London rarely beats the bad vibes dating scene allegations. It’s a topic that sparks online discourse in a tiringly cyclical manner, as social media users make the pursuit of love sound ferociously unappealing. Documentary photographer Abdi Alasow, who shoots via the stage name FilmAbdi, is “very aware” of the conversation. But, as his modus operandi as a creative is to track “black joy”, his most recent series Love in London works to “counter that dominant narrative”.
“Maybe one day I’ll focus on struggle love. If you’re in any situationships or talking stages longer than one year definitely hit me up. But my goal is to give visibility to the love in the black community to inspire others to see and celebrate the beauty in their own lives and communities.”
His penchant for film photography means each grainy image in is imbued with a sense of warmth and nostalgia as he builds an archive of modern British Black life. While looking for love, Abdi found it in abundance. He attended Black British club night Recess’ debut in Paris and captured a long-distance couple on their first night together. “Months later, [the woman] came to my exhibition and told me the story behind the picture,” he says. It’s just one example of both the big and small moments Abdi has captured forever, an interaction between two people that could grow into something special and memorable.
Here, gal-dem talks to Abdi about immortalising these moments, finding the love in London’s black spaces, and developing his own visual language.
gal-dem: So why was love on your mind when you put Love in London together?
FilmAbdi: I think that photography is a powerful tool for storytelling and for shaping the way that people perceive and understand the world. When I choose to focus on capturing images of black love, I am not only preserving and commemorating the beauty of these intimate moments, but I am also challenging the societal narrative that has long sought to devalue black love and black relationships. Through my lens, I try to capture the depth, complexity and humanity of black love, and to offer a counterpoint to the often-stereotyped and limited portrayal of black love in mainstream media. It’s positive propaganda.
What did you notice by being at all of these events and looking to find love?
By being present at these events, I have noticed that the love I capture is often fleeting moments that are truly ephemeral like most images are literally moments that come and go in the space of a second or two. Therefore it’s my job to immortalize it. At events, I have seen relationships form in a short amount of time, both romantic and platonic. The fly-on-the-wall stuff is interesting because keeping an eye out for love in these venues and spaces makes me more aware of how it is present all around us. While it may not be as grandiose as the love often portrayed in American media, the love expressed is still genuine and meaningful.
It seems your photos are focusing on community – where are your favourite Black hotspots to go to connect with the culture/ friends / hot people?
For me, the hotspots are the No Signal Social Club – it’s a space to hear good music and chill with friends and make no connections. I’ve truly met some incredible people there.
Beyond The Turtle Shell is a space for people who want to vibe, and listen to R&B but at their own pace. Hence the ‘coming out of your shell’ concept. Nava London put on great nights if you want to dance. Like really dance! Then it’s always a pleasure to reach there and link up with people on the same wavelength.
“We need to immortalise and commemorate our happiness in a world that doesn’t let us do it often”
What sort of sounds, smells, and other senses were there behind these images: are we looking at sweaty club images to garage, or are people grinding to r&b?
Most pictures have the music blaring, it’s usually a slow jam if there is a couple embracing in the picture. The air in these images is more often than not always thick and there is always the lingering faint aroma of marijuana. If the subject looks to be singing in the picture, they’re belting the lyrics out with their friends and if it’s a picture of the mandem enjoying this year, it’s always K-Trap – Warm playing.
Talk to me about your photography so far: how would you describe your style?
My style is one that immortalises these fleeting moments. My photography exists to evoke feelings in the viewer and provoke thought. I never use flash in my pictures and instead rely on natural event lighting. I am heavily influenced by wabi-sabi, a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It is focused on appreciating beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. In short, my photography captures real people and real feelings.
What are the key ingredients of an Abdi image or photo series?
Colour, composition, and joy. My photos often have the subject in the middle and prominent in the picture. I’m heavy on this because I’m big on romantiscing your life and being the main character in everything you do. Therefore they always have to be in the middle or very prominent in the picture.
The colour because you can evoke so many feelings in the viewer by shooting in an event that uses deep red lighting or blue.
Joy is another main facet of my pictures as we need to immortalise and commemorate our happiness in a world that doesn’t let us do it often. It’s actually revolutionary in a way. I’m still figuring out how though.
Who are your photography inspirations?
My main photography inspiration is my fellow creatives, I am lucky to know so many wonderful photographers: Ali Aden, Safeen, Kemi Anna, Tolu, Sharmarke. They are all doing incredible things and deserve to be acknowledged for everything they do too.
Photos from Love in London will be showcased and then followed by an after-party on 18 February, the weekend after Valentine’s Day. Get free tickets here.