REESESHOTIT and Artistic Freedom



reeseshotitTyinghe Fleming is an artist from Jersey City, majoring in film and entering her third year at Howard University. Going by REESESHOTIT, she is a multimedia artist, and is featured here — as one look through her Instagram shows — for her captivating photography. Her work is infused with a warmth, color, and visceral clarity that captures dynamically people and their moments. Specifically, I have long enjoyed Reese’s photography for the way her work portrays the lives and looks and experiences of young Black people. Her work makes me think about how Black artists of our generation are documenting this moment in Black life. What colors, feelings, filters, angles, and poses best represent us and this moment? I think REESE’s artwork is a passionate and unique response to that question — and, her art is just cool to look at, too. Wielding both film and digital cameras, her images feel and seem alive to me — an element of her art, as you will soon see, that Reese regards as deliberate.

I spoke with REESE last week, and we talked about her photography, her motives, and her artistic journey. To catch REESE’s work, follow her Instagram. Also, check her debut show on August 23rd in Brooklyn.


What inspired you to get involved in art and, specifically, photography?

I’m a filmmaker at Howard, so I already have a camera and I was planning on using that to film visuals, but I had it around all the time so I just started taking pictures with it. It was cool at first, but then last summer, my brother was just like, “You should take it more seriously.” My brother really inspired me, because he’s a photographer, so I just got into it pretty heavily. And, artistically, I’m influenced by Barry Gordy, Beyoncé, Octavia Butler. And, I consume music, television and film and I read a lot.

What approach did you have to filming, and did that translate into your photography?

For film, I’m pretty specific about… like, I like visuals for the angles, the cinematography, the coloring of the visuals. So, for photography, it’s a still image of a moment that I could record, you know? So, I’m really particular about the composition of my photos, like I would be with visuals. Just the angles being right, the colors of the photo just sitting right. I don’t want people to just look at a picture, I want them to feel something. If it’s in a house, I want the picture to give off a cozy feeling. If it’s cold outside, I want them to just be able to tell because of the coloring and angle and stuff like that.

Right. You almost always capture Black people in your photography, so how do those elements relate specifically to your subjects? Why is photography a place for you to capture Black people in that way?

I like to capture Black people in a way that’s really soft and living, you know what I’m saying? ’Cuz I feel like we’re so — on a daily basis — we’re just so dehumanized. And capturing Black people living and loving and laughing, and being soft or making soft faces and not looking so upset — just living, is really, really good. It’s a really important kind of art, to show the humanity of Black people in a space where people don’t usually see that. And, being a Black person, I know the community, obviously, so I’m just capturing it from my eye and what I go through every day.

Do you have a specific audience when you shoot?

It’s my art, so I really care about it regardless if anyone else does. I make sure that I’m really solid in me loving the image myself, and me loving what I’ve created, before I even share it with the world. I’m my biggest fan, I’m my audience with it, I make myself feel good about it. Because, these days, a lot of social media is about algorithms and stuff like that; people are posting things they really love and then deleting them because they didn’t get enough likes. I make sure that I like it, you know, regardless of anything.

A lot of your pictures, like you mentioned, are portraits of people in various settings. Can you elaborate a little more on some of the things you look for when it comes to capturing that perfect picture? What does it feel like for you?

First, I conceptualize — I have a specific model in mind, and then I conceptualize what I want them to wear, based on the vibe I want. I get what I want them to wear, and then I seek out the location. I really like to have Black people in front of random walls and have them do anything. You can do anything with a wall. I do a lot of outside work, because I have a lack of resources, so my photos show everything about the process. I don’t have a studio, I don’t — you know what I’m saying? It’s just raw. Just being there and having the feeling. Honestly, every shoot, I take at least 500 pictures, cuz I’m just snapping and seeing what feels right, and just going from every single angle, and trying to play with as much as possible, to come out with the best images. I’m shooting from a lot of different angles the entire time, I just don’t stop snapping the entire shoot. So I take about 500 pictures every single time I shoot and then try to narrow it down to about 40 every time.

One of the shoots I really messed with was the one with Mavi. I mess with his music and I saw him on your page — so how do these shoots come about? Are these your friends, people you know closely?

With Mavi [below] specifically, Mavi was the universe because I didn’t even think anyone was paying attention to my photography seriously and he hit me up. Me and Mavi, we’re in the same class at Howard but we don’t know each other. I didn’t even know his name. So he hit me up, I just saw that he was making music and saw Earl was cosigning it and I was like, this is fire. But he was like, “Yo, I want a photographer, and people keep recommending you.” It was really affirming to what I was doing, because I didn’t even know I was getting recognition. So that’s how that came, I really thought he was super dope so I was completely down to collab with him. And that was all on film, we didn’t take any digital shots; we just went to random places and tried to get the best [shot]. And with film, you don’t know, so you have to really just…photography is really just the eye, it’s not about the equipment or anything like that, so you don’t know what the picture looks like, just get the angle you feel is best and take it.

How do you finance this as a hobby and something you want to take seriously, as well?

So I’ve only been shooting seriously for a year, so this entire year has been me investing in my work by myself and just building my brand through it. So I finance myself. I have a job, and I’ll get paid and I’ll go and buy film. I’ll pay for my Uber there, I’ve literally paid for models to take the train, and [I] just wasn’t getting paid for it at all. I think after the last shoot I just did, with Antoine, I was like I should really charge people, so after that I decided I wasn’t gonna do anymore free shoots, and I’ve been charging since. But it’s only been a week; I’ve been shooting free for an entire year just based off of me working every single day.

When you create art and think about going into a shoot, what do you think the purpose of your art is? Do you have some sort of political purpose, some sort of cultural purpose?

It’s cultural, it’s life, it’s moments. Before I was really just highlighting regular people that I just really had a love for, and just trying to get people out of their comfort zone. I try to show people their potential as a model, you know what I’m saying? That’s kind of my purpose: just making people feel good, making people feel beautiful. Just a moment, and a culture. If I’m in New York, I’m going to shoot it New York style, you know what I’m saying? Just trying to have it in a specific area that feels New York. Same thing within DC; it’s a chiller vibe, it’s just good vibes. And, when I’m shooting people, I usually conceptualize it. The one I just did yesterday, he’s Dominican, so I said wear something that makes you feel most Dominican, and I brought dominoes to the shoot and he wore that said Presidente, which is a Dominican beer.

I think it’s really cool when you describe how you visualize your art, because it puts photography as this medium that can create feelings in you as a photographer and somebody watching. I definitely get a feeling from some of the pieces that you do. What is it about photography specifically, you think, that allows that process of feeling to happen?

I think photography specifically is literally just trying to capture something with the clearest, most pure vision, to me that’s what it is. It’s something in its purest form, because it’s real life. Getting a really clean-cut image is like looking at it with your own eyes, you know what I’m saying? I try to do that with the camera — like you’re literally sitting next to the person, or standing in front of the person. I try to have a still image in its purest form, so just making it seem like you’re right there with it. That’s the vibe. I try to never post blurry photos. I don’t care how hard I’ve worked, if they all come out blurry it’s not happening, because you can’t feel nothing from that really.

That’s crazy, because whenever I look at your page, the clarity is always something that struck me. You use film but also digital, so it was cool to see that film can hold that same quality and make photos seem fuller, for some reason.

Film, I just got into it, and the first few times I posted film I shot I was literally posting it right off the scans. Then, one day I sat there and edited the picture, and I was like, woah, you can make film look like it’s digital, seriously. So, the editing process with that is pretty much the same as digital.

What shoot, experience, was the most the most affirming experience for you personally? The moment where you realized that this is what I love to do?

I’ve loved it for a while, but most recently did I actually get affirmed that this is what I’m going to really invest and give my all into, was when I shot Antoine [below] in front of those walls in Dumbo. That had to be the most affirming shoot. While I was shooting it, it felt great, but once I actually got the pictures back and looked at them, I was just like, I’m actually doing a really good job at this and this is something I really want to do. I felt great about it. But like I said, I’ve only been shooting for a year, so I started taking it really seriously recently, probably like 6 months ago.

Where do you want this to go in the future, if you have you thought about it at all?

I want to shoot for a magazine, I want to shoot models, I want to be well known for it, amongst other things. It’s one of my top three things that I want to be known for. Like Gordon Parks, he’s known for film, photography, and writing, and I literally want to be known for all three of those. Just another stream of income, but I can do really dope things with it.

You also started doing music, posting your first song a few weeks ago, as well as video, even though you don’t post it as frequently. What does multimedia enable you to do?

I don’t really go out of my way to call myself a photographer, I just call myself an artist, because I feel like labeling yourself as a creative can be very limiting if people are like, “woah, I didn’t think you can do this,” when you’re just trying to do everything. Being an artist is everything, and anything that pops into my mind, I feel like, it came to my mind for a reason, and so why not explore it, know what I’m saying? I just don’t limit myself at all, and to be an artist means to be free, to make whatever kind of art I want. Anything I feel like I want to tap into, I will. I’m not bound in any limit or boundaries, seriously.

Lastly, your Instagram bio is a question, “How would we move if we were free?” You lowkey just touched on it, but what is your answer to that question?

I feel like I show it on my page, how I move daily if we were free and if we are free, you know what I’m saying? So just going with that, basically just not being bound by anything, not feeling limited, not feeling like you can’t do something because somebody else is going to say anything to you. Just realizing that this is your one life, and you wouldn’t be given this life with these dreams and these ideas and everything you want to do if there was a limit to things. You can do anything in this life that you’re given. Literally anything that comes to mind. You wouldn’t have these dreams if they weren’t possible. I feel like the only way to fail at something is to quit or to die. But, as long as you’re living, you can make it happen and you can be successful. You can be successful 100% if you didn’t quit — that’s everyone’s story, that they didn’t give up.

So you feel your most free when making your art?

100%. That’s literally the only time I feel free. I feel so caged in when I’m working my job to continue to make art, but it’s always worth it because right after I get to go make my art.