Looking for Langston (1989), by Isaac Julien, is now on view at Fonte Galery, in Inhotim, as part of Território Específico’s annual exhibition program.
Looking for Langston is a lyrical exploration - and recreation - of the private world of poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist Langston Hughes (1902 - 1967) and his fellow black artists and writers who formed the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s. The work is the hallmark of what B. Ruby Rich named New Queer Cinema, being also regarded as a touchstone for African-American Studies and has been taught widely in North American universities, colleges and art schools for nearly 30 years.
Working with Nina Kellgren (cinematographer) and Sunil Gupta (photographer), Julien shot Looking for Langston in the 1980s in London but set it in the jazz world of 1920s Harlem. His use of low-key lighting and sculptural smoke further complicate historical periodisation, infusing the work with a 1940s film noir feel. The imaginative combination of epochs creates a kind of 'creolisation' of photographic forms as well as a potent and self-conscious timelessness.
It is possible to see a direct relation between images imbued with references to the history of 1930s black-and-white African American photography and 1980s Queer cultures. Looking for Langston was made when the AIDS crisis was at its height and several of its actors died after the film was made.