From Portraits to Protests – This Popular Long Island Photographer is Using His Art Form For Activism

By: Julio Taku
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This Long Island-based photographer with a sharp eye and taste for Hip Hop, sneaker culture, fine cuisine and the people within these cultures. 

Henry Francois’ work spans back to 2016 when he was taking photos at Sneaker Bistro Boutique in Patchogue to his more recent photo-ops at concerts with Cam’ron, Meek Mill and Rick Ross. With the current pandemic and social uprising, Francois’ work has experienced a tonal shift. His feed features more black and white photographs from protests and more socially conscious content. Photographs have the uncanny ability to crystalize moments in history and preserve them for those who witnessed it in real time and for posterity to gaze upon a time before them. Francois speaks about his journey as an individual, a photographer and his experiences in the field.    

When did you start photography? Was it more of a hobby or an interest you kinda fell into? 

Photography is something I fell into out of necessity. I was working at a sneaker boutique and we needed product shots. At the time, the store was growing rapidly and the owner didn’t have time to take the shots so I volunteered. They were really bad at first. To the point where they almost had me stop, but since I was new I wanted to prove I was capable of handling the task. After a while they got better, but I was still taking product shots out of necessity. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I’ve grown to love photography. So in late 2016, I decided to take the leap and take it seriously and expand beyond shooting for the store.

What are some lessons you learned during your days shooting for the store that came in handy later on? 

Don’t be afraid to experiment and never delete things on the spot. Sometimes the best pictures are accidents. Sometimes when you’re looking at your camera, pictures come out blurry or the lighting is off but you should always bring it to your computer and take a better look.

What was the first (non-work related) photo shoot you did as a freelance photographer? Non work as in outside of the boutique or non work as in a passion project?

The passion project came first because that was likely more enjoyable or fulfilling. I kinda started out with a bang lol. It was Rick Ross at the old Emporium now Stereo Garden in Patchogue. 

Wait, wait, wait! That needs a proper rollout. Can’t just drop those names casually. I need context and how you landed those gigs.

Haha! I’ve been around celebs so although I know I’m in a privileged company I can’t flex that unless I’ve been able to build on those experiences and/or monetize it you know? I think we’re living in a day and age where people chase clout over currency.

That’s an absolute fact. I really admire the humility 

Appreciate that man! But yeah, I saw the promo on social. I knew one of the bouncers and people close to the owners. I asked them to put in a good word for me to grant me stage access. Even though it wasn’t a paid gig, I felt like it would be great for my portfolio.

Did that subsequently open the door for more opportunities?

Somewhat, sometimes people will wanna see a sample of what you’ve done in the past, so having that in your portfolio is definitely a plus. 

From Portraits to Protests - This Popular Long Island Photographer is Using His Art Form For Activism
Cam’ron 📸: @_.henrockvisuals & @_.henrock

Has your photography granted you access to any notable events? If so, which was your favorite and most memorable? 

Honestly, sometimes when you have a camera you get granted access to places you weren’t even invited. Luckily, I’ve had people look out for me. I got to shoot Nas, Cam’ron and Mobb Deep. Cam was great because that dipset era was special, so to see him perform those hits in person was great. Mobb Deep was amazing as well. Those guys are legends and they really don’t get enough credit. This was a few months before Prodigy passed so I was grateful to finally see them in person. Both were at Amityville Music Hall. It’s a smaller venue so the setting was real intimate and live.

From Portraits to Protests - This Popular Long Island Photographer is Using His Art Form For Activism
Mobb Deep 📸: @_.henrockvisuals & @_.henrock

Small venues are so underrated man. I truly hope they survive the pandemic and are able to come back. Who are some personal icons you have been able to meet?

I hope so, I have good memories at AMH. As far as icons other than the artists I’ve mentioned I’d say Spike Lee. I’ve met other celebs and personalities but as far as icons he’s the one.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a photographer? What were some personal trials and lessons you learned along the way that created the man and photographer I speak to today?

The challenges I’ve faced are challenges a lot of creatives face, getting in your own head and worrying about what others think. There’s imposter syndrome, impatience and trying to be perfect. There are a lot of ups and downs when creating something and putting it out into the world. It sounds cliché but you can’t let these things stop you. You just need to remember to trust in your vision, keep fighting and keep creating.

If at all, how has your photography changed or what you photograph changed since the BLM movement has picked up?

I usually shoot fun things like portraits, lifestyle, or fashion-related things. After the killing of George Floyd, none of that felt right. It didn’t really seem to matter at all. Even my feed was affected. I usually post once a week or every other week. I didn’t post anything for an entire month. Seeing the BLM movement pick up as a Black man, I felt inspired. I knew history was taking place and I had to document the movement taking place. So I attended a few local protests which were all nonviolent. I use “nonviolent” because protests shouldn’t necessarily be “peaceful.” The point is to raise awareness to issues taking place and unfortunately that requires certain people to feel a little uncomfortable. 

My protest pictures were heavily inspired by images I saw from the Civil Rights Movement  in my history books going to school as a kid which is why I kept them mostly in black and white. 

Since tensions have calmed down somewhat, I’ve tried to infuse even more substance in my photos and I hope it’s reflected in my work.

It truly is reflected in your work and I feel you are doing the movement justice by paying homage through your photos. How did your followers receive your work?

I appreciate that man. I tried to do the movement justice. There’s always a few people who aren’t gonna agree or ask why you’re making things “political.” I had a person or group of people create an account just to troll but I guess that means I touched a nerve lol. One word I kept seeing in the comments was “powerful” which was very humbling. Ultimately, I wanted these pictures to make people feel something one way or another and I think I was able to achieve that. 

Henry’s work is available for viewing on his personal page @_.henrock and his photography page @henrockvisuals where the evolution of his work is on display in all its glory. 

Julio Taku

Julio Taku

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” - James Baldwin. That quote rings so true for me because of the world we live in today. Oftentimes, the truth is obscured or hidden from us for any number of reasons. This effectively blinds us from getting the full story. I see it as my duty to help clear the blind spots we tend to ignore whether it be in history, modern times or in the future. As a student journalist at Stony Brook University, I am working to contextualize modern events through relevant historical lenses. Nothing exists in isolation and it’s important to understand this when analyzing contemporary issues. This is especially true in matters of culture, race and gender. My work exists to diversify the narratives and stories in journalism. I currently serve as Culture editor at The Stony Brook Press where I do just that and amplify the voices of others. Twitter: @Julio_Taku Facebook: Julio Taku Jr. Instagram: @julio_taku

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