Despite only moving to New York back in January, Gowon felt compelled to use the opportunity to pay homage to the city after reflecting on his past life in Utah, where he grew up feeling like a fish out of water. “It’s an interesting state to grow up in as a creative and as a person of color, and I’ve always been a weird kid,” he says. “I started out dancing and drawing, but then in my senior year of high school, I dove into photography. I just started shooting every day until I got better.” More recently, Gowon has moved into music, releasing his first single, “Normal Boy,” back in March. “My music is very much inspired by my past, and reflecting on what it was like growing up in the place I did,” he adds.
Hinton, who grew up in Arkansas relates to that feeling of being out of place. “My mom had me when she was 14, and in order for me to lead a full life, she knew we were having to move out of the projects she lived in,” Hinton remembers. “We moved from a very low-income, predominantly Black area to an area where I was the only Black kid in the class. I was dealing with a lot of bullying, whether that be due to the way that I carried myself, or the way that I looked, or the color of my skin.” For Hinton, having an outlet for his burgeoning creativity also proved to be something of a lifeline — as did the community he began to discover through Instagram. “It became a kind of escape,” he recalls. “I can be whoever I want to be on social media, and nobody has to know this is the same guy that doesn’t have food to go home to, this is a boy that is sleeping on the floor in his home. Once I started showing my vulnerability, through my poetry in particular, things started taking off from there.”
Hinton also notes that it’s partly due to their shared experiences working as young Black photographers and models in the fashion industry that the two have been able to foster such a strong and immediate bond. “Stepping into fashion in New York as a Black creative can be a strange experience,” Hinton says. “I think having somebody that understands your struggle, or who understands that we have to work ten times as hard as our counterparts to get seen as anywhere near equal, or seen as talented or credible or valuable, means a lot.” It’s this shared experience which they translate into their work, not just in their stated aim to produce images that celebrate moments of joy and levity within their community today, but also in their efforts to question the archetypes of masculinity they were raised with, and to build something more open and vulnerable in its place.