Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative (MOBI) is furthering it’s mission to amplify the voices of the queer communities of color with the release of MOBItalks: A Digital Series – a new digital film series documenting the intersectionalities of LGBTQ life and culture. Framed through the lens of themes including sex, mental health and overall LGBTQ experience, the series consists of three, 15-20 minute long episodes that will be released Friday, May 1st, Tuesday, May 15th, and Wednesday, May 29th.
I was able to speak with NYC-based photographer, videographer and Visual Director for MOBI LaQuann Dawson. The man behind the lens that captured and edited the MOBItalks digital series. LaQuann’s work has been published in a variety of formats including: NYLON, OUT, Jack’d, RiskRestricted, Kaltblut and The Tenth Magazine. Catch a preview of MOBItalks Digital in the the trailer and check out our interview below:
Julian J. Walker (JJW): Sending much peace to you my friend, how are you?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): Oh, my honey – I’m doing good, keeping myself busy and fed. Trying to offer this life grace and warmth.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): I truly believe self love is one of the best forms of love you can receive. With that being said, during this time of self isolation how do you prioritize your time in the midst of editing for MOBItalks: A Digital Series among the other projects you’re working on?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): This will not be the healthiest thing I say, but I usually wake up in the morning, and work until I can’t anymore. Until I get hungry enough to cook or until I feel I’ve been productive enough to offer myself time to water my plants, read or take a long bath. Otherwise, I spend lots of time listening to music and checking in with loved ones. I don’t know how to function unless I am doing at least four things at once, this works out for me a lot of times. To love oneself, I think, is one of the most powerful things we can do. I think it looks different for everyone and it looks different at different moments in time. For me, at this time, it looks like brushing my hair and putting earrings in every few days so I don’t forget to feel pretty, so the holes don’t close. It looks like forgiving myself for not taking enough breaks. It looks like crying when my feelings are hurt or when I am tired. I deserve my own honesty.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): How did you begin your journey into photography and videography?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): Mmm. I’ve been obsessed with faces for a very long time. When I was very young I’d spend endless hours drawing and painting portraits of people and characters I admired. Eventually found a computer, turned into a teenager and wanted a cute Myspace picture. I started taking self-portraits then. Later, I found this virtual world called Second Life (similar to Sims) and somehow started building skills as a virtual photographer. I brought those skills into the real work and soon, folks started asking me to take their senior portraits. One thing led to the next and here I am! I’d never really thought too much about filmmaking or videography until I met DaShawn Usher [GLAAD’s Program Officer, Communities of Color and MOBI’s Founder] and he asked me to paint live for MOBIfest. I knew I wasn’t doing that.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): For you, when creating a new project where do you find inspiration?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): Not to sound cheesy, but a lot of the inspiration comes out of need and urgency. Whenever I am moved to work it is so often very spontaneous. I will say, I am inspired by need, by want and by urgency. Once I identify what those things are, I sort of run with it to the best of my abilities and even a bit more. The people around me inspire me too. My mode of work is mostly archival and it means a lot to me to want to save something for later. To look at later and smile, to show my friends, to see on a wall when I get back from the deli. Do you remember screen shooting every sweet text a boy would send you so you can look later and remember that someone thought they loved you that one time? It’s sort of like that.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): In the past two years, MOBI has hosted MOBItalk events in person. Why did the team decide to do this year’s MOBItalk virtually? What type of experience should the MOBI audience expect?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): Boss’s orders, against most of our wishes, was for the talks to go digital this year. This came about for a number of reasons and one primary reason being to expand our reach and engagement. The talks are about the people in our community and they are about their stories and experiences. Last year, MOBItalks featured not only the speakers, but lovely hosts, dancers, community based organizations and an engaged community at each event. I wanted to fuse all of those things into one watchable piece. If anyone knows me, or how I work, I am anal as hell and very “extra”, sometimes unnecesary. I didn’t want this digital version of MOBItalks to be just a 20 minute recorded panel. These three films are intended to live as celebrations of the Black queer experience.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): When planning began, what was the initial goal for this series? Is that goal still the same now?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): For me, my goal as soon as I found out (and accepted) that we were going digital was to create a piece of work that mixed elements of a music video, a documentary and a TED talk. I think that very much, the vision is still the same. I am very inspired by Terrance Nance’s Random Acts of Flyness, Beyonce’s Lemonade and Jay-Z’s entire 4:44 project. I am not them, and we are not them. So how do I do something like this with our experiences, resources and timeline? How can I offer justice to something so precious and entirely vast?
Julian J. Walker (JJW): When people hear the word sex many often think of, well you know! After watching a clip of episode one (topic: SEX), I saw you interviewed adult film stars Max Konnor and DeAngelo Jackson (among the other amazing artist involved). Take me through the process of your approach, how did you create each moment with such taste? Each interview has its own vibe that touches on the individual rather than their work. Also, what did it mean to you to make sure the audience sees each individual in this light?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): All of my work and I would say most of my life is dedicated to and is about people. I’ve done work in the past that was about work and more work and it didn’t feel like anything. When I am interviewing or shooting someone I try to get to know the person as much as I can. I try to avoid too many surface level questions and I never go into it with an “in and out” mindset. Sitting down with Max and DeAngelo were both great experiences (as with anyone) because they are people. Completely different people with different experiences and stories to tell. They weren’t talking about porn, they were talking about themselves. With this project and any project I do, I am trying to create spaces that welcome vulnerability and humanness (should they identify as human). This is especially important to me because I need my people to be seen and understood as more than one thing and certainly as more than their work.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): Animation, Dance and Storytelling also play a key factor in episode one. What was the motivation behind tying these forms of art with sex?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): In so many ways, everything we do is storytelling, right? I wanted to use this as an opportunity to showcase all of the talents our community has and to experiment with these different modes of storytelling. Everyone doesn’t want to communicate sex with an interview, or the act of sex, or their voice at all. There are so many ways to use our bodies, our mouths and hands. So many ways to communicate loneliness or angst or longing or even horniness. You know?
Julian J. Walker (JJW): In most experiences there are moments that stick with us. Moments that validate we’re on the right path. During this entire experience of capturing footage and editing can you reflect on a moment that stuck with you?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): I want to say that I knew I was on the right path with this project when an uber driver told me to watch Dr. Zakir Naik’s english lecture after I’d playfully asked him if he had a boyfriend. I was headed home from a shoot with three other gay Black men in the back seat and I’d tossed the question around to the entire car. With high spirits and in a playful mood, I went along with it as the driver offered me a syllabus of reference material to communicate why men should be with women and not other men. That is his experience and those are his beliefs but for some reason that moment made this work feel even more necessary. I think Donja R. Love could be my version of that man’s Dr. Zakir Naik.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): Thinking back over your life’s journey, how have you grown as an artist? Also, what advice would you give to those feeling inspired but aren’t sure how to begin?
LaQuann Dawson (LD): Man, to put it briefly: I used to draw pictures of the pink power ranger and pokèmon characters with their bellies out, and now, most days, I am the pink power ranger and I am the one with my belly out and chains wrapped around my waist. It means a lot to me to have had such a vision as a child artist and now to grow into a person with so much vision that I can’t not see myself and my people. It feels incredible, Julian. I’d tell anyone who has any sort of vision to run with it. Embody that vision, share that vision, draw it, write it, photograph it, frame it, sell it, really do anything and everything you can to offer it some sort of life and some sort of legacy. It ain’t always easy, but boy is it different on the other side.
Julian J. Walker (JJW): Thank you so much for continuing to create content that shines light on forgotten spaces. Can you leave us with a quote? Something you live by, something that motivates you.
LaQuann Dawson (LD): “Bitch, me too! The fuck?” – Amber Wagner (@jstlbby). This woman confidently put herself next to Beyoncé. Her saying this, with or without context, really told me I can do whatever I put my mind to and be whoever I want to be. It almost felt like a dare.
MOBItalk: A Digital Series airs on Friday, May 1st with episode one. This digital series will continue with episode two and three scheduled for release on Friday, May 15th and Friday, May 29th exploring mental health and overall LGBTQ experience. For updates on all things MOBI, please visit www.mobi-nyc.com and follow @mobinyc on Instagram / @Mobi_NYC on Twitter. #MOBItalks
For more information on LaQuann Dawson please visit www.laquanndawson.com and follow @laquanndawson on Instagram / Twitter.
Julian J. Walker , Actor (BLACKBIRD, Saints & Sinners, Being Mary Jane), Author (A Year Without You), Activist (MOBI Celebrity Ambassador). For more information please visit www.julianjwalker.com and follow @julian.walker on Instagram / thtguyjulian on Twitter.