Visual artist Uncool Chuck’s vision for a simple way to bring Philly’s brightest artistic talents and creatives together has evolved from a novel idea into one of the most poignant moments for Philly creatives of color in recent history.
With a concept inspired by legendary photographer Gordon Parks’ “A Great Day in Harlem” photo, Chuck (real name Charles Lloyd) said his goal was to emulate Parks’ photo featuring jazz legends in front of a Harlem brownstone—but with a modern Philly twist: posing the group on the Art Museum Steps. It’s an event Chuck organized for the fourth time since 2014.
In a major American city that is almost 50 percent black, Chuck is mindful of how uncommon it is for black and other creatives of color to get their just due for their work and contributions to the local cultural landscape. “It’s a majority of Black people [at this shoot] but it’s really something that represents the [entire] artist community and the youth. I don’t think we get acknowledged the way we should in regard to how much we contribute to art and culture,” Chuck said.
“We’ve got so many young, super-talented people here that fly under the radar because they aren’t [popular] on social media or in magazines but they’re still putting in work and they’re helping build what we call culture in the city,” he added. “This is something to highlight them in our own city and potentially to the world and whoever else in watching.”
Writer and web designer Samirah Marshall is appreciative of Chuck’s efforts to bring the local creative community together. A young woman with Bantu knots and vintage frames, Marshall is proud to share how much being in this photo means to her. “This picture is a symbol that you really are working hard, and people see you. Knowing that someone that has been working for so long recognizes your talent makes me want to cry,” she said.
Coincidentally, a black architect designed the museum on the steps of which Uncool Chuck and his creative peers of color assembled on. When Julian Abele designed the Art Museum more than 100 years ago, he helped lay the groundwork for later generations of black creatives to celebrate their triumphs.
While the placement of the photo shoot at the Art Museum’s steps was not intentional, the juxtaposition of black creatives at the footsteps of a mostly white establishment sends a message of resilience. Black artists have not been historically celebrated as much as their white peers, so this photo speaks to the optimism that the future will see more black and nonwhite creatives receiving an equal level of praise.
Beyond a beautiful photo shoot, Chuck wants the same relationships and connections made before and after this photo to last long after people leave the Art Museum steps. “As long as people leave feel inspiration and are inspired to continue to create and represent the city and themselves, that’s all I can really ask for,” he said.
Three Philly Creatives To Watch
In attendance at Uncool Chuck’s portrait event were three Philly creatives that you should be following.
Samirah Marshall is the CEO and editor-in-chief of DevaughnDigital, and a writer behind Umber and Ruumble, two platforms that focus on everything from wellness and lifestyle stories to analyzing and discussing anime, music and entertainment from the vantage point of a self-proclaimed “Black nerd.”
Music engineer Ben “iamBNJMIIN” Thomas is a recent Temple University graduate and has already worked with musicians like Jazmine Sullivan and Bryson Tiller and has had work appear in HBO’s hit show Insecure.
Temple University alumna Dyymond Whipper-Young is a painter and visual artist from Baltimore that has quickly become popular for her savvy skill in creating mixed media artwork.