Green leaves, stalks, and petals almost always dominate the background of Naima Green’s 4-year photo series “Jewels from the Hinterland.” And when it’s not a lush abundance of trees, her subjects are framed by whites, purples, and pinks from a prosperous bush or field of flowers. Captured in the foreground of the portraits are a diversity of faces and bodies, all of whom are black and brown.
The big reveal in “Jewels from the Hinterland” is that the landscapes aren’t secret bucolic treasures in some inaccessible and faraway place. All of Green’s photos are taken in and around New York City, a point Green tells me is paramount to the project.
The inspiration for the series comes from what Green, 26, sees as a deficiency of black and brown bodies portrayed leisurely in urban green spaces. “This idea that black and brown people can exist comfortably and confidently in green spaces as places of leisure, as spaces that are calm and meditative spaces, it didn’t really exist,” she told me over the phone on Monday. “It doesn’t exist on a larger public level.”
Green, who has a background in urban planning and studies, was also informed by her research. “The definition of a ‘hinterland’ is an area lying beyond what’s visible or what’s known,” she said, citing it as an academic term. “I was thinking about ‘hinterland’ as places that have been accessible and relevant to me but are spaces that are not really seen as universal from a public consciousness.”
The photography, Green told me, is explicitly political. “I’m responding to narratives that exclude black and brown people from these spaces,” she said. “I’m definitely reimagining and reclaiming visualizing where we’re presumed to belong.” The photography also interacts with American history’s relationship to the black body. Green, whose more recent hinterland photos have been focused on black women, is reacting against stereotypes. “A lot of the emotional nuance or complexity of black women has been stripped from culture,” she said. “And so I have definitely been photographing a lot more women as of late and thinking about the complexity of etherealness and softness,” she continued.
Positive imagery of black women in American art and culture has been limited. The image of the mammy, for example—a strong black woman made for working who Green said “can birth and feed”—is something the photographer is particularly interested in resisting. Additionally, black women bodies since slavery have been portrayed as “vessels for work,” she said. “Thinking about how we can exist in green spaces, in places of leisure is really important to me,” Green insisted. “It’s this carefree, this comfort and this ownership over space and your body in the space.” It's the essence #blackgirlmagic.
I participated in Green’s series last week and was inspired by her process and the sense of camaraderie I felt subsequent to my photo shoot, when I scrolled through series’ hashtag on Instagram.
Whereas before I had an image of white women frolicking in fields of daisies or lazing about under big oak trees, the midday sun beating down on them and creating an ethereal glow, I now have a new image. It’s of me and others who are like me, relaxing with celestial-like light, taking in the bits of free nature in New York City.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.