Richie Shazam’s New Book of Portraits Is Art and Artifact for the Future, All At Once
Richie Shazam is a hard woman to get in touch with, but frankly, why shouldn’t she be? The model is, after all, a longtime darling of the New York fashion and art scene, so it makes sense that her schedule is jam-packed (especially these days). Shazam has posed for brands including Vivienne Westwood, Gypsy Sport and Rachel Comey and her photography has been featured everywhere from Vogue to Interview, but the term “it girl ”— conjuring, as it does, ephemerality – doesn’t do her justice.
Shazam has been here, in New York itself and in the ether of big-city queer and trans artistry, dating back to her days growing up in Jamaica, Queens as the child of Guyanese immigrants and taking the subway to Brooklyn Friends for school. Her latest project, Shazam, a book of 190 self-portraits, plus a foreword by Shazam’s longtime friend Julia Fox, feels less like an attempt to communicate precisely who Shazam is and more like an exploration of how Shazam sees the world. Are the two ideas even separable? Maybe not, but this is the kind of line that the artist relishes blurring in her work. She’s subject and object all at once, glamming herself up in a Statue of Liberty-inspired ensemble beside a pile of garbage on a New York street and daring the world to look at her. In the end, she’s too busy crafting and capturing the image to care.
After a week of texts traded back and forth, Richie Shazam and I spoke over the phone about her book release, party clothes, the process of putting Shazam together, and the meaning of leaving a record behind for future generations.
Hi Richie, I’m so happy to be on the phone with you! How are you today?
I’m good. I woke up early, and I’m kind of in that feeling of euphoria come-down; it was such a big weekend, and I was still in shock and disbelief that my book is entering the world. I’m also feeling the pressure of posting on Instagram, and I’m like, Okay, just take a beat; I’m not so hyper on social media these days. I just want to enjoy the moment, but it is a necessary evil.
Totally. How did the launch event at Dover Street Market on Friday go?
I think I might have gotten arthritis because I was signing a lot of books. (Laughs) It’s such a crazy feeling to have people investing in the art and purchasing the book. It was really cool seeing so many familiar faces and having all my friends and close supporters there; it just felt like such warm vibrations, and it was one of those things where it was hard to be in the moment because there was so much stimulation. I was born and raised in New York, so there are so many people that I know here, and it’s so cool to have a moment where all those people can come together and it’s not just something you’re seeing on the internet, it’s people physically showing up.
You’re always wearing something amazing, so I have to ask what you wore to the party.
It was this incredible, lush, jelly-like dress in this beautiful red tone that kind of evoked the “pits of hell” fantasy.
How did the idea for the book come to you, and what was the process of making it a reality?
I think it was a current exploration. Because of where I am at the moment, I had really developed my artistry during the pandemic, in terms of working within confinement and constructing self-portraits that were made with nothing and being really scrappy. There was this idea of collaging on the body and assemblage and taking the old and reinterpreting and making it new; 80 to 90% of the portraits were shot in my studio, and it was this idea of utilizing every inch of that space. Every corner was inhabited by a hair person or makeup person or a lighting person, and my best friend Briana was styling with her team, and it was all of us coming together while also giving everybody their own autonomy and letting all ideas be welcomed. I think that’s sort of my Spidey-sense skill of curating and putting things together. I love just giving people freedom to wear different hats. I just love bringing people together, and I think this book process had such a great old-school New York way of assisting and happening and creating, which is exactly what I’ve been yearning for.
For the past few years, it’s been all about making things for the internet, making things for social media, and they don’t really have a long life cycle. I got a bit over it because I don’t see myself as a content creator. I see myself as an artist, and I think that it’s a bit difficult to make things that just sort of disappear after one day of being on the feed. I wanted to create something constructed this moment in time; I grew up really entranced by books, and I wanted to put my stamp on that and say, you know, here’s a book that I worked on with my big group of collaborators and artists and we came together and made this in our tiny small studio space on the Bowery.
I love the idea of this project being almost a physical space, in book form.
Yeah, it’s that idea that every day we’re showing up to the space and we’re creating fantasy. We’re transporting ourselves into different worlds. There’s no mood board. There’s no reference. There’s no Zoom calls. It’s like, we’re just showing up and doing something and I think that is something that really came to life as a result of making the book; I just really wanted to reimagine myself in a multitude of ways and really take back that lens and take back the power.
Is there anyone you’re really hoping this book makes it to?
To be honest, I really want this book to reach the masses. I want people of all different walks of life and different expressions to experience it. I think that the book has been a very good testament to where I am and my evolving image and perception of beauty. This past year, I was in the midst of a very beautiful and chaotic journey with my body and my health, and I’m really showcasing the two appendages to my body; I see myself as a robot, because I have these two devices, my OmniPad and my Dexcom, and as a result of having those two things on my body, I wanted to showcase that my body and my weight are fluctuating. I’m seeing myself and seeing my beauty and seeing that I don’t need to look a certain way to feel confident and be in that acceptance. I think it’s about showing people that we’re constantly evolving; I’m showcasing my back rolls, I’m showcasing my devices.I ’m in the midst of a really beautiful journey of owning my diabetes and owning that I need these things to keep myself alive. Without these things, it would be really hard for me to function, and I want to bring attention to that.
Were there other books or art works that made you feel like this project was possible?
I think it was rooted in this idea that I had never seen myself in books growing up; like, I always was in awe of other individuals, but had never seen a brown trans body that was innately an art expression. I wanted to reimagine myself in that way. I leaned into that idea of, like, Oh, this doesn’t exist in the world, and I want to create an artifact that a young person can pick up 50 years from now and just be inspired that you can be really unique and different and find your community.
This conversation has been condensed and edited.
Shazam is out now from IDEA.
Originally Appeared on them.