Studio Visit: Portrait Photographer Naima Green on Having Fun With Her Subjects and the Joys of a Five-Mile Walk

Her most recent project, "Pur·suit," reimagines photographer Catherine Opie’s "Dyke Deck" from 1995.

Naima Green in the studio. Photograph by Makeda Sandford.

Photographer Naima Green takes a collaborative approach to her portraiture.

For her recent project, titled Pur·suit, a reimagining of Catherine Opie’s Dyke Deck from 1995, Green worked with subjects on collaborative presentations. Produced as a deck of 54 playing cards featuring photographs of queer womxn, trans, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people, the series was shot in 9 days and included over 100 subjects.

Her previous series of portraits, “Jewels from the Hinterland,” which presented Black and brown artists and creatives in public green spaces, earned wide critical acclaim. Right now, Fotografiska New York is showing “Brief & Drenching,” a series of photographs staged in her apartment, and a short film titled The Intimacy of before.

Green gave us a glimpse into her studio and shared her tips for staying focused, from the snacks she can’t do without to the songs she has on repeat.

Naima Green in the studio. Photograph by Makeda Sandford.

Naima Green in the studio. Photograph by Makeda Sandford.

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

Music and silence. There are days when I can’t do without singing, and days when I can’t think without quiet.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

Making my first round of selects for a couple, Jessie and Auston, that I photographed a week ago. We had so much fun together: it was silly, playful, tender. All the right things.

Jessie & Auston, in process for Pur·suit (2020).

Jessie & Auston, in process for Pur·suit (2020).

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

I light incense or my favorite candle and usually have a trio of drinks next to me: water, tea, a surprise third. I listen to music or podcasts when I edit pictures. It helps me set a tone and pace for the evening. I’m usually up late editing, until 1 or 2 a.m. on busy weeks, and am always at a table or desk. Typically there is TV noise in the background. When I’m working during the day, I listen to old artist talks or interviews.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

I admire rigor and care. I don’t like emptiness.

Ica, in process for Pur·suit (2020).

Ica, in process for Pur·suit (2020).

What snack food could your studio not function without?

Something crunchy like popcorn or a Winesap apple, lemongrass tea, mezcal. For a few years, I quickly made brown butter rice Krispie treats while procrastinating.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

Miranda Barnes, Locally Grown TV, Black Archive, Aya Brown, Mary Kang, Oluremi Onabanjo, Freddie Rankin, Sable Elyse Smith, Authority Collective, The Black School, Gioncarlo Valentine, Rochelle Brock, and Sasha Arutyunova.

Naima Green's studio, 2020.

Naima Green’s studio, 2020.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

Go on a long walk (5 miles is the sweet spot), text a friend, lay on the floor.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

I still think about the John Akomfrah show at Lisson Gallery from 2016. More recently, Noah Davis at David Zwirner. I spent time at MoMA PS1 for “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration,” and I’m going to be living with that work for a long, long time.

Naima Green, Pur·suit (detail) (2019). Image by Megan Madden.

Naima Green, Pur·suit (detail) (2019). Image by Megan Madden.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Lime green; Suga Free “If U Stay Ready”; Riis Beach; wind; Amy Sherald smoking with 2Pac; Donna Summer in a fur; a black serpent; sour cherry; a glass cabin in the mountains at sunset; SAINt JHN “Roses” (Imanbek Remix).

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