my name is courtney coles, and i’m a photographer and writer born and raised in los angeles. my passion for storytelling stems from my history of observing everyone around me. as a child i was enamored with my mother’s photo albums and seeing the life she lived before she was a mother and a wife. throughout my childhood, she and my father made photographs and home films of me and my siblings, and i carried on that tradition by photographing my friends at school and on field trips. the older i got, the more i was drawn to the photographs missing from family albums: portraits of interiors, seemingly unimportant moments, and heartbreak. the idea of an alternative family album is one that fills in the blanks of what you’d see in the existing family album kept beneath the coffee table. my storytelling is collaborative and an extension of who i am as a person.
i received my bachelor of fine arts in photography from the pacific northwest college of art in 2014 and my master of fine arts with an emphasis in photography & media from calarts in 2019. the very foundation of my practice is rooted in my fascination with the multiple ways i consider people, places and memories “home” and my desire to preserve it. i am enthralled by making photographs that are soft and sincere because the world has been anything but to Black queer women like me. i extend grace first to myself, as seen in my self-portraits, and then to my loved ones who so graciously invite me into their lives. where the world has failed in protecting me, i have stepped in to make the quiet photographs that soothe me.
the long way home.
my mom was born in albany, georgia, and found her way to the west coast in the late ‘70s. the third child out of six, my mom was the only one to move away from the south and would stay away. when she could, she’d return for her mother’s birthday in late august, which always turned into a family reunion. my grandmother, who we all fondly called aunt bay, died in the spring of 2008. ten years later in the summer of 2018, my brother carl and i joined my mother on a journey back to georgia, the year aunt bay would have celebrated her centennial birthday.
up until this point i had been photographing my mom and myself for about a decade. what started as a way for me to handle her illnesses turned into a documentation of our relationship— something i thought i ruined when i moved away. the time we spent in georgia was the first time i let her dictate what she wanted me to photograph. i always called my portraits of her a “collaboration,” but this was the first time i let her run the show. it was important to her to have photographs with her siblings, it was important to have photographs in her mother’s clothing, and it was important to have photographs of the family church. it was important to me to have her define her space, on her own terms.
the one image i was determined to make was one of the headstone belonging to my cousin cornelius “corey” thrasher. he was my mother’s nephew and the only gay family member i knew of. he felt like home in a way that was unlike anything i had experienced and when he died from complications with diabetes in 2004, it was years until i felt that version of home again.
To view more of courtney coles’s work please visit their website.