Updated: Jul 20, 2021
Photography: MELISSA HIENKE
Creative Direction: MAURICIO ROCHA
Models: IMANI SHELTON and G'MARIO CHARLESTON
Stylist: IMANI SHELTON
Hair: IMANI SHELTON
Make-up: MELISSA HIENKE
Writing: MAURICIO ROCHA
All clothing worn through the shoot is provided by ClothesMinded or models'own.
The hot air in Beford-Stuyvesant was filled with uncertainty, due to a deadly virus, and social injustice. Along with the rest of the world, we were forced to search inward—inside ourselves and inside our homes -- to fill the voids left behind in the wake of COVID19 and The George Floyd Protests. All the plans, ideas, and goals we had for 2020 seemed to disappear one by one as the months continued to pass, which is enough to make the strongest person sink into a foggy depression.
But instead of allowing our fear, circumstantial limitations, and uneasiness swallow our spirits, some of us relied on one vital skill: adaptability.
The idea for this editorial was born from attempting to create an elaborate visual representation of the word: insanity, (which grew from a discussion between Imani and Mauricio) and then, suddenly, we were forced to scale down the project due to COVID19, and as a result of those limitations, the work ethic, final images, and creativity turned out to be literally and quite utterly insane, in the best possible way. The four people on set that day: Melissa Hieke, photographer; Imani Shelton, stylist, model and owner of her own vintage shop, ClothesMinded ; and G'Mario Charleston, performer and model, and yours truly, all stepped up to the plate and brought their A-game to set that day. And wow, what a day it was: Independence Day 2020. The Fourth of July itself. We were on set in Brooklyn and the heat was scorching down upon us. We shot for 10 hours, from 11 a.m. to sunset, which was around 9 p.m. that day, with all four of the creative crew members contributing an endless stream of ideas, and like jazz musicians, scatting and improvising off of one another.
In show business, as actor and model G'Mario Charleston puts it, "We were built for this." The four of us connecting and brainstorming; building off each other, showcases all our ability to roll with the punches and view each obstacle as a challenge waiting to be overcome. Once the ideas were flowing and the looks came to life, the creativity took control of us. We were able to refocus and cut to the core of the essential message: love is love, love can be the strongest force known, love can uplift us to new heights and love is beautiful and deserves to be celebrated. Charleston adds, “ Turn your demons into art, your shadow into your friend, your fears into fuel, your mistakes into teachers, and your weaknesses into reasons to keep fighting.”
Although at New Skin Magazine, we view all people as equal and every race is beautiful in our eyes, it should go without saying, but we will spell it out loud for the people that need to hear it; BLACK LOVE IS BEAUTIFUL and not shown enough in the media, quite frankly. Just as we strive to show that ALL PEOPLE MATTER, including the black lives that matter and the LGBTQIAA+ community that we always seek to represent. This photoshoot is a celebration of all the things we love about New York, about Brooklyn, about fashion and about humanity.
"It’s time to live again. We are about to live again and take our mind off death, because death is going to do what it does. You must understand there is a divine time for everything. We are who we are, we were built for this. We do what we do because we were meant to do it. To live or not to live, to be or not to be," G'mario Charleston ponders.
Charleston continues, "We are chasing dreams. Trust the process and that God has a plan for you. Everything you need you already have inside of yourself and that is the point of it all,” says Charleston.
We asked Melissa Heike and Imani Shelton some questions as well. Here are their insightful responses:
Melissa Heike : When I joined this project, most of the inspiration was already set by Mauricio. Originally the photoshoot was planned to be set in Central Park, preferably in February with a chance of a snow powdered scenery. The main keyword for building a concept was “insanity“ at that time. Then Corona hit and we wanted to reschedule hoping for everything to be back to normal after a few weeks. Nothing changed until my departure back home in July 2020 but we still wanted to create something amazing and started to adapt our first concept. My biggest inspiration at this point was to create something awesome with what we had. In the end, I think we still adapted the original goal which was to capture
insanity in an artistic way. We all knew we wanted to create something unique and powerful. It felt like there were no limits to what we can do because we all had the same mindset of being an individual and being in a creative environment. With that back story in mind, it is still insane to me what we were able to master.
Imani Shelton: My inspiration for this photoshoot was effortless Black Love at its finest. This photoshoot was very important because Black Love is underrepresented in the media. The photos speak volumes of the beauty and strength of Black Love that can conquer all.
New Skin: What does the word renaissance mean to you?
MH: I have to start answering this question by saying that I’m not a history person. I wish I was because it’s always so interesting to take a look in the past and see what changed since then. I connect a certain aesthetic to the word Renaissance. I think about classic paintings, impressive architecture and beautiful sculptures. But apart from the aesthetic it also conveys a certain type of sadness to me, probably because of the paintings, but more like a beautiful type of sadness.
NS: What does the editorial say about Brooklyn, New York and the world?
MH: I believe that New York City is truly one of those places where you can be who you want to be. Compared to where I grew up in Germany, it felt like there
were no limits to what I could do. When I go back and look at the editorial it
always takes me back to the shooting day and I get hit by a feeling of nostalgia
which is funny to me, because we’re not talking about years that have passed
since the photoshoot but only a few months.
IS: Black love stands strong in Brooklyn and everywhere on earth.
NS: How would you describe your creative process?
MH: My creative process is usually very uncontrolled. It’s start with one strong
impulse that could be triggered by anything. Music is insanely inspiring, but
that impulse could also come from a book, a photo, a piece of clothing or an
old memory. It could be anything. The downside to my process is the sudden
loss of motivation I tend to get very often. I’m still trying to learn how to push
myself and just do the things I want to do, rather than giving up and keeping
ideas in my head instead of bringing them to life.
IS: My creative process comes from the passion in my heart. This passion forms my vision which guides me to execute the specific looks.
NS: There is a strong sense of hope and strength in the photos, that prevails all. Where do
you get your strength from?
MH: For one part definitely from my family and friends! And apart from that, I know that I don’t want to go back to a dark place of decay and despair, but really want to maintain my happiness. Therefore, I have to be strong and keep pushing.
IS: My strength comes from the power of Black love and all it emanates.
NS: What keeps you hopeful and optimistic in trying times?
MH: I can proudly say I’ve been able to overcome a long depressive phase that
gave me company over many years. Especially during winter I go back to
having bad episodes of demotivation and complete exhaustion. Living in the
past can be really frustrating and tiring but on bad days I love to go back and
remember projects like this editorial. It makes me realize that I’m capable of
creating amazing work and I know better times will come again. I can’t control
everything going on in my life, but I’m definitely able to control my skills. Not
every single thing I make will always turn out to be amazing, but every single
experience, no matter good or bad, is an experience and I can only learn and
grow from it.
IS: My strong faith in God keeps me optimistic in any troubling situation. My name, Imani, means faith, so I am all in.
NS: How do you describe your personal style and aesthetic?
MH: I’d say I used to be pretty simple and basic for years in terms of self
expression. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with simplicity. It just
doesn’t communicate the world in my head. Still I can’t really say that I have a
certain personal style or aesthetic. Some of my friends now describe my style
as goth or punk. I think punk is something I can kind of relate to in a way of just
doing what I want. I stopped caring about what other people think. You’ll find
me dressed in fishnet tights, a tight black dress and plateau heels on one day
and then dressed in a massive oversized hoodie, wide cargo pants and old
converse on the next day. I still haven’t committed to one style. I might do so at
one point in the future, but I don’t care about that now.
IS: My personal style cannot be defined by one genre but the look must be bold and daring.
NS: How would you describe your style of photography?
MH: I’m mostly into portrait photography and still discovering different aesthetics
and styles in photography and I haven’t settled for a specific one yet. Recently
I really enjoyed to shoot dark photos with small light sources communicating a
strong vibe of mystery and sexuality. I love to connect my photos to the people
I shoot with their personalities. Fashion photography is also something I’m
definitely excited to get more into it.
The future is bright and full of love. G’Mario continues to perform for film and television in Atlanta. Imani has her weekly ClothesMinded pop-up shop in Greenpoint Brooklyn, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on 18 Bedford Avenue on Saturdays and Sundays. Melissa is currently back in Germany finishing up her studies, with Mauricio continuing New Skin in NYC. All four people think back to day magic was made. It was history in the making. We create our own history. In the middle of a quarantine year and racial tensions at an all time high in the country, we were able to rise above all challenges and crate something that represented all of the beauty and creativity in the world.
Follow Imani Shelton on Instagram here. Follow her vintage fashion boutique ClothesMinded here. Follow Melissa Heinke's photography here. Follow G’Mario Charleston here and Mauricio Rocha here. Thank you dear reader and thank you universe. With Love and Art, New Skin Magazine. 2021.