John Edmonds’ photographic series Hoods addresses the architecture of clothing and the way bodies in public space are seen and understood. The artist foregrounds how viewers associate apparel such as hooded sweatshirts with race, gender, and age. Edmonds’ subjects are people the artist meets while in transit, on the street, or in public places. They are anonymous, equally hyper-visible and invisible. In each large-scale image, careful lighting renders the folds of the clothing almost sculptural, reflecting an interest in Renaissance paintings and their dramatic depictions of religious icons. Importantly, Edmonds’ protagonists are unidentified and unseen, revealing viewers’ often prejudiced assumptions and projections as to their identity while also rejecting their gaze. Edmonds’ nuanced portraits posit his subjects as complex individuals, rather than reduced tropes of larger cultural categorizations. Speaking to current political and social issues, Hoods acknowledges the symbolic weight this ubiquitous article of clothing has gained in recent years. Edmonds, who is based in Brooklyn, remarks that he is “very mindful of the psychodynamics of self-presentation and the complexity of being watched and not seen. I look at amplifying these works by scale as an act of resistance and defiance.”
Placed within the public context of Toronto’s Metro Hall and the entertainment district, the photographs point to the ways in which such clothing functions as monolithic signifiers not only in the public sphere, but also in movies, television shows, and the news. Employing strategies of advertising imagery, Edmonds’ use of repetitive imagery might first suggest a series of identical movie posters before viewers discern the nuanced distinctions between each subject—a sameness that operates metaphorically to address issues around the power of viewership, race, and representation.
Hoods, like much of Edmonds’ work, is concerned with the visualization of contemporary Black masculinity. He is recognized for his intimate portraits of lovers, close friends, and strangers, and for his projects that focus on the performative gestures and self-fashioning of young Black men on the streets of America.