Growing up in the extremely multicultural city of Toronto, my friends, family members, and collaborators invariably represent a diverse group of people. The network of artists I draw inspiration from consist of people with highly varying lived experiences informing their views and, as a result, my own. Many people in my circle have, at some point, also intersected with the meditation, mindfulness and healing community I immerse in. I have been teaching and practicing various spiritual modalities centralized around Buddhism for some years. More and more, I see makers of all kinds using these practices to elevate their lives, work and advocacy. Ajani Charles has blended his photographic practice with his advocacy and healing practice in a powerful way where the artist is an actor for change as much as an observer.
Artists are the lightning rods for our collective realities. Whether a photographic work is differentiated through landscape and design or is concerned with our bodies and lived experience, the artist knowingly or not, is making a channel for our highest self-reflection. The reflection of the human experience is also a political one, among other things. I see this kind of lens as vibrantly alive in Ajani’s work.
We are currently undergoing seismic changes across all strata of life, the macro lens onto this shift exposes a churning of civilization’s soil. Nothing is left untouched, and artists will always expose this.
The current civil rights uprising and call for liberation through the refrain of “black lives matter” is a historic re-order of perception calling for our attention. It is a prompt for a psychic re-design in us each that must be reflected in action. This in no small ways informs my desire to platform black artists and photographers.
Ajani’s work bridges political terrain, the interpersonal and introspective and exposes themes of black individuals and the collective spirit in exceedingly well-executed ways. The insights found in the healing practices and the deeper layers of our humanity we find through them intersect with our political, cultural, and spiritual aspirations – this starts to come alive in Ajani’s Charles’ work and practice.
Here is the bulk of Ajani’s bio re-printed here to give a voice to his history better then I can synthesize.
Ajani Charles is a Toronto-based professional photographer, director, and producer with a background in fine arts who specializes in creating impactful stories about the human condition, self-actualization, and mental health.
A graduate of the nationally acclaimed Claude Watson Arts Program, Ajani also apprenticed at the Toronto School of Art, the Art Gallery of Ontario and at 235 Films, under many of the talented artists that currently work through the award-winning, Julien “Director X” Lutz-founded production company Popp Rok. The mentoring and rigorous training he received at these institutions fertilized his natural talent, shaping him into a versatile and always evolving artist.
For Ajani the camera is a medium for self-expression and photography the ideal art form for capturing the ineffable beauty of people, objects, and landscapes. Though his images bear the distinctive stamp of his unique regard and sensibility, his work evidences an eclectic panoply of influences which includes Ansel Adams, Alexander Rodchenko, Richard Avedon, Gordon Parks, Jamel Shabazz, Chi Modu, Nabil Elderkin, André Kertesz, David LaChapelle, Steven Spielberg, Janusz Zygmunt, Hype Williams, Zack Snyder, Martin Scorsese, Michael Ballhaus, Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Bill Watterson, and Stan Lee.
Ajani is also the founder of The Visionaries — a Toronto-based photography and cinematography non-profit and educational program, providing mentoring to youth from the city’s priority neighborhoods.
What’s more, his work has been displayed at the Skills Canada Photographic Skills Competition, where he was awarded a medal for the technical polish of his images as a teenager. His photographs have also been exhibited in such venues as the Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art and The New Era Flagship Store, among others.
In addition, Ajani has gained considerable notoriety in the Greater Toronto Area through his first photographic documentary, “Project T Dot” — a visual chronicle of the city’s hip-hop culture and community in its entirety, including a wide-ranging collection of intimate and dramatic black and white photographs. In production since December of 2006, “Project T Dot” is currently scheduled for a late 2022 publication date.
Ajani is also a journalist for publications such as Thrive Global — an American company that provides behavior change technology and media to support individuals struggling with stress and burnout, and he counts among his many and varied commercial clients H&M, Universal Music Group, Bridgestone, Christian Dior, Calm, and the UFC. His work has been featured in publications such as Complex, Jay-Z’s Life + Times, and Vogue.
Furthermore, he has worked with numerous icons and public figures in various capacities, including the likes of Arianna Huffington, Drake, The Weeknd, Pharrell Williams, Wu-Tang Clan, Janelle Monáe, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Slash, Kanye West, Akon, Gene Simmons, Spike Lee, Director X, Dana White, and Commander Chris Hadfield.
Finally, Ajani is a mental health advocate, and regularly donates his time, services, and capital from each of his distinctive, high-budget commercial projects to non-profit organizations and initiatives that promote and conduct research on mental health, such as The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Operation Prefrontal Cortex.
Link to Ajani’s site: https://ajani.ca/