Status Symbols

So for those of you who don’t know, some of my photography will be in a show called Status Symbols next month here in Los Angeles (Downtown LA) I am really excited about this, but also very nervous at the same time. This will be the first time any of my photography has been displayed anywhere other than my blog, vlog and Flickr page.

But before I go into Status Symbols, let me talk for just a minute about my book, 29 Months. This too is a first for me and I must say that it has been so nice to hear and read all the positive things people have said about my book. Last week I got a text from my friend Audrey showing a picture of my book and in that moment I was nearly frozen. I thought to myself “OMG, that is my book. She has my book.” Naturally called her right away and we talked for some time.

The later that same day I saw a video from my friend Rebecca in Canada, she too had received her book, but she made a youtube video about the book that just moved me to tears. Again, there was someone holding my book and talking about it. it was like she was holding my baby, that I have not even touched yet. I was so moved and touched by what she said.

Then on Friday while I was walking into a meeting I am told “I have a copy of your book” and right away I could feel my palms start to sweat. She was smiling so I sort of knew she liked it. But then everyone in the office had seen it and they liked it too. I was so damn proud, but again still very shocked that I had done something like this.

Katherine gave me her book to sign and even before I could hold it, I had to fight back the tears and all emotion other than smiling. There is was right in front of me and I was about to touch it for the first time. I really felt like I was going to pass out. She passed me the book and I held it for the first time. Looking at the cover and then the back before opening it to see what I’ve only heard other people say.  I nearly broke into tears. I held back, singed her book and took my meeting.

So how could I be nervous after having a book published and after all the public speaking and vlogging I do? Well, the answer is very simple. I do not fancy myself a photographer at all. I simply try to use my camera to give voice and light to a conversation that we truly need to have in this country, if not the world. I know nothing about framing a picture or how to get the right lighting. I simply turn it on and shoot.

Now do I think I am good? Yeah, I think I am pretty good, but again, not a photographer, at least not the kind that we’ve all grown so use to. I guess when I see what people have created in photoshot and then look at what I’ve taken, I simply cant compare the two. I don’t edit or fix, What you see is what I took.

So being asked to have my photos in a show is even more nerve racking for me. What if I don’t measure up? What if my photography fails to illustrate the point of the show? What if people say it is bad? What if my friends dont even bother to show.

I’ve been picking the brain of Carlos, the guy who invited me to be in the show and I’ve been able to come up with an ideas that I like, but after speaking with him last week I have to say that I have changed my entire thought process about the show. I am not going to do what I am not able to. I am going to do me and it will work. The point is not to have people love or even like it. The point of view is all my own and no one has to agree or disagree. So I am now pretty much relaxed on that tip

It’s funny the more I tried to stage something the more it fell through. I asked plenty of people to be models for my ideas, most said yes, while others never even bothered to email or call me back, but in the end no one came through. However I did not take this as them not wanting to do it or not wanting to work with me. I took it as a sign to stick to what I know.

I know there are those that will say you can’t grow if you only stick to what you know. Well that may be true, but not here. The fact that I now have a published book and that fact that my photography will be in an art show is growth by leaps and bonds and I am happy with this. This is not to say that I can’t learn how to stage a photoshot, I know I could o that with my eyes closed, but there is something to be said for sticking to what you know and doing it as best you can.

Mama use to say “keep is simple. You do need to be grand because you already are. Your gift is yours and no one to match it, because it is yours.”

When I was putting the book together I wasn’t thinking about making it slick, smooth or easy. I wanted it to be raw and I wanted it to provoke people to think and even move them to tears with little or no words. From what people have been saying I’ve done just that.

So my goal for Status Symbols is the same. I am not trying to be something I am not and I am not trying to outshine anyone. I am doing me and that will be just fine.

So what is a Status Symbol? What does it represent to you? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Can someone as simple and broke down as me be a status symbol? We all have different meaning when it comes to status and success. My goal will be to question it and ask you to consider changing you thought process as it relates to Status Symbols.


About Kengi

Kengi is an activist, author, and photographer based in Los Angeles. He's the creator and director of Project KengiKat, Do Something Saturday and Unplugging HIV. When he's not covering red carpets or events, he can be found documenting the rich cultural history of the City of Angels or walking his three rescue dogs.

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2 Responses to “Status Symbols”

  1. Rebecca on 21/08/2011 #

    I was all too happy to receive your book, Kengi and was all too pleased with the wonderful photos. The only word I could use to describe your book is raw and I know I’ve said that a hundred times but its so very true. You are a wonderful photographer in your own right and in your own right, I deem your photos to be even more genuine than the glossed over, trimmed and photoshopped ones. What you show is real. And raw.

    As for status symbols, status symbols to me has nothing to do with fame or fortune or the position you hold in life. Its the position you hold in the eyes of others and in your own. You do such wonderful work for your community and for the greater good…. that to me is a status symbol and one you should rightfully hold.


    • Kengi on 21/08/2011 #

      Thank you Rebecca. You’ve quickly become someone I love, admire and respect. Thank you for embracing me and what I do. YOU ROCK

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