OJ Slaughter is a Black Queer artist who uses photography as their preferred medium of expression. Their work has been included in many prominent magazines including Vogue Italia, Time Magazine, and Boston Art Review. They are also a racial justice activist and earned an Honorarium by the Harvard University Committee on the Arts because of their activism.
Recently, Slaughter spoke with the CA community during our Martin Luther King Day programming as part of the panel, “Organizing for Our Futures: A Discussion With BIPOC-Centered Boston-Based Organizations.” Emphasizing the importance of centering Black voices and building a supportive community, Slaughter also discussed the value of self-check-ins and shared that they block out time during their busy days to center and ground themself. Later in the day, they hosted a workshop called “Documenting Your Future Past From Home,” where they talked with participants about their work and how students can begin to document their own lives while centering Black voices.
After the panel, Esmée Decola ’23 shared that Slaughter was hosting a virtual event with the Peabody Essex Museum, which I decided to attend. Slaughter began the event by discussing their choice to post pictures on Instagram of their great grandparents for Holocaust Remembrance Day, who were holocaust survivors. Slaughter shared that their “mission is to honor [their great grandparents’] fight.” This really made me conscious of my own family history, as I realized that I am clueless about some aspects of my family’s past. OJ has inspired me to dig up more information about my family history by sharing what they have learned from studying theirs.
Slaughter then showed us some of their works. The first few pictures they showed us were early pictures of themself. They talked about how their initial interest in photography came from a desire to portray themself and the world around them through a Black Queer perspective, as this outlook was widely ignored. They then began to show pictures they took at the Black Lives Matter protests this summer. These photos depict the Black community and allies coming together to protest the murder of Black and Brown people by police. Although these images portray people who were grieving the loss of members of their community, they also seem to give off a sense of hope. All of the people Slaughter photographed seem to be supporting one another in their fight towards collective liberation. It was inspiring to see how driven these protestors are and how they foster a sense of community.
Slaughter ended the presentation by showing some portraits they have taken of their friends and clients. They explained how they work with their subjects and ask them how they would like to be portrayed. In Slaughter’s words, they aim to allow their subjects “to choose what their story looks like.” Through their work, Slaughter has given a voice to so many people and allowed them to be depicted in ways that give them confidence. Many of the people that OJ Slaughter has photographed have experienced systemic oppression and cultural erasure. By allowing them to tell their own stories, OJ is essentially offering these people the agency to take control of their narrative. They are changing the way society thinks about Black and Queer people through their work.
To learn more about OJ Slaughter’s work as a photographer and activist, visit their website, ojslaughter.com. Also, to stay updated on their work and events they may be speaking at, be sure to follow them on Instagram at the handle @oj_slaughter.