ABOVE: Untitled, photo by Amber Ford, 2018

Amber Ford is a 2016 graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Art by way of Brush High School, where she first began to investigate photography. Ford explores painting, printmaking and video, but is mostly known for her portraiture. She’s been shown many times, but will be part of the (DIS)MANTLE exhibit at Kent State University that opens November 7. We talked about the intimacy of photography, not-so-casual conversation, Black Truth, Cleveland’s art scene and chocolate death.

JIMI IZRAEL: Welcome—can I get you some chocolate?

AMBER FORD: [politely] I think I’m okay.

JI: Take some chocolate [like your grandma, puts it in her hand]. It’ll be fine.

AF: [smiles politely] Okay.

JI: Explain to somebody who has a camera phone and thinks of themselves as a photographer, the difference between fine art photography and the pictures they’re taking.

AF: I think as a photographer, I have more intention—photographers have intentions.

Portrait of Amber Ford, by McKinley Wiley / The Dark Room Co.

JI: Tell me about the riskiest photo you’ve ever taken.

AF: I would say it wasn’t a photograph. I think that it was a video and audio piece that I made when I was a student. One was a video piece; one was an audio piece. The audio piece was a recording—a conversation with my mother talking about her relationship with her mother and how that then affected my relationship with my grandmother, or lack thereof, and how I think over the years that has affected me in a negative way. I don’t know—that family dynamic. And I think another piece was a video piece about the lack of relationship between my mother and my father even though they live in the same house.

JI: Do you feel a responsibility as a black woman to a particular “Black Truth” in your work?

AF: I will agree with you as a black artist, a creative, that I have felt that same way. Yes, a lot of my work has been about black people or people of color in a sense, but I have felt that I am expected to make the work that I make. Even though, yes, I want to make this work right now, I don’t want this to be all that people see or expect from me. And the work that I may make that is outside of this realm [may] not be successful because people only want to see black art. Black art from a black artist. Yes.

JI: Have you ever taken a photo of an intimate?

AF: Yes, but not as an intimate. As a stand-in for the larger conversation.

JI: Do you find that your intimates are somehow in your work, as metaphor or as side conversation?

AF: No, I don’t.

JI: Really?

AF: Yeah.

JI: That’s buggy. You haven’t been in love yet.

AF: That’s questionable. [She doesn’t like this question.]

JI: It is a question, yes [IDGAF].

AF: Yeah, it’s like there’s definitely certain conversations that although as a creative I can have, it does not mean that I want to have. So, I’m not going to create work that’s going to generate a conversation that I don’t want to talk about. So, I think maybe that is probably why I have not explored intimate relationships in my work. The closest thing is probably the relationship between my parents, which I do feel has affected my intimate relationships with people in my adult life. But I made that work when I was a student. I have not explored that work necessarily now outside of school. I’ve had different conversations. But yeah, I don’t want to make work that I will feel too uncomfortable talking about. That could be a good thing. That could be a bad thing, but I think as a creative, we are expected to make super personal work all the time. There are just some things that I don’t want to. Maybe I want to explore it, but even if I do explore it, it doesn’t mean I’m going to show it, or that I have to. I may make work that may not see the light of day and maybe it’s just a way to work through things. But I also haven’t had many intimate relationships that have lasted long enough for me to care to talk about. You know? Yeah.

JI: What about your relationship with Cleveland? Are you exploring that in your work and how so?

AF: I mean, I don’t feel particularly that I love Cleveland, but I don’t necessarily know if Cleveland is affecting my work. For me, I feel like it’s the support system that Cleveland has given me and it’s the people that I have met on this journey—in my artist journey—and how much people have supported me. There are definitely things that are problematic, I think, about Cleveland.

JI: Like what?

AF: So, I think that sometimes things can be problematic with just like the… [Looks down and away.] Oh Jesus.

JI: Speak truth to power. Don’t come to my house being a punk.

AF: [laughs] Yeah. Okay, so over the past couple years of showing and things like that, I feel like I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to be able to show my work, but I don’t necessarily sell a lot of my work. So then, I feel like it creates this problem where it’s like there’s some galleries, you know, maybe you’re inviting artists to come, but there isn’t necessarily a financial support system for us. Like you want me to put work on your wall, but it’s like if there’s not enough people buying the work or you’re not trying to get those people out there that you know will buy the work—and the galleries that see this stuff—how do you expect me to constantly produce work in order to show when it’s like—yeah—it’s like they’re definitely trying to get work from either a more emerging younger people like myself or black artists and things like that. But then it’s also like, are you showing my work because you truly love it, believe in it, and you want to have that conversation, or because you know showing more black people is a trend right now and you want to make sure that you are a part of that? [Takes out a pen to test her blood sugar.]

JI: Wait—are you a diabetic?

AF: I am. Yeah.

JI: —And I gave you chocolate.

AF: It’s okay—you didn’t know.

JI: But this conversation has all been relatively painless, yeah?

AF: I mean you did try to kill me, but it’s okay though.

JI: Death by chocolate. What a way to go.

*conversate is not a word.