Titus Brooks Heagins

Titus Brooks Heagins (b. 1950, Chicago, Illinois)

Titus Brooks Heagins, who lives and works in Durham, North Carolina, holds a BA degree in political science from Duke University in Durham, as well as an MFA degree from the School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Heagins’ work can be found in the collections of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, Washington, D.C.; the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; and the Casa de Africa, Havana, Cuba, among others.

Southbound draws on multiple bodies of work from Heagins’ oeuvre. Half of his images in the project are drawn from Durham Stories: Not Hell But You Can See It From Here! This series, created over the course of a decade, is a portrait in and of the streets of East Durham. Heagins feels personally drawn to this neglected neighborhood, which he has stated is reminiscent of the unincorporated part of Houston, Texas, where he grew up as the grandson of African American sharecroppers. In these scenes Heagins asks, How does one photograph the true and complete reality of poverty? He ruminates that those who live in poverty exist in a place where despair and hope coexist. It is that most human dichotomy of hope and despair that Heagins captures in his work.

One particularly arresting image from Durham Stories is a portrait of a young boy, Devonte (2008). The toddler stands among lush forest greenery, wearing only jeans and a belt. Devonte looks directly at the camera, his face unreadable, almost as if he is taking measure of us viewers with a restraint well beyond his years. Poet Nikky Finney was inspired by this portrait to compose Little Man Standing in Clover for the Southbound project. In her poem Finney imagines an inner dialogue running behind the boy’s stoic eyes. The little man’s mind races with his piecemeal understandings of what it means to be a man. Heagins’ image and Finney’s poem compel the viewer to wonder where Devonte is now. What was this little boy’s life like in East Durham? Did he grow up to be everything he imagined? Many of the other subjects in images from Durham Stories look directly out at us, daring, pleading, warning us not simply to look at them, but to see them.

Heagins’ series The Inkwell documents the owners, patrons, and onlookers at a tattoo parlor in Durham. The parlor acts as common ground for customers who otherwise might not associate with one another, as black, brown, and white bodies find their way to the shop to make permanent their emotions, desires, losses, and challenges. Bubbles (2016) is a vibrant portrait of one such Inkwell patron. The young woman, with her face and chest marked with tattoos all made in this same space, stands with a stare that may be interpreted as both dreamy and wary. Her head is framed with a tire rim that recalls a Byzantine nimbus. The chrome halo combined with the serene tilt of Bubbles’ blue-haired head make visual reference to Marian imagery.

Images from other series such as “T” Is for Transformations!; One God, One Faith, One Baptism; andPortraits from the New South are also included in Southbound. In these and other projects, Heagins is adept at capturing the full emotional and cultural spectrum of diverse communities, with a photographic practice rooted in and dedicated to the expressive documentary tradition.

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