Odds are if you’ve attended an underground hip-hop performance in New York during the last decade you’ve been in the company of Montreal born Haitian American photographer Richard Louissaint, Over the past ten years Louissaint has been visually documenting the careers of such artists as Tanya Morgan, BLKJKS, and Heavy. Even though Louissaint’s work has appeared in Wax Poetics and exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, he still has flown underneath the radar of many of New York’s taste-makers, which is quite a feat for someone about 6’7″ tall. However, with his latest venture, a documentary on the Haitian band Zing Experience, Louissaint appears poised to garner the widespread recognition that he’s long deserved.
I recently caught up with Louissaint to discuss his influences, inspirations, and the infusion of energy inciting this next phase of his career.
Can you say a little bit about what has inspired this latest transition from still photography to video? Are there any overlaps (thematic, content, etc) with what you’re looking to accomplish via film and your previous work in other as a writer?
With writing you are always telling a story whether you are a journalistic or fiction author. Which is why the photography I have tended to do has some sort of storytelling element to it most of the time (music performances, photo essays, etc.). To be honest I wasn’t thinking about video before because of the cost and manpower required to do it. I’d like to thank Canon and their digital SLRs for enabling the transition to video. I still love the still image but video has allowed me to create a fully fleshed out story with music, talking and lots of physical movements.
Who are some of the filmmakers/artists who have influenced you? And what do you admire about their work?
Since I’m not as well-versed in film I can only say a few [names] off the top of my head like Malik Sayeed who shot a lot of Hype Williams famous videos in the 90s and of course Ernest Dickerson of Spike Lee fame. But I have become really inspired by all my peers and younger doing great music videos and films with limited resources. Just look at the FutureStates online film series that allows upcoming filmmakers to shoot speculative short films about the future.
How did this collaboration with Zing Experience come about?
In 2007, I met Zing Experience purely by accident at a fundraiser for Ciné Institute, a film making school in Haiti. I snapped one portrait of co-founder Paul Beaubrun playing his guitar and thought nothing of it, [then] said a quick hello to him and his wife, co-founder, Cynthia Casasola. I wouldn’t see them again until 2010 at an Emeline Michel show. They remembered me surprisingly and with the [January 2010 Haiti] Earthquake having displaced them, they were in New York indefinitely. I offered to take some pictures at their next show and the thought of doing a multimedia project grew organically from that.
How do you envision this project evolving? Do you foresee screening it in Haiti or getting any footage from any performances in Haiti?
Truthfully, I won’t be able to finish this project without going to Haiti with them. Haiti has been calling me for a long time and when my non-Haitian [peers] have managed to journey there I think, “What am I waiting for?”
What else are you working on? What else should we be checking for from Richard Louissaint?
I hope to start working on a video promo for an amazing Haitian jazz artist named Buyu Ambroise who has had a career spanning over 30 years and has been venturing out as a bandleader the past couple of years. I’m in the middle of editing a music video I shot for a talented singer songwriter from Chicago named Arin Maya.