Donavon Smallwood’s Languor is a masterful series. I was deeply moved by the atemporal beauty of his landscapes and by the plenitude of his portraits. Their dream-like quality, the mystical glow that seems to surround them, reminded me of Manuel Álvarez Bravo’s dreamers, and of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s surrealist work from the 1930s. There is a softness in the tones that Smallwood uses, such tender shades of grey, that is highly unusual and stays with you. A soulfulness, too: while his photographs reveal the splendour of Central Park, they also invoke the struggle of being Black in America. And in this Japanese context–thanks to Benrido–Smallwood’s ethereal landscapes and portraits become a naturalist fable: an allegory of peace, the blissfulness of being at one with nature, a feeling of relief in these tormented times.
– Pauline Vermare, Hariban Award Juror 2021
Languor is a project that presents itself as an interaction between images of NYC’s Central Park landscape and genuine portraits taken within the space. With the history of the park being constructed by using eminent domain to strip landowning African-Americans of their property/homes in mind, many of which formed this community to escape the unhealthy conditions and racism found in the other inhabited parts of Manhattan – the work is an examination of nature, the negation of civilisation, home, and [the possibility of] escape; centering black tranquility among the chaos of nature space, history, and life today. __ These images were all made between the spring and fall of 2020, every day from May to October I woke up around sunrise and went to an overwhelming empty central park alone – had it not been for the plume of memories that accompanied me, searching. Thinking of what the space has meant for me all of my life, thinking of Seneca Village, thinking of escape, thinking of home, until the heaving aura of air stopped and the light of day had expired.
Donavon Smallwood (b. 1994, New York, NY) received his BA from Hunter College in 2016. He has won numerous awards, including the 2021 Aperture Portfolio Prize and the 2021 Daylight Photo Awards. His work has recently been on view in a solo exhibition accompanying his Aperture Portfolio Prize, Languor at Baxter St Camera Club of NY. Smallwood’s first monograph Languor was published by Trespasser in 2021. Smallwood lives and works in New York, NY.