#UMDMelanin: 15 Days. 16 Women. 15 Locations.
Guest Column by SYDNEY PARKER (taken from sydneyaparker.com)
One of the main reasons I am proud to be a student at the University of Maryland, College Park is because of the large Black student body. Coming here from a predominately white high school opened my eyes up to the diversity within blackness that the world tries so hard to deny.
The #UMDMelanin project, produced by the OA Photography team, encompasses the wide range of Black womanhood found at this university. Every Black woman does not look, act or sound the same; not even on one college campus.
In honor of Black History Month, this post will take you through the manifestation of this masterpiece, unveiling the behind the scenes work and stories from the perspective of #UMDMelanin’s main photographer, Olasubomi Adesoye. At the end, enjoy the entire project featured below with mini facts about each woman’s shoot.
In my conversation with Olasubomi, he told me that this idea stemmed from a similar one also about uplifting the beauty of Black skin. Yet one day he woke up and decided that he wanted to showcase female students each day starting on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. The whole idea only took three days to put together. He gathered a team of creative directors, Cheyenne Fogg and Chioma Agbaraji, along with OA Photography’s public relations director, Rae-Ann Steele, to produce this extensive project.
Olasubomi says the model recruitment was random. Him and his team went into Stamp Student Union with the idea that they did not want 16 women that looked the same. As you can see in their work, all of the models are different shapes and shades. “All I told them was come in all white,” Olasubomi said.
He wanted these pictures to showcase who these women were, their personality. One of the crucial parts of this project is the title of each photo. “The title is their words,” Olasubomi says. That was one of my favorite parts of #UMDMelanin. There are so many occasions you just see pictures of beautiful Black women, but this project gave each student her voice. It humanized her skin tone and made her story art.
Location is key
“The location is part of their story.” It was news to me that Olasubomi let each model choose her location. It told me a lot more about their personalities. I like that in each picture, any Maryland student is able to pick up on where exactly on campus it was taken.
Any collegiate campus has it’s own special culture and this project mixed campus culture with Black excellence.
Olasubomi says it was rare that two women would pick the same location. If they did, the most popular was the Frederick Douglass statue in Hornbake Plaza. He also made it clear that the order of each shoot determined the order of each day. Not everyone was able to take pictures on the same day and sometimes these shoots were in between class times.
These pictures captured the Black woman at every stage of the Black UMD experience. You see us in the classroom, at McKeldin, eating at Route One, studying in the library. No matter where we are, our melanin still embraces our experiences instead of defining them. The locations and the skin color made this project cohesive while the different looks and words gave this project diversity.
Olasubomi made sure to give credit where credit was due. He told me that his team gave this story it’s first platform on social media. Once people saw the first post with Cheyenne Fogg addressing her thoughts on Black History Month, they wanted more. He tells me that the response has been nothing short of incredible. People have been coming up to him with praises and most of his models have expressed their gratitude as well.
Olasubomi says that this project really was a thank you to every woman in his life and in the world. This was his way of celebrating Blackness and Black womanhood. To me, this project exemplifies what every person should spend Black History Month doing, utilizing their talents to showcase and discuss the status of Black people in our world today.
When asked about his future plans, Olasubomi told me nothing is finalized but he does have some projects in mind. Many people have asked him if he plans on focusing on the Black men of UMD. He says yes, but instead of honing in on one location he wants them to hone in on one object. He told me that new projects would come later, for now he wants to give this one the platform that it deserves.