful making that photograph, interacting with that person. It was beautiful to get that film back and scan it in and do all these things, and here it is. It’s beautiful that it’s here now, but it’s like, what one had to do to get it here…
Yeah, it’s phenomenal.
Ha! It took them a while. My mom, my mom is cool. She was like, look, you’re a good kid. My dad had a rough time, with it but it wasn’t because…at first, I think it’s because he just didn’t believe in creativity, but I think later on, he realized within my…our generation, we are maneuvering throughout this society differently than he did. And so I think my father was just more concerned than being like, “art isn’t a career, you can’t make a career out of art.” It wasn’t that, it was more so, like, “I really want you to be okay, I really want your friends to be okay, too.” Because my dad worked for the United Nations, so he knows, honestly how fucked up this world is.
So it’s like him, he’s just like, “I just want to make sure that you’re good.” But I think it really hit him when he saw my work for the first time at NYU, and he was just like, “this is what you’ve been doing all this time? This is really good!” And I was like, “thank you Dad.” And he’s like, “these are all your friends??” And my dad, my dad is from Guyana, so he will introduce himself to you, he will invite you over like, “hey, you ever come to the house we’ll feed you!” He’s just that kind of dude, so I think it hit him, and he was just like okay this is what you do, and you love it, and you work very hard at it, very hard for it. At that point, he was just like, okay, I really do fuck with this then. He’s like, “if there’s ever any openings, or anything, or if your friend’s are showing, or there’s a good art show, let me know, I want to go and support.” So I think for him, it was the process of making sure that his son was okay in this world. And they’re cool. They’re fully supportive, and yeah. They see the possibility within creating your own path. And I don’t know how it feels for them…it can be, I don’t know whether or not thinking about that is a loss for them, you know? They love the work that they do, but I think, it’s more so, they see the possibility of that. And I think it makes them very happy that we have a choice.
Yeah, you can choose to be anyone that you want. You can choose to live that and be happy and be safe, for the most part.
Yeah, no, thank you. It’s definitely been an honor, thank you for reaching out. It’s so funny, I was like, I got that email and I was just like, oh shit, I’ve been on this site for a minute now!