Meet the Artist: Mhandy Gerard
Mhandy Gerard is a proud first generation Haïtian-American woman and native of Atlanta, GA. She is a photographer whose work captures the beauty, stories, talents and culture of Black people worldwide. Her work includes documentary photography, as well as commercial shoots for brands such as Black Girl Sunscreen, Dr. Locs and Pistachios Jewelry. She is a 2021 Adobe Creative Residency Fund Recipient and is featured in this iteration of the Black Artists Print Shop.
Your work celebrates the beautiful stories, talents and culture of Black people worldwide. Why is photography a good medium for that mission?
I think photography is a great medium for that mission just because you can capture a moment and keep it in a still frame. You're able to run and gun with photography and it’s less intimidating than video. You can just snap a picture and lower someone’s defenses with a photo camera.
Your work often centers on travel and food. How did you find these subjects?
I focus more on people; it ties into travel and exposes me to different groups of people. When I get there, I'm really interested in the culture of the locals and not just tourist attractions. I like to see what everyday people do, and how it relates to or differs from my life back home.
Tell us what inspired you to pick up a camera. And when did you think it could become a career for you?
I was always drawn to photography. Going through everyday life, I would always say, “oh, wow, that'd be a nice picture.”Or I notice how light hits different things and just wanted to capture that. Looking back, I believe that my dad gave me a camera as a kid. I remember those moments when we would develop the film or get it developed and see what we captured. I've also seen home videos where I was being recorded, always in the video, but also trying to see what the shooter is seeing as well.
Back in 2013, I was graduating or I was going to enter grad school and I got into a study abroad program, plus it was my birthday month. I asked my family for a camera and put all my reasons together. From there, I finished grad school, but photography was always a hobby that felt like a calling. I got the degree that my family was expecting or sent me to school for, then I decided that “this is my time. I'm going to pursue what for me makes time pass quickly.” You don't even notice that when you're shooting, time just passes. You're having a good time. That's when I decided that this is more of what I would like my career to be like. Where you don't even notice it's work, you're having a really awesome time.
How's your creative process different when you shoot something commercial versus something for a personal project?
In a commercial project, the client knows more of what they're looking for, and there's a shot list. So it's not so much of you giving your own creative input. Everything is taken care of. Somebody is already hired for makeup and wardrobe, and you come in and shoot. It can be pretty relaxing to show up and just shoot.
But for personal projects, you've got to source your own inspiration and the people that are going to help out or work on your project. You have to set up the background and location, so it's just a lot more involved, I would say for a personal project, that's how you get a bigger piece of yourself in it.
Do you like one more than the other? Or do you like that you get to do both?
I love that I get to do both! Both offer opportunities to learn about what works for me as an artist and find my style. It's also awesome that I can make money doing something I love. I am working to find that balance between doing more personal projects for the expansion of my art, and commercial work to ensure the bills are paid.
“Scalloped Balconies” captures a beautiful piece of architecture that we might miss just passing by. “Home's Warmth” exudes a cozy blue that is just so eye-catching. Could you tell us about these works and why you chose to feature them for the print shop?
Sure, so “Scalloped Balconies” is from a trip I took to Cuba. It's in Havana, and I remember walking by and just being intrigued by the shapes and repetition the balconies had. Honestly, every corner in Cuba is a photographer's dream—many of the buildings are in various stages of decay, which has a beauty in and of itself.
As for “Home's Warmth," my mom moved back to Haiti maybe seven years ago. She had over the years been taking care of her childhood home and though the original building has probably fallen apart, she's built it back up. This is a remnant of that original structure of where she grew up.
She painted it a really nice teal color, her favorite color. One night, as I was sitting there, I just loved how the light was pouring out of the doors and that beauty. I chose these images for Framebridge in order to share work that could fit into any space and to share a little bit of myself and experiences while traveling.
So tell us about your sense of home and how that impacts your work. How do both Haiti and Atlanta play into your work? And what do they mean to you as creative homes?
Home is where you find comfort. I'm interested in the similarities that can be found between home(s) and families anywhere around the world. Home doesn't necessarily have to be where you grew up, the house you were raised in, or where you spent most of your time. Home can literally be the emotion evoked when you visit a Black nation for the first time, or when you remember quality time spent with your favorite person, or a light left on in the house for you at night. I'm drawn to capturing that vibe. I feel like Haiti is always being portrayed in a negative light in the American news cycle. There isn't a lot of talk about the beauty or the positive things that are occurring there or the beautiful history that Haiti has, which is especially important to know as a person of color. As far as Haiti's influence in my photography, it's why I tend to shoot vibrant colors in my portraiture and documentary work. I think Black people are vibrant and our skin is beautiful, I always want to make sure we are well lit and portrayed. Atlanta! Atlanta is my home! I'm a native and I will always keep a special place in my heart for this city. I view Atlanta as a place with a lot of opportunities and positive history for Black people and I believe that comes through my images as more vibrancy and moments of joy. When I think of Haiti and Atlanta, I view both as places filled with the spirit of resistance, perseverance, and joy—all of which I hope to continue to inform my artistic eye and personal projects.
What is your dream project?
My dream project would pay me well and take me around the world, photographing people of color—their local traditions, joyful moments, and a few stylized shoots. I'm putting it out there!
Learn more about Mhandy and her work at her website and Instagram page.