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Dorrell Bradford: In His Own Words
Jul, 13, 2021
Dorrell Bradford: In His Own Words
Originally from South Phoenix, photographer Dorrell Bradford documents the quiet instances we often overlook, finding in them a chance to take pause. His minimalist compositions of everyday settings emphasize shape, design, and dimension and provide viewers with the space and opportunity to find their own moments of contemplation and consideration.
As a part of his practice, Bradford has also begun to explore documentary and portraiture photography, with a recent series depicting Arizonans at a Donald Trump presidential rally in Phoenix last February. The series allowed Bradford to confront his personal inner conflicts with race and modern media and gain insight into the various demographics of Trump supporters.
We recently spoke with the artist about finding inspiration, taking on new challenges, and looking forward to new projects.
Here’s Dorrell Bradford, in his own words.
“The process of discovering my images has become meditative and exciting. It connects me to my childhood of exploring.”
Dorrell Bradford. Photo: Iva Kozeli Bradford.
PhxArt: Tell us about where you’re from and some formative experiences that led you to become an artist.
Dorrell Bradford: I was born and raised in South Phoenix and attended Percy L. Julian, which I considered an arts school at that time because of our faculty. Our principal, Ms. Henderson, and our music teachers like Karl Huff and Karen Scott created opportunities for students to explore the musical arts. Also, Julian is where I joined the Boy Scouts and had my first encounter with the outdoors. Being introduced to the wilderness as a young boy fueled my curiosity to learn more about my surroundings. This curiosity continues to grow within me and is the motivator of my work and life today. I believe developing curiosity at any age can make our society and environment greater.
At home, my father introduced me to art through his own drawings and paintings. He’s a bass player, so I spent most of my teenage years playing drums and piano. This led me to making beats and recording music. Outside of music, I was also heavily invested in sports throughout my childhood and through high school, mainly football.
While attending Arizona State University, with the boom of blogs and early social media, I became inspired by the new art scene that was brewing in New York City. Soon after graduating, my then-girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I decided to move to NYC to pursue opportunities in the photo and video industry.
During my time in New York, I fostered close friendships with artists from a wide array of backgrounds, which provided me with firsthand encounters and experiences with what it meant to live and work as an artist. The accessibility to art in NYC was unthinkable for me, especially coming from South Phoenix, and it became a learning ground. I became a member of MoMa and took every opportunity to spend as much time with the art as I could. Making frequent visits to MoMa and many galleries throughout the city exposed me to artists such as David Hammons, Jacob Lawrence, Kerry James Marshall, Josef and Annie Albers, John Divola, and many more.
Dorrell Bradford, Chair, 2021. 120mm film. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What brought you back to Phoenix, and what do you appreciate about the art scene here?
Bradford: My wife and I decided to leave NYC once we learned that we were pregnant with our first child. This led us back to Phoenix so we could be close to our families.
The art scene in Phoenix is growing tremendously, and I am hopeful to see more platforms emerge that highlight the amazing talent being cultivated right here in the desert.
PhxArt: What inspired you to pursue photography specifically? Tell us about your process and what motivates you to continue capturing images.
Bradford: While living in New York, I found minimal street photography and became enthralled with the hunt and capture of moments that highlighted unique patterns and subtle coincidences in my daily commutes.
I gravitate toward the core elements of design, from sprawling cities to the wilderness, as well as viewpoints of quiet moments of pause and wonder. The process of discovering my images has become meditative and exciting. It connects me to my childhood of exploring and also brings me a peace of mind and a calmness. The feeling that I get from creating images and encountering moments motivates me to continue. I aspire to remain curious and I hope to inspire my family to be the same.
Dorrell Bradford, Carwash, 2019. 120mm film. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What is something about your process that might surprise viewers?
Bradford: Only the viewer knows what is surprising for them, but one observation I find interesting in my process of making images is how often I make U-turns. I find myself making U-turns often while driving, riding my bike, or walking when I encounter a moment or object that moves me.
PhxArt: What topics do you like to explore through your art?
Bradford: In my earlier work, I became intrigued by corners of rooms because of how ambiguous they are when you view them in a two-dimensional medium, in my case photography. Through this interest, I began to understand how foundational Euclidian space is to our interaction with our environment. Realizing the sense of play and the ambiguity between flatness and dimension in images of corners, I was inspired to do a visual translation of space using a wire hanger and colored paper, which became my first book, Corner Sculpture (2016). The book displayed one cubic sculpture, made from a wire hanger, that was shown standing on all of its 6 sides in 10 different photos. Each photo displayed the sculpture within a space of various three-color combinations representative of a corner. I also have an ongoing corner series that I have been working on since 2014 and that I will one day release as The Book of Corners. The corner eventually led me to the core elements of design that became part of my process of exploring my environment.
Over the past year or so, I have become interested in challenging myself in documentary and portraiture photography. A recent series I created was during a Trump rally in Phoenix in February 2020. With a curiosity for seeing who the people were who shocked the nation in 2016, I uncovered the loud and proud Trump supporters from all walks of life. Getting face to face with Trump supporters gave me the opportunity to address my inner conflicts with race and modern media. Growing up as an African-American or Black person in Arizona, I was taught that there was a certain amount of danger that I could encounter just because of the color of my skin. This proved to be true in some instances in my life, and because of that, in my adolescence, I began to challenge these prejudicial notions. I’ve dealt with race and stereotype profiling from police officers to store clerks to people on the street, and I’ve always felt that it was ignorance that I found myself up against. So when given the opportunity to attend a Trump rally that had become synonymous with racism and racists through news and social media, I felt it to be my duty to attend and find out how true these notions were, and if so, what would be the supporters’ reaction to me.
Dorrell Bradford, Untitled, 2018. 35mm film. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Do you plan to continue your exploration of documentary and portraiture photography?
Bradford: Yes. I enjoy the long lasting connections to the moments and subjects I capture, and that feeling inspires me to continue to my exploration of documentary and portraiture photography.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
Bradford: There are many, but the first who come to mind are my dad, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Josef Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Juergen Teller, and Allen Dutton.
PhxArt: What are some works or projects you’re currently working on or have recently exhibited?
Bradford: I’m spending time printing current works from home and making them available for purchase. For print inquiries, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit my website.
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
Bradford: I am doing an artist residency in Bisbee, Arizona, this fall, so I’ll be taking some time to explore the city and the surrounding desert. I plan to unveil the series from my time in Bisbee in early 2022.
Dorrell Bradford, Trump Rally Series, 2020. 120mm film. Courtesy of the artist.
To see more work by Dorrell Bradford, visit www.dorrell.co and follow @rrellirell on Instagram.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Dorrell Bradford shares what’s giving him life during quarantine.
Bradford: My family and the Arizona wilderness give me life. I am listening to my daughter’s favorite songs on repeat, songs like “Hold Tight” by Change, Giorgio Moroder’s “Midnight Express Theme Song,” and songs by Bob Marley. COVID-19 greatly impacted my life and work, but I am grateful that it allowed me time to do an in-depth look at my archives and study my work and other bodies of work.
Dorrell Bradford, Metal, 2018. 35mm film. Courtesy of the artist.