Brad Ogbonna is a Twin Cities–raised, New York City–based photographer and cinematographer. His work ranges from portraiture to fashion to documentary. 2017 was a breakout year for him as he worked with publications and brands such as the New York Times, The Fader, The Atlantic, Fortune, Forbes, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, BET, and New York magazine; collaborated with the artist Kehinde Wiley; and worked on projects with notable individuals ranging from activist Linda Sarsour, curator Thelma Golden, and rapper Lil Yachty to actress Gabby Sidibe and former President Barack Obama, among many others.
2017 was a year fraught with so many disasters that could make any sane person feel hopeless. I know at many times I did. So it was incredible to see so many artists and people I admire push on to continue creating and thriving in the midst of it all.
KERRY JAMES MARSHALL AT MET BREUER
I thought I was really familiar with Kerry James Marshall’s work but I discovered so much more at the Met Breuer show. Seeing it in person was just a whole other experience altogether. His immense artistry laid the groundwork for so many artists who have gone on to do great things, so it was amazing to witness the retrospective of an actual living legend. It was cathartic, to say the least.
BLIND SPOT BY TEJU COLE
It’s a unique photo book that combines photography and the written word by the brilliant artist Teju Cole during his travels around the world. I’ve been a fan since Everyday Is for the Thief, so it was very cool to see how Teju sees and interprets his surroundings and a little bit of his process.
FRANK OCEAN AT PANORAMA
I have to admit that I really don’t love seeing live music and shudder at the idea of going to music festivals, but once I heard Frank Ocean was going to play in NYC I laid all inhibitions aside and made sure to be there for it… and it was so worth it. Backed with live visuals done by no other than Spike Jonze, it was Frank at his most raw and vulnerable—definitely one of those “I was there” moments that I’ll look back on for a long time.
This album really surprised me both sonically and lyrically. I knew I liked SZA, but I didn’t know I loved her. After a few listens I was instantly hooked by the honesty, introspection, and amazing melodies. I’ve had this album on constant rotation.
DAVE CHAPPELLE & ERYKAH BADU
To me, Dave is the greatest living comedian, and I was so hyped when I heard that he was doing a string of shows at Radio City Music Hall. Sadly, I didn’t plan ahead, and all the shows quickly sold out. Thankfully, I was lucky enough that my friend at WXYZ Jewelry just so happened to have made custom jewelry for Erykah, so she brought me along to photograph Erykah backstage. What I got was an on-stage view of one of the world’s greatest comedians back in action after a long hiatus, an amazing concert by Erykah Badu, and too many back-stage moments that I can fit in this writeup.
Jordan Peele’s Get Out was one of the most fun, albeit gut-wrenching film experiences I’ve ever had. I watched it in Harlem and enjoyed seeing how engaged the crowd was. It was one of the few movies where I was happy to hear people expressing themselves throughout. Peele was able to reference a lot of experiences so many of us could relate to in a satirical horror film. Bravo!
KEHINDE WILEY, IN SEARCH OF THE MIRACULOUS
Full disclosure: I worked on the film portion of this project, but it was one of the collaborations I’m most proud of. It was amazing to see it go from an idea over dinner to its culmination as an art film that was shown at the British Film Institute. Stunning visuals, and narrated beautifully. Also, I never learned how to swim, so I’ve been kind of living vicariously through our actors.
KENDRICK LAMAR’S “ELEMENT” VIDEO
Gordon Parks’s work has influenced thousands of creatives the world over, so it was great to see his iconic imagery be reimagined in a music video, and I was happy that it was for a Kendrick Lamar song no less. Really poignant visuals. Inspiring work.
FACES & PLACES
A nice, quaint film by JR that put me on to the illustrious career of the director and artist, Agnés Varda. It reminded me how therapeutic and impactful making art can be, the beauty of collaboration, and being mindful of time and legacy.
TOYIN OJIH ODUTOLA
I just caught Toyin’s show at the Whitney and was blown away by her immense talent and artistry, and I loved the uniquely Nigerian storyline that accompanied the paintings. I discovered Toyin’s work on Tumblr almost five years ago, and I’ve been following her ever since, so it was really cool to see how her work has taken off and how many people it’s reached.
ACTIVISM & POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT
I feel like this is the first year in my lifetime where I will remember people turning their anger and distress into tangible activism and getting serious about standing up for what is right. 2017 has had its share of awful stories, enough to get any sane/conscious person engaged and riled up, and I’m totally here for it.