Click Read More/Comment for additional photos. After the whole “slave” earring fiasco Italia Vogue online gets it right! Featuring an interview of 24 yr old Creative Director, Brandon Littlejohn by writer and content editor for Ebony Magazine, Geneva S Thomas. Thomas talks with Littlejohn, a recent college graduate about his first installment, “Island in the Sun” (shot by Photographer, Rod Gailes OBC) of a 4 part photo series ‘Black Americana’.  When questioned, why did Littlejohn choose the beach as his backdrop setting for his first installment he explained: “Beaches are visually associated with affluence in urban areas, because of Black people’s limited access. I wanted to capture Black young women and men in these spaces, because after all, this was a reality for Black people during this time.”

Thomas then delves into the source of his inspiration in what exactly informed this 4 part series, ‘Black Americana’ Brandon states:

“There were actually a few factors that informed this series. Obviously, I have an affinity for the Golden Age era. Everyone had a certain level of glamour and prestige in the way they walked, talked, and dressed. My main catalyst for starting this project was a lack of affirming imagery of African Americans during this era. Sure images exist, but usually of the story we’ve seen before: Blacks in the service industry, low paying jobs, and civil rights struggle. While that is indeed an important part of American history, I realized stories of more successful African American’s were virtually null and void. I grew up flipping through my great-grandmother’s photo albums seeing Black people having a great time, vacationing, and attending college. I wanted to tell that story. Some of my influences and references show up directly in the photos. I did a lot of photo research through vintage Ebony, JET, and Life magazines. I looked at a lot of advertisements from the Mad Men era. Of course, photos icons like Dorothy Dandridge, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Haywood, Grace Kelly, and Eartha Kitt played a huge role as well.”

“Black Americana” shows us an era of beauty, style, glamour and grace that was very much reality in a time where blacks in mass media were marketed as just the opposite. Below is Thomas’s full interview with Littlejohn and some of his work as Creative Director from the first installment “Island in the Sun”. All photos by Photographer, Rod Gailes OBC

Black Americana

GT: This is your first major photo series, how did it feel the see the final images on your Tumblr? And in this short time, what has the response been?

BL: Actually seeing the images on my Tumblr was quite exciting. I had been living with this first part of the series since the summer, and just now released them. I wanted to make sure I gave the best representation of what’s in store for the series. Every time I got a like, reblog, or a tweet from someone about the project, it was like Christmas morning excitement!

GT: What exactly informed this series, and the first installment Island in the Sun?  What were your influences?

BL: There were actually a few factors that informed this series. Obviously, I have an affinity for the Golden Age era. Everyone had a certain level of glamour and prestige in the way they walked, talked, and dressed. My main catalyst for starting this project was a lack of affirming imagery of African Americans during this era. Sure images exist, but usually of the story we’ve seen before: Blacks in the service industry, low paying jobs, and civil rights struggle. While that is indeed an important part of American history, I realized stories of more successful African American’s were virtually null and void. I grew up flipping through my great-grandmother’s photo albums seeing Black people having a great time, vacationing, and attending college. I wanted to tell that story. Some of my influences and references show up directly in the photos. I did a lot of photo research through vintage Ebony, JET, and Life magazines. I looked at a lot of advertisements from the Mad Men era. Of course, photos icons like Dorothy Dandridge, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Haywood, Grace Kelly, and Eartha Kitt played a huge role as well.

GT: Let’s talk a little about the process. Process is so critical for this kind of work. What was the process like for you, and how did you come to collaborate with Rod Gailes OBC?

BL: The process for me was a very personal one. I completely lent myself over to the work. During development, I carved a 50’s inspired life out for myself. I listened to nothing but music from the 50’s. I dressed in 50’s style every day, and watched movies from that era. I talked to my grandparents about their youth, and spent a lot of time in vintage stores and prop shops. I even tried smoking tobacco out of a pipe! I really just wanted to understand what life was like at that time, and how people walked, talked, and connected with each other. Next came the real work –building the team, casting the models, developing the looks, location scouting, coming up with the money out of thin air, and giving everyone what they needed to fully execute this vision. I’ve been collaborating with Rod Gailes OBC for nearly five years now. I first came to know him as a student at the University of Michigan. He’s a brilliant writer, director, and photographer, and he’s also a member of my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, so our working together was natural. During my senior year, I came to him with an idea to produce an interactive media event, and visual lifestyle campaign to encourage students to get tested for HIV and other STDs. The Promiscuity Project/P2 Initiative ended up being a huge success, and increased HIV testing rates on campus significantly. We’re always working together and currently have several other projects in the works.

GT: You tweeted that you decided to create your own opportunity, instead of waiting for opportunities in the industry to come to you. How has producing this series empowered you, and the other creatives who worked on this series – who I understand are all 20-somethings living and working in New York City? And please share what lessons you took away from this experience?

BL: After interning in entertainment, I developed a 360 view of the industry. Those experiences shaped me through my college years. It wasn’t until after I left my previous job working with Damon Dash, and his company DD172 Media Collective that I realized no one is going to anoint you the chosen one no matter how hard you work.  So I just decided to go for it. I wanted to be a Creative Director, so I woke up one day, and decided I was going to creatively direct something. It empowered me to truly believe if you are about doing the work, the rest will fall into place. People respond to those who are willing to do it for themselves. Everyone who worked on this project was looking for a big opportunity. Whether they want to be a model, stylist, makeup artist, designer, or casting director. A lot of times, right out of college, we get caught up in getting the right job, and finding the right mentor, we lose sight that some of our best mentors are standing to our left and right. Once I let myself dream big, I started seeing those dreams come to life.

GT: Can you share with us what’s in store for the next installment? What are your hopes for this series?

BL: Well, it’s time to turn my attention to producing an even better installment for the next volume of Black Americana. I’m going to be focused on portraying Black Patriotism in a way that’s never been seen or discussed before. I hope to work with my wonderful team again, and that we get even better over the course of this project. I hope that people continue to be moved and affected by the work. I hope that Black Americana can inspire those younger and older that it’s never too soon or too late to make your dreams a reality.

Visit http://black-americana.tumblr.com/ to view the full installment of “Island in the Sun” and stay tuned later this week for Urban Bush Babe Style interview with Model Ngozi Badu one of the models featured in Littlejohn’s first installment: