For years the subject of photographer and filmmaker Khalik Allah’s work has been the people in one particular spot in New York City: the corner of 125th Street and Lexington in Harlem. Late at night Khalik drives down to this spot from his home on Long Island and shoots portraits of the people he finds hanging out on the corner. Khalik shoots on slow film, but doesn’t use flash, so all his lighting comes from the corner itself: bodegas, passing cars, cigarette lighters and traffic lights. As a result, his subjects appear bathed in washes of red and green light, set against near darkness. These dreamlike shots depict homeless people, neighborhood teenagers, drug addicts, cops, kids, and the other local characters who have come to know and respect Khalik enough to pose for his lens.
Khalik’s latest project is a film called Field Niggas, and it’s kind of a cinematic version of his photographs. In it we see many of the people pictured in Khalik’s portraits, shot in a similar way with available street light and shallow depth of field. But in Field Niggas, Khalik has slowed the video down and combined it with audio of his subjects talking about everything from struggles with drugs and homelessness, to spirituality, family and the inescapable effects of racism.
A few weeks ago I got a chance to chat with Khalik about his photography, his new film and his philosophy for making art.
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