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Samuel Trotter’s In Plain Sight
Photography Samuel Trotter

Samuel Trotter photographs the everyday angels living amongst us

We debut the photographer’s series ‘In Plain Sight’ and speak with him about the influences behind it

Growing up, 21-year-old Detroit-born, Los Angeles-based, photographer Samuel Trotter was fascinated with stories about western religion and mythology. “The way we use ourselves, the human image, to perpetuate certain ideas and define certain phenomena is amazing,” he tells me. Yet, as a black male, he was unable to see himself reflected in those narratives. “In Greek paintings, the heroes, the gods, the villains, and even the peasants, are all of one race; white. It is a silent power. A subconscious reassurance that caucasian people naturally have about their identities and stature within the world.” It’s this gap in representation which would form his future as an image-maker. “If I can see myself painted in stained glass, or mirrored in ancient tapestries, I know I belong,” he adds. “African Americans have not been afforded the luxury to see ourselves as otherworldly deities nor as innocent, meek and mild paupers. It is our complete absence from the mythical canon that urges me to develop stories that allude to that space.”

Trotter has since manifested this drive into a photo series called In Plain Sight which we debut here. His set of images see a cast of people partaking in everyday situations while carrying angel wings on their backs. “I initially wanted to see how a black angel simply looked,” he reveals, adding that he found aesthetic inspiration in the work of David LaChapelle and Peter Lindbergh. Its initial iteration was in the form of a campaign with Iceberg, starring rapper Vic Mensa, however, he admits, “unfortunately my hopes were a bit too lofty, concepts too premature and it showed in the campaign”. But he was adamant not to give up on it completely.

“In America, these daily happenings are negatively skewed when said individuals are black. We know the name Tamir Rice for a reason” – Samuel Trotter

Influenced by his “own reality” as a “young black man from Detroit”, Trotter says the series is his “attempt at contextualising my experience and culture visually”. He explains: “By using generalised stories, I wanted to gain insight into overlooked routines; a mother nursing her child, kids playing in a park with water guns, a man driving home from work. In America, these daily happenings are negatively skewed when said individuals are black – we know the name Tamir Rice for a reason.”

Symbolically, angel wings are said to represent innocence, divinity, or a higher being. “Divinity is a joke,” says Trotter. “It doesn’t exist. I can’t go anywhere and see, feel or hear something that is truly divine because it's an idea. In reality, everything exists as is until we place our opinions on it altering its identity in our own heads.” He adds that by placing the wings on the subjects’ backs, “the viewer is seeing each subject through my lens, but it’s not my choice if the subject can be considered divine or not”. In some of the images, Trotter reveals, the straps of the wings are visible. “I wanted to allow this human imperfection to show in certain frames to help the viewer understand that the wings are disposable; your reaction, emotion or thoughts should be the same with or without them visually present.”

“My hope is that viewers ‘subtract’ the angel wings from the works and apply them to the backs of everyone they encounter in the real world – we lack human compassion,” states Trotter. “Since starting the project, I've been trying to train myself to not lock my doors when a homeless person comes near my car... I've been thinking back on my childhood and how if I was walking on the sidewalk and there were a group of people walking opposite me, I'd naturally cross the street, as if to avoid potential drama, yet the people I'm wary of look like me, we come from the same neighbourhoods; I've been conditioned to feel as if they are other. All across the world people are suffering at the hands of others and we all look alike. We are taught to dehumanise ourselves and I think with a little bit of imagination and genuine interest or consideration for the individual in front of you things can be changed.”

Alongside the series is a playlist that Trotter’s girlfriend,  DJ Milky Way, has curated. “I thought it would be cool to have an eclectic soundtrack that mirrored the emotional peaks and troughs I experienced while creating the work,” he explains. “The playlist jumps from Tee Grizzly talking about robbing to Curtis Mayfield asking us to share with people who look like us but aren’t family... (we) just wanted to create a spectrum.”

Meanwhile, the photographer hopes to exhibit the images in a real space soon and also has ideas for his first coffee table book. He also adds that he has a growing interest in film, but adds: “We’ll see… I’m honestly taking it day by day.”