The Purpose of Light

Misan Harriman

UTA Artist Space is pleased to present The Purpose of Light, a new digital exhibition of photographs by Nigerian-born British photographer and activist Misan Harriman. The presentation brings together eleven of Harriman’s powerful, moving photographs of street protests from recent years, mostly taken at Black Lives Matter protests in the UK in the summer of 2020. The exhibition can be viewed here.

Called “the most talked about photographer of our times” by the London Evening Standard, Harriman’s selected works for the exhibition are candid on-the-ground shots of Black Lives Matter and anti-Trump protests in the UK, handpicked by Harriman out of over 8,000 photographs he took at the protests. 

Harriman is known for combining dynamic social urgency with brilliant aestheticism, making history in September, 2020, by becoming the first Black man to shoot a cover for British Vogue—an opportunity for high visibility which resulted in the issue’s titular theme of “ACTIVISM NOW.” The works presented here follow these dualities: they are undeniable calls to action, in line with Harriman’s activism, while remaining tender, moving portraits of multigenerational communities coming together towards a common goal. 

“Misan is an unbelievably talented human, no matter what kind of work he is doing. I am extremely proud to highlight the indelible images he has captured during the past few years. To me, these photographs go hand in hand with his activism, and reflect his persistent push for social change,” says Arthur Lewis, UTA Fine Arts and UTA Artist Space Creative Director.

 

Photographer, creative director, and cultural commentator Misan Harriman is the first Black person in the 104 year history of British Vogue to shoot one of its storied covers.

His strong reportage style and unique eye for narrative has captured the attention of editors and celebrities around the world. From documenting historic moments, most recently the Black Lives Matter movement in London, to photographing high profile celebrities, including Meghan Markle, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Giorgio Armani, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, and Olivia Colman, Harriman is a photographer of extraordinary range.

His commissions include royal, private and high profile portraiture as well as reportage documenting and covering behind the scenes at major awards, music festivals and film sets. His striking images have featured in Vanity Fair, Vogue UK, Harpers Bazaar, and The Telegraph among others. 

Misan is also an outspoken activist supporting Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace and he is a mental health campaigner with a keen interest in Dyslexia and Neurodiversity. He is the founder of What We Seee, whose mission is to surface and amplify uplifting and inspirational stories in a curated stream of the best output from diverse voices, artists, archives and brands to raise the tone of cultural conversation. In 2021, Harriman was appointed Chair of Trustees at London’s Southbank Centre.

“When I go out on the streets of London to capture the social and political protests that have captured the world, there exists a sense of unspoken solidarity between the protestors and I, the photographer standing beside them. I think this sense of empathy and trust is key to this series.” – Misan Harriman.

These photographs showcase the multitudes contained in progressive social movements, from trans and gender nonconforming activists asserting their humanity in front of the United Kingdom’s Parliament, to Black protestors and their allies marching for justice.

Harriman’s camera focuses as much on the protestors as it does on their powerful messages, often written on striking, hand painted cardboard signs. One image shows hockey player Darcy Bourne staring into Harriman’s lens, holding a hurriedly painted sign asking “WHY IS ENDING RACISM A DEBATE?” The Guardian named it “one of the defining photos of this summer’s civil rights protests”.  

Misan Harriman

Smart Milk., 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

Own it, 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

The source of change, 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

She silently spoke her truth, 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

None whatsoever, 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

………., 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

Caption this?, 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

The heavy burden., 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

Beloved, 2020

Pigment print

36 x 24 inches

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Misan Harriman

The Question., 2020

Pigment print

48 x 36 inches

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Misan Harriman

The Family., 2020

Pigment print

48 x 72 inches

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