With ‘Drylongso,’ the artist leans into details, honing in on the fantastical elements of his reality

Oji Haynes seeks to uncover unexpected connections in each photo that he takes. His subjects inspire questions that he responds to visually: “How can a portrait possess the same beautiful, yet sanctifying, energy of praise and worship at a Black Christian church, while also holding the raw and dramatic attitude of a Chief Keef verse? How can I make a photograph that smells like chicken wings and pork fried rice?”

In Drylongso—a series made for the Creator Labs Photo Fund—the photographer builds worlds that are simultaneously real and fantastical; they exist, but only if you’re looking from a particular perspective, one that Haynes offers a path to in his work. “We’re very fascinating creatures in our natural state,” he tells Document. “I make what I see in front of me. I create worlds within [our] world, but it’s the viewer’s job to make the connections.” That philosophy is intrinsic to his practice, as he sees himself collaborating with both his subjects, and his audience. It’s about translating, sustaining, and protecting “the language of Black life with care, love, and intimacy.”

“There seems to be this sense of never fitting in or never feeling as if the things we’ve always known to be normal for us are okay to celebrate and [to] see as beautiful.” Drylongso, Haynes explains, explores themes of memory, love, death, freedom, and religion in providing, constructing, and illustrating evidence of Black life and humanity. “These distinctive details of our world that make us all connected—the work that I try to do brings them to light. There’s comfort in knowing these simple things tie us all together.”