Memory is a strange phenomenon. It takes shape and changes and erases itself. It’s the hypersensitive memories that stick in our minds – the moments that feel like they could have happened yesterday or years ago.
In Clifford Prince King’s first book Orange Grove, memories serve as monuments from which the photographer surveys an important period in his life. In 2016, King moved to the Los Angeles area with a friend and began living and working there while photographing his collaborators – the characters who make up this book.
It’s the hypersensitive memories that stick in our minds – the ones that feel like they could have happened yesterday or years ago.
Each image feels like a half-buried memory, submerged just enough to conceal the full story behind the moment, but leaving enough revealed for the viewer to have a glimpse into its core – the people involved and the acts of love and intimacy that make up the aura around these photographs.
In the first image in the book, the photographer extends a hand from the passenger seat of a car to a friend behind the wheel. The moment captured is authentic and dense with emotional texture. These are moments that can’t be relived but remain etched in the brain as vibrantly and intensely as when they occurred.
These are moments that can’t ever be relived but remain etched in the brain as vibrantly and intensely as when they occurred.
King’s portraits are stunning to look at. His expert technical use of lighting, both staged and natural, amplifies his subjects’ features – all skin and hair and muscle exposed to the camera. Nothing is hidden. Often, the photographs evoke feelings of sensuality and vulnerability conveyed through nudity, while not necessarily explicit or overtly sexual. Rather, we are reminded of the feeling of being in the presence of someone with whom we feel comfortable enough to share intimacy by shedding our outer shells, both literally and figuratively.
The warm glow of California light permeates the pictures, imbuing them with an ethereal mood of tenderness and care.
Throughout the book, King creates meticulously curated environments in which his memories can live. The images appear candid yet poised and confident at the same time. These are far from your typical awkwardly posed snapshot portraits from family vacations. Meanwhile, the warm glow of California light permeates the pictures, imbuing them with an ethereal mood of tenderness and care.
In astrology, synastry is about the varied dynamics that are at play when two people’s birth charts come together. In Orange Grove, one can feel the synastry between the photographer and his subjects. These are authentic collaborations that can only come from true compatibility and companionship. King’s subjects trust him wholeheartedly, a relationship that isn’t often seen in contemporary portraiture.
One can feel the synastry between the photographer and his subjects. These are authentic collaborations that can only come from true compatibility and companionship.
In the ether between King’s photographs, his subjects linger and live their own lives. Sometimes they are captured partially out of the frame, other times in moments of contemplation, desire, bliss, and everything in between. It is important to note that this is indeed a book about blackness and queerness and masculinity, and the complex dynamics therein. But beyond that, it is a series of images that sheds light on a slice of human life that we often take for granted. Memories pile on daily as much as the miles we drive, the places we frequent, the people we hold close and never want to let go of.
Memory can be a burden. It can also be freeing. For King, memory is a gaze from a lover, a bond with a friend. It’s the afternoon light filtered through a kitchen window and a tender embrace. It’s the vague and fleeting feeling of home. King’s images speak for all of us – it’s the things we remember that keep us going.