True to the street, to community, to origins. Interview with the New York photographer

Anthony Geathers’ photography is made of street and roots, of vibrant neighborhoods where folk legends and untold stories intertwine. It is the taste of reality, of a lens without filters, faithful to itself and to its past. It is the strength of authenticity, of an eye that does not want to compromise, that prefers aesthetic narration to simple beauty.

“My work doesn’t focus only on sports, but on the concept of community, of race. I want to show something that has always been systematically avoided. My photographic research focuses on stories that the canonical media doesn’t cover, on the desire to ennoble my roots. I started photographing muay thai and kickboxing, following black athletes to whom no one gave importance: from that moment I was driven by the need and the desire to enhance their achievements, deepening socio-political, emotional and, in some cases, spiritual connotations”

In Anthony’s portfolio nothing is accidental, everything is the product of a life that began and developed among the revolutionary sidewalks of Brooklyn, everything is linked to the multifaceted experimentation of youth, to multicultural contacts, to the incessant visual flows divided between hip hop and streetball, contact sports (wrestling, boxing, karate) and para-political movements.

“I’ve always hated being cooped up at home. As a kid I always had to be active, I tried a lot of different disciplines: I still carry endless signs of past injuries… At school I discovered photography thanks to my History teacher who held a contest. I decided to portray the most important people in my neighborhood, those I considered models. During that first reportage I realized that photography was a way to talk to people, a way to express the city: Jamel Shabazz has inspired me a lot from this point of view, he is synonymous with New York and hip hop, he is as legendary as the Statue of Liberty or the Yankees…”

Despite an early infatuation, Anthony’s photographic career remained on hold for a long time due to a single, major life choice that led him overseas, into the dangerous Afghan territory. A hostile parenthesis that allowed the New Yorker to evolve his ability to analyze and understand the human essence: ideal tools for what would become his work.

“After high school I joined the Marines. In Afghanistan I was a machine gunner. Over there I couldn’t take pictures, I was forbidden by my superiors, everything was chaotic and the only thought was to stay alive. But that didn’t stop me from taking the time to look at people and environments with a photographic eye, reasoning about perspectives and compositions. Now my work is a reflection of what I went through between my childhood in Brooklyn and my time in the Marines. That’s why I’m stimulated by portraying athletes with similar backgrounds, men and women forged by a complex pasts, like UFC fighters Angela Hill and Randy Brown”

Upon returning from his military deployment, Anthony enrolled in college. While at university, he realized that photography could become a profession and, relying on a poetic style tied almost exclusively to black and white, he soon became a world-class artist.

If in his long-standing relationship with AND1 Geathers managed to sublimate his artistic intentions, he recently rose to prominence thanks to the Comme des Garçons x Nike Air Foamposite One campaign, entirely produced in his natural habitat, the streets of the Big Apple.

“I’m very proud of my collaboration with AND1, they gave me freedom of action and I portraited legends like Skip To My Lou and AO in my own way. Thanks to that project now many brands recognize my taste and simply ask me to be myself, to give my touch. That’s exactly what happened with Nike. Everyone now wants more ‘realness’: glamour is no longer enough, people want to feel and see something real, even in commercials. The same goes for pure sports photography, where I prefer playground basketball to NBA basketball. In the arenas there are many restrictions, there is no freedom of movement and, consequently, of expression. When I shoot an NBA player, I always try to build a connection with him, as I do with streetballers: only in this way you can create a real storytelling”

Bringing reality where fiction has reigned and, in some way, continues to reign. Anthony Geathers’ goal is clear: he wants to eliminate artificiality in photographic narration, to make it as faithful to reality as possible.

A form of totalizing artistic devotion, which has led Anthony to voluntarily erase himself, to deny his own image and identity in order to celebrate his subjects in the most effective way.

“You will never see my face. If it happens, it will happen very rarely. My work has to be about just who I’m portraing, it has to tell its truth. Now I’m tacking on an in-depth look at streetball and I’ll continue to collaborate with AND1 and the WNBA. With the notoriety and the works of the last period, I can also afford to think about cultural projects: at the top of the list are bmx, skate and hip hop… Nothing mainstream”

Photo by Anthony Geathers

IG @anthonybgeathers

Text by Gianmarco Pacione