The concept of photographer Bre’Ann White’s latest exhibit, “Dance of a Black Man” was nearly 10 years in the making.
The 32-year-old Detroiter said she tried again and again to materialize the showcase originally titled, ‘Dance of a Black Woman.’ In 2021, inspiration came from the unlikeliest of sources: actor and rapper Omari Hardwick.
During an album cover shoot with Hardwick, who is best known for his role in the Starz show, “Power,” White told him about the Black men who have supported her throughout her life–her father Andre Jackson, brothers Deshaun and Andre Jr., and friends and mentors like artist Allante “Unc Tae” Steele and model and artist Jordan Blake as well as Nathaniel Wallace, who heads civic partnerships for the Michigan Central Innovation District.
“The men in my life…every year took me to the next level,” the blonde-haired photographer told BridgeDetroit from a coffee shop in Los Angeles. “From photography to losing weight to even going to college. That was inspired by my brother, who was the first male figure to go to college.
“And Omari was like, ‘You know what, Bre’Ann? I think you should name it, ‘Dance of a Black Man.’ When he said that, my mouth just dropped. I was like, ‘Yo, you’re right!”
Within days, White had Blake fly to Michigan from New York to take part in a photo shoot on the west side of the state. She drove two hours to the small town of Hart, where White photographed Blake 30 minutes before sunset.
The images depict Blake sitting down in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, hugging his knees to his chest, a pair of white angel wings draped on his back pointing up to the cloudless blue sky.
The photos were part of the “Dance of a Black Man” pop-up last week at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The sold-out show featured a poetry session from Detroit artists such as Jessica Care Moore, Joel Fluent Greene, Monalyse, Halinah Consuelo, Rick Williams and Mars Marshall. White said she plans to host other events in the D soon and to include more photos in her “Dance of a Black Man” series.
Wallace said the series is a way for Black artists to be the creators of their own stories.
“We need voices like Bre’Ann’s,” he said of his longtime friend. “We need people to be able to see mastery in photography around our stories. I think she’s on to something.”
And, White has even more on the horizon.
She created All For You Detroit, an initiative that seeks to promote land ownership and community reinvestment in the city to help build generational wealth. White also wants to open a space for Detroit creatives that would include an art gallery, studio space, library and a cafe.
While White spends much of her time traveling, she said she’ll always represent her 48205 ZIP code on Detroit’s east side.
“When I went on a trip to Mexico, people said I talked about Detroit too much,” she said, laughing. “I’ll always show love for Detroit.”
‘Fake it till you make it’
White has been a professional photographer for more than a decade, getting her start in 2010 as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. Her first major photo shoot was with Idris Elba for the Michigan Chronicle. White said that she convinced editors there that she was already a professional. She created a portfolio of photos she took of her high school friends around metro Detroit, printing off the images at an east side Walgreens.
“I went up there, printed my pictures out, bought a photo book and I was like, ‘Hey, this is my work,’” White said. “So, that’s basically how that one moment turned into 13 years of building this foundation. It’s ‘fake it till you make it’ kind of vibes.”
Wallace met White during another shoot for the Michigan Chronicle about 10 years ago where he and other up and comers in Detroit were featured on the front page. He said she was professional and polished even as a young adult.
“It was something different about the way she interacted with me and I’ve worked with a lot of photographers over my life,” Wallace said. “She just stood out immediately.
“I think Bre’Ann is one of those people that has a different way of looking at the world. And she’s able to take her experiences and her point of view and translate those into visual form through photography.”
White has photographed hometown rapper Big Sean, Halle Berry, Cardi B and H.E.R. while promoting Berry’s 2021 directorial debut “Bruised” and Rick Ross on his 235-acre estate in Fayetteville, Georgia. Her clients portfolio include local and national brands such as The Lip Bar, Spotify and Adidas.
But while White has had professional highs, her personal life has seen some lows.
In 2020, she lost her father to COVID-19 and her mother Edna White last year to cancer. Losing her parents prompted White to pay it forward to people in the community, which led to the creation of All for You Detroit. White said she’s in the process of turning the initiative into a nonprofit and is looking for organizations and artists to partner with.
In addition to the gallery space, the artist will launch a program this fall in Detroit called White Room. The eight-week program will consist of White working with teen girls between the ages of 13-17 and showing them the foundations of creative and commercial photography.
“During that eight-week program, they’re going to be in the studio and out on the field,” she said. “They’re going to be assisting me on shoots and I’m also going to be providing them with clients. I’m partnering up with some of my clients for the girls to shoot a campaign. Not only is that going to give her experience, but that’s also going to build out a portfolio and a client for her, so that’s the whole goal for the White Room.”
Letting go to God
Another area that’s become a significant part of White’s life and artwork is her spirituality.
She said she grew up going to Bible study, became an atheist at age 10, and agnostic in her late teens.
In 2015, when she was 25, a personal experience had her think twice about God’s existence and “align the Bible with my life,” she said.
Two pieces for “Dance of Black Man” are named after some of White’s favorite scriptures. There’s “Lead by Faith, Not by Sight,” which comes from Corinthians 5:7 and “Whenever I am Afraid, I Will Trust in You,” a verse from Psalm 56:3.
For her next piece, White plans to photograph a baptism featuring the men in her life. This will coincide with her own baptism, which will take place on her 33rd birthday later this year.
“I’m going through this journey, this new phase in my life,” she said. “When I say phase, I’m talking about me as an artist and not as a commercial photographer. Me understanding what life is like without my parents…and being able to be vulnerable without being judged. That’s the reason why I wanna take this path and let go.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the year in which White was inspired by Omari Hardwick. Also reflected is the full list of poets who took part in the pop-up event.