“For many Black people, rural nature, places like national parks, aren’t very accessible, sometimes it’s the cost, but more often the issue is societal. As Black people, it feels like these rural spaces aren’t for us. I want to turn that idea on its head.” -Chanell Stone

Chanell Stone is a 29-year-old fine art photographer whose work focuses on challenging the insular views of Blackness by growing the stories about Black erasure.

Challenging landscape photography

This genre has always been about the black and white photography of sweeping landscapes by notable photographers like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. They portrayed nature in remote places that were hard to get to; these were wild untouched places.

Chanell Stone realized that the beautiful natural landscapes in cities were the missing subjects of the landscape genre. She chooses to work in Black neighborhoods in her native city of Oakland as well as Los Angeles and Brooklyn, NY. She photographs urban landscapes that mostly get overlooked. Her settings range from plantings in public housing to overgrown abandoned spaces found in low-income places.

Cultural amnesia

“Early landscape photography perpetuates a cultural amnesia. There is another kind of forgetting and erasure happening now with gentrification in these Black communities where I am making pictures. That is why I put myself in these places and photos,” she says. “It is important to see a Black body in this space before gentrification erases the history and aesthetics of these neighborhoods. I want to reaffirm my presence, especially as a Black woman.”

To this end, she includes herself in her urbanscapes calling out the people who live in this city landscape of natural and cultivated plants. Her eye is drawn to growing things where ever she may find them.

Questions

Chanell Stone frames her photographs in with the questions that surround the Black community. She wants to know who are nature photographs for, who are the people who make nature photos and, really, what counts as nature? Do the potted aloe plants and other succulents where she poses in the safety of her grandmother’s backyard count? (Opening photo, bottom row, last imageWhat about the plants growing through the railings on several floors of a public housing building or the foliage in between two apartments with a blanket in the background?

Natura Negra

“Growing up, I only understood Black people’s relationship to nature through slavery. My textbook had two pages of Black history: slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, and MLK. That’s it.”

Stone’s series “Natura Negra” seeks to reclaim the reduced view of Black history in current times. She wants to present the scenes of Black people and their relationship with the land. She wants to correct the reductionist history that makes the Black story only one of terror and oppression.

Chanel Stone explains where her work fits, “I want Black people to be able to move within these spaces without worrying about their life being taken.” She says, “I want Black people to understand our connections to nature, both urban and rural. I want to destroy the notion that it isn’t for us.”

Sources: NPR, Chanell Stone.

More stories of influential photographers are in On Photography.