Remember January 2020, when massive orange boxes full of Beyoncé’s relaunched Adidas x Ivy Park collection arrived in homes across Hollywood, inspiring impromptu celebrity photoshoots, immense envy, and a few imitators? Five months later, that major fashion moment feels worlds away as we shelter in place, our homes becoming the only massive—or minuscule—boxes consuming us, as of late.
A series of poignant, yet impossibly chic portraits by 20-year-old photographer Eric Hart, Jr. bring back the magic of that genius marketing moment, in a far subtler fashion. With his grandparents Vickie and Junior as his muses, Hart photographed the duo in his hometown of Macon, Ga., reimagining Beyoncé’s of-the-moment streetwear for a more mature—but no less stylish—generation. Then, as is customary of his generation, Hart posted the photos to social media, where we and thousands of others were instantly enchanted.
“I’m going to be completely honest. I just really wanted to shoot some portraits as it’s been a minute with the COVID situation,” Hart told The Root, sharing that aside from the now-viral images, the shoot produced “lots of laughter” from his impromptu models.
“It really wasn’t planned out that much, I just knew I’d never shot my granddad and thought it would be cute to get them together. I knew I wanted them to match and I just happened to have the Ivy Park gear, so I thought it would be incredibly dope of them to wear it. We shot it in our living room; it took a little bit of time for them to loosen up, but they got there.”
Like many college students, orders to quarantine forced Hart and his fellow classmates in NYU’s Tisch Department of Photography & Imaging Class of 2022 to leave campus mid-spring semester. For Hart, returning home to Macon has proven ripe for new inspiration, as he told Dazed Digital in late April.
From the inside looking out, I see how much I didn’t cherish the life around me prior to this crisis. Not even just friends and family, but the life that grows out of this beautiful place we call Earth. The calm it brings, the peace it exudes, the contagious beauty that can cause one to sit and be mesmerized for hours. This is what I miss most. Taking the time to be in tune with the outside world is something I will no longer take for granted.
“The whole COVID situation has made me go back to a place I was in when I was first starting out with photography,” Hart further shared with The Root. “It wasn’t about trying to create the most artistic thing or planning out this very elaborate concept—which I do love to do—but simply shooting freely. I think as a creative, somewhere I forgot to find the beauty in what simply is. You don’t always have to try and create beauty, it’s easy to find if you just look around you. So I am becoming more conscious that there are never any setbacks to creativity, you just have to do it.”
In fact, Macon is where Hart discovered his talent for photography; what has now become his life’s work began with a spontaneous experiment.
“I honestly first tried out photography when I was sitting at home one day bored. Where I live in Macon there are tons of greenery surrounding, so I decided to grab my iPod and see what I could do,” Hart tells The Root. “I eventually started taking self-portraits in my room, which led to me asking my friends if they would model for me...Nearly every weekend I would be asking my classmates to shoot.
“Somewhere along the way photography really became my passion. I started to dive deeper into the photographic world and eventually got to a point in which I knew visual storytelling was what I was supposed to be doing.”
Hart, who shoots with a Canon 5D, describes his style as “somewhat of an editorial and conceptual mix,” explaining, “I’m big on portraits and love the process of editing.” Though it’s hard to imagine studying photography translates easily to distance learning, Hart credits his NYU professors with adapting the curriculum to keep everyone on track during the quarantine.
“I have truly felt every one of my professors go the extra mile to accommodate student’s needs,” he says. “I think while creative learning isn’t what it was, we all make the best of it and there is something very intimate about my photo classes now that they are done remotely.”
Remarkably, before starting his first year at NYU—on full scholarship—Hart launched a creative visual multimedia brand (including merch) called Love Hart. It’d be an ambitious undertaking for any artist, but one he has continued in tandem with his studies, though he admits the idea was initially born in a moment of pre-college insecurity.
“Once I knew that I would be attending NYU, for some reason I had somewhat of a fear that I didn’t have a signature style that would help me stand out. I don’t know why this was such a big deal for me but I knew I loved to play with a wide variety of styles, aesthetics, and mediums at the time,” he explains. “I thought to myself: While other photographers brand themselves with their work showcasing signature looks and/or aesthetics, why don’t I just actually brand my creative content under one roof but make it all correlate in thought and approach?
“As Love Hart is actually my name, I decided to use that as my premise of creating,” Hart continues. “I want everything that I do to stem from a place of being conscious about love. Whether that be love of self, love of another being, or love of one’s community, I want all of my work to explore this journey we know as love.”
Hart’s love for his work has clearly bolstered his confidence, as he now has a clear vision for his personal and professional brand. “My goal with Love Hart is to honestly build a lucrative brand that shifts the culture of what a brand could be,” he says. “I don’t know if I have ever heard of a photographic-driven brand. The curiosity of wanting to see all that a photographic brand could be is what motivates me. I often question: Could there ever be an equivalent of a RocNation in the photo world? A Disney? A 40 Acres and a Mule? A Tyler Perry Studio? The list goes on. What does that look like? What does that feel like? As of right now, I don’t know the answer to that question but eventually, Love Hart will answer.”
Refreshingly, Hart’s ambition is matched by humility—and reverential perspective that belies his 20 years.
“I am inspired by legacies. I have always been drawn to powerful people of color who use their voice to positively impact the society around them,” he says. “I’m talking Dr. Deborah Willis. I’m talking Spike Lee. Gordon Parks, Oprah Winfrey, James Baldwin, Angela Davis…the list goes on. I am also very inspired by young creatives who are paving the way for me, as well. I thank the Tyler Mitchells, Barry Jenkins, Justin Bettmans, Dana Scruggs, the Campbell Addys of the world for creating content that displays modern stories of color and continuously growing with their craft.”
And of course, the Carters—Jay-Z and Beyoncé, that is. As Hart, whose Twitter bio warns “I take pics and talk about Beyoncé constantly” explained in a post, he’s “been in the Hive since my mom would play ‘Cater 2 U’ while we cleaned the house.”
“How can one not love Beyoncé?” he asks. “For me, it’s the work ethic and passion that she has for her craft that I am so inspired by. This love that she has for what she does is just so evident in her work. For some reason that ambition of hers, that love, it just resonates with me.”
One can’t help but hope that Hart’s tribute has caught the eye of Queen Bey (since she’s been known to help make a young photographer’s name) but his biggest muses are much closer to home.
“Most of all, I am inspired by my aunt and my grandmother, who have always taught me to be a go-getter, to use my voice for good,” he says. “Without their guidance and love, I simply would not be the man I am. So all that I do is driven by what they taught me to be.”
While he’s clearly finding solace in creative output, Hart is equally feeling empathy for his peers, especially artists financially dependent on their craft who are struggling while we continue to quarantine.
“Art and creativity are always necessary. If someone is a true creative they can’t fight the urge to create...you always get over that hump somehow,” he says, later adding, “My heart goes out to all creatives as well as workers in every field who are falling victim to not being able to work.”
“I’m coping with just lots of planning, writing, my grandmother’s cooking, [and] the remix of ‘Savage’ with Beyoncé,” Hart responds when asked how he’s handling this period of uncertainty. “Just simple things that bring me joy.”