Nydia Blas, Revival

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Monolith Editions (here). Softcover (7 x 9.5 inches), 48 pages, with 27 color photographs. Includes a short text by the artist. Design by Caleb Cain Marcus, Luminosity Lab. In an edition of 350 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Nydia Blas is a visual artist originally from Ithaca, New York, and currently based in Atlanta, Georgia. In her work, she celebrates young women, tenderly capturing them through, as she describes it, “a Black feminine lens”. Black women are at the center of Blas’s photographs, which are also inspired by the relationships she creates within her community. In her earlier series, “The Girls Who Spun Gold”, she photographed Black teenage girls she met through a Girls Empowerment Group which she set up to support young girls of color in Ithaca.

Earlier this year, Blas’ first photobook was published by Monolith Editions, a publishing house with a mission to show “work from artists of color across mediums that address issues of race, identity, equity, gender, sexuality, and class.” Titled Revival, the book has a simple golden cover, where the one-word title appears in a slightly raised white font. Gold is symbolic for Blas, and she uses it throughout her work, “metaphorically as a reference to value, specifically one’s personal value versus the value placed upon an individual or group by society at large.” Inside, her color photographs range in their sizes and placement across the spreads, creating a dynamic visual flow. Several of the pages appear as flat gold expanses, complementing the colors of photographs. There are no captions to accompany the images, but a short text at the end provides definition of “revival”: “the strengthening of something or someone / a high emotional sometimes evangelistic event.”

The book opens with a photograph that sets the tone for what follows. In it, a young woman in a yellow dress stands and faces us, with the two big pockets on the front of her dress filled with red and white roses. The golden page on the left side echoes the gold in her curly hair, the dress, and the dry blossoms behind her, and the snow seen in the background and on branches hints that it is winter. She looks right into the camera, a little bit shy, yet assured. It is a portrait that is both elegantly simple, but filled with rich symbolism and color harmony.

Blas usually spends time with the girls and young women she photographs, and in many ways, it is a collaborative process. This cooperation definitely shows in her most tender images, where the sense of intimacy and trust feels strong. Many of these pictures show women gently touching or embracing, almost as if in a ritual, evoking closeness and connection. One vertical photograph shows a girl calmly lying down while a friend holds her hands on her chin and forehead; the sunlight dappled in the blurred greenery adds a magic-like feeling. It is followed by a full spread photograph showing a close up of hands squeezing and tugging on a fur coat, the textures and colors intermixing. And in another photograph, two young women stand next to each other on a bed; they both wear white dresses, and it almost looks like they share a dress, their cheeks gently touching as they look straight into the camera. 

In her photographs, Blas creates plenty of space for her subjects to be themselves. We can think of this as an act of liberation, an act of reclaiming one’s body with confidence and understanding. The book ends with a photograph of a young woman in a field, her eyes closed while two hands (with long turquoise nails) gently hold her head. The short text on the right expresses the artist’s admiration for women: “Young woman, to woman. To women. We are bound in this space of like-minded believers. I know you. I honor you. Believe in you.”

Rather modest in its presentation, Revival forcefully asserts the power of female representation and the female gaze. Seen together, these photographs form an uplifting series that celebrates Black culture and Black bodies. Like many works by contemporary female photographers that have actively realigned the prevailing artistic vantage point, these images reclaim identities and also ask the audience to consider what it means to be a Black woman. Blas says “Like writers or musicians, it’s my job to use my medium to share what I learned with Black women and empower them to make images that unfold their experiences, and speak back to who they are.” Revival is full of beauty, energy, pride, and magic, like a process of healing and liberation. 

Collector’s POV: Nydia Blas is represented by Over the Influence Gallery in Los Angeles (here). Her work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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