By: Eshe Ukweli, Staff Writer and Myía Borland, Culture Editor
15-time published photographer Maiz Lawson, a senior TV and film major studying at Howard University, wants the world to see the power of his creativity and the uniqueness of his perspective. Through his art, Lawson aims to show the beauty of the Black community through authentic photographic storytelling.
While many creatives find that they have always been artistically inclined, that is not the case for all. Born and raised in rainy Seattle, Washington, Lawson, a bright-eyed creative extrovert now, describes his childhood self as inadvertently shy, with no particular interest in the arts.
“I was definitely shy, I had crippling shyness at one point and my creativity didn’t really blossom until I got to Howard… at one point it was really bad, but I think around middle school, I kind of started being more social. It was still there a little bit in high school too.”
While Lawson did not officially step into his creative calling until attending Howard University, his upbringing in Seattle’s vibrant multicultural scene laid the foundation for not only his creative work, but his love and passion for community.
“Growing up in Seattle was very interesting. Seattle was very diverse. There was a lot of Asian and African communities and Native American too. So a lot of the school curriculum is Native American, Asian and African mythology [and] heritage. So I’d say that definitely planted a seed in my creative eye, because something I focus on is community,” Lawson shared.
Specifically focused on the Black community and the beauty therein, Lawson continues, “the Black community…I’m very intent on how we interact with each other and how it shows up in our style, how we express ourselves, what we hold close to the heart. So yeah, I definitely say the community aspect of growing up in Seattle definitely plays a role and manifests in my creative ideas.”
Once at Howard University, Lawson was able to stand in his personality and explore photography. It was through his Howard community that Lawson developed his unique photographic style and expressed his creativity. “The Howard community is crazy. There’s so many different paths that people take to create things and honestly, there was one point where I was getting inspired, every day by the things that people were doing. The pictures they were taking, the music that they’re making, the art that they’re painting and drawing,” Lawson said.
This environment, along with celebrity influence, allowed Lawson to truly thrive. “When I got into photography here, I was trying to find my style and also trying to find my editing style. So I was looking through different photos and photographers on Instagram and YouTube channels and I kind of found Travis Scott at the time who was using this specific editing style for his photos. I kind of adopted that style, tweaked it a little bit and adopted it to my photos.”
Senior journalism major Janaé Bradford shared her experience being photographed by Lawson, and her take on his creative direction.
“I met Maiz when he found a photo of me in the snow and returned it to me. I then began to know how much he valued capturing shots of his friends, his surroundings and much more. He makes you feel comfortable enough to express yourself in front of his lense and you know he won’t capture your bad side. He definitely put his identity in his pictures too. You can tell when he takes a picture because his style is written all over it.”
Lawson’s photos share a theme about authentically enjoying the Black experience in all ranges, hues and multifaceted displays. His photos encompass the depth of the Black experience and this quality hasn’t gone unnoticed. With his work published over 15 times in digital magazines and collaborations with the holy grail of Black art festivals, AfroPunk, and luxury watch brand HODINKEE, Lawson’s craft has allowed him to reach communities across the globe and live out his wildest career dreams. “I was featured by AfroPunk for my first creative direction project…then Legacy History Pride, [the brand director] gave me creative direction on one of their latest drops to portray tradition and legacy.”
Lawson’s artwork not only allows him to showcase his own creative visions, but also aids him in fulfilling his artistic purpose of highlighting the Black community.
“The one that meant the most to me was this luxury watch brand called HODINKEE, they reached out to me to document homecoming. And at first I was kind of skeptical because that’s not my usual route. I don’t take pictures of watches. But I’ll tell you, looking back, that was one of the most rewarding experiences, because I literally got to look at Black people and see there’s a whole watch culture that people have, especially like the older generation… It was cool. It was a very enriching experience. And that’s my career goal — to document Black people and the community and different sides of the culture,” Lawson shared.
Senior legal communications major Shawn Dinwiddie or “DJ Shawn Don,” has been captured numerous times by Lawson and believes the photographer has a promising future with his unique style.
“Maiz is such a great creator. I would call him a photographer but he’s way more than that…more like a curated connoisseur. His work is abstract within its own and multidimensional. I’m excited to see where his work takes him in the next few years.”
Affecting change and documenting the Black experience is the power of Black creatives, and to the immortalizing of Black life is power according to Lawson. “We have so many different things that we’ve experienced and the power of Black creatives, [is that] every single one, they tell the story differently. And they all have different audiences and different impacts that they have on people…I think being able to immortalize those experiences and those perspectives has insane influence on this culture in general, not just Black culture, but worldwide culture,” Lawson said.
Lawson names his own Black art and creativity as extreme, “It’s very complex and layered, and so I think extreme is a nice twist on the word complex. Complex, [because] I have a way to look at my art, but then literally everyone else that views it, that doesn’t know the meaning behind it, they’re going to have a different perspective or different opinion on it. And that makes it complex, that makes it layered and that makes it extreme.”
Copy edited: N’dia Webb