Jakian Parks has already booked his first art installation, and he’s only 19. The south Oklahoma City-born and Yukon-raised photographer came to the attention of Ashley Forrest, co-owner of Forma Optics & Art, via a musician friend.
“She had been telling me about this young man who was sweet and humble and mega-talented, and then I saw his work, and knew we had to support him,” Forrest says. “He’s motivated at a level you don’t always see at 19, and I think given that and his talent, he’s going to be huge.”
Growing up in Yukon isn’t necessarily a context in which artistic inspiration is generated, but Parks attended high school at Young Achievers Christian Academy on NE 15, where he encountered what he called “real” Black culture and history.
“Not just the stuff that’s taught in history books,” Parks says. “My work explores the regality and natural beauty in Black existence, so attending school on the northeast side allowed me to better understand and appreciate Black excellence and its beauty.”
Those are the themes woven into Parks’s photography, but through a lens of fashion and that impossible-to-qualify component at which we all shrug and agree to call “cool.” As Forrest put it: “His work is an entire mood.”
“He has an eye for color and for faces,” she says, “and he stages beautifully. For the installation we’re doing at Forma, we’re transforming the south wall into a mockup of the Overholser Mansion, and creating an interactive experience with Jakian’s photography.”
Growing up, Parks stood out in art class, and he loved drawing, graffiti and playing with light and photography via Tumblr on family trips. But it was photography that stuck.
“Photography became my first priority because of people,” he says. “I see things and stories in humans. People strike me and I’m inspired by their looks. I like to tell a story through people.”
To tell the stories, everything in the tableau is controlled by Parks: hair, makeup, clothing, models, background … everything. The clothes are thrifted, wigs made by hand, makeup done on set and props selected to create the mood. He collaborates well with local hair and makeup professionals. Parks also has a knack – probably born from years on photography apps and a natural eye – of posing his models in a dramatic fashion that feels perfectly natural. Chiaroscuro and other lighting tricks help, but his eye for the human form drills all the way down to gestures and angles. The photography is as obvious a medium for a gallery as it is for the pages of a magazine; it’s beautiful in every setting.
The installation “I-Opening: A Look at Black Excellence” will run from Feb. 5 through the end of March, with the first night being invitation-only. Parks said his goal is to accentuate the ordinary person’s raw beauty through his lens, using frank and candid expressions. “The candid expressions emphasize the traumatic experiences that Black people endure,” he says. “The installation will highlight the essential humanity of Black people and portray them as the face of high fashion.”