JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Loose Joints (here). Hardcover (23.5 × 265 cm), 112 pages, with 58 tritone plates. Edit and design by Sarah Piegay Espenon. (Cover and spread shots below.)
I can’t stand to see you cry is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes a signed book housed in a gold foil-debossed slipcase, and an archival pigment print on Hahnemühle Baryta paper (20 × 25 cm). In an edition of 60.
Comments/Context: Rahim Fortune was born in Austin, Texas, and grew up splitting his childhood between Texas and Oklahoma (his mother was a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation). His work is highly autobiographical and informed by his family roots, surroundings, and Southern culture more generally, capturing the “beauty and pain of daily life.” Last year, he self-published a zine titled Fantasy (reviewed here), documenting the radiant confidence, pride, and creativity of Southern hair shows. He also self-published an artist book titled Oklahoma which traces his family history, tackling the realities of persistent racial inequality and economic disparity but also looking for healing. Fortune has been documenting various communities for over five years now, always with care and nuance, and aware of history, culture and tradition.
Fortune’s new photobook, titled I can’t stand to see you cry, continues to explore these same themes of belonging, community, identity, and representation, probing the intersection of cultural tradition and personal expression. This new series is set mostly in Texas and looks at Fortune’s relationships with family, friends, and occasional strangers. In the spring of 2020, he returned to his hometown in Texas, just outside of Austin, to care for his father whose health was declining, and Fortune and his sister spent long hours by his bed. During that time, Fortune found himself taking care of his family, while the pandemic pushed most of the country into the lockdown and the murder of George Floyd sparked one of the largest social movements in recent United States history. The photographs he took during that period were informed both by the ongoing events and by thoughts of his father.
I can’t stand to see you cry is beautifully printed, and immediately feels delicate and personal. The design is genuinely simple, elegant, and consistent. A black and white photograph of a man tenderly embracing a woman (the artist and his partner) with their heads turned away from the viewer appears on the black cover, hinting on ideas of family, relationships, and vulnerability. The title and the artist’s name are placed on the spine in gold letters, while the book opens to yellow endpapers setting a warm and comforting introduction. There are no texts or captions in the book, immersing us into uninterrupted visual flow and letting the power of the photographs speak for itself.
Initially Fortune planned to focus the book on the process of looking after his dying father, but through conversations with the publisher, the project evolved into a deeper reflection of the moment. The presence of the artist’s father and the emotional toll of that time is visible throughout the series. The only photograph of the father appears at the very end of the book. In a close up portrait, we see him lying on the bed wearing an oxygen mask, and there is a sense of distress but also grace as he looks straight into the camera. He firmly holds his son’s hand, adding both tenderness and soulful feeling to this emotional moment.
The visual narrative unfolds in an intimate and tender way. The book opens with a photograph of a young man named Billy, standing outside a house, as he looks straight into the camera. It is followed by an image of a white house as the shadows of a tree fall right on the fence in front. The emotionally charged feeling of the broader moment translates into a number of photographs: industrial structures polluting the environment, run down buildings, a close up of an arm with a freshly stitched scar over a tattoo in the shape of Texas, a blurry shot of people running during the protests. A photograph of an empty bed with medical equipment present in the room signals that the family is dealing with serious health-related trauma.
Fortune’s photographs are also delicate and gentle. The photographs, starting from the one on the cover, often show people touching and embracing, or intimate gestures that evoke closeness and connection. As the pages flip, we see a grandmother on a sofa between two women as a hand gently rests on her shoulder, hands massaging an ankle, a pregnant woman holding her hand on the belly, and in a self-portrait, Fortune is getting a haircut in the backyard as his friend gently touches his head.
One of the most striking photographs in the book shows a young couple in front of a house, the man embraces his partner while looking straight into the camera. This image channels both strength and vulnerability, and it is also a photograph of love.
As the book ends, the very last photograph captures a hot summer day with people, both kids and adults, cooling off in a swimming hole by the bridge. The sunlight reflects off water and the scene feels peaceful and almost idyllic, a simple reminder of the beauty of life, leaving us with a sense of hope and healing.
Fortune’s calm and striking photographs provide a compelling glimpse into the daily rhythms of the community, revealing its deep humanity and dignity, at a time when his own personal pain resonated with the experience of the nation. But his images also capture the pain, tensions and relentless everyday reality that have influenced the lives of these people. His portraits are so grippingly engaging because he finds the necessary balance between thoughtful compassion and hard truth.
As a photobook, I can’t stand to see you cry is well conceived and thoughtfully designed. It is a well crafted object, executed in excellent print quality and paper, and a light ink smell adds to the overall experience. The book is also a powerful statement – it is an act of taking charge of the conversation, and speaking for and representing the artist’s own community. It definitely stands out as one of the strongest photobooks published so far this year. Above all, it’s very exciting to watch this young artist find his unique voice through vision, hard work, and attentive and compassionate dedication.
Collector’s POV: Rahim Fortune is represented by Claxton Projects (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail likely remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.