All images © Shawn Theodore, courtesy of Paradigm Gallery, shared with permission

“To create in blue, one must first understand its powerful nature,” says Shawn Theodore in reference to Night Stars, an extensive new series of photographs that radiate the primary hue.

Shot using a variety of filters and lights, Theodore’s ethereal works are multivalent in aesthetic and affect. They evoke a range of references, spanning the color symbolizing an antidote to evil to the practices surrounding the 19th Century cyanotype, a medium with an archive that notably includes few Black subjects. Slavery in the United States also foregrounded the production of indigo, a cash crop that rice and cotton eventually supplanted. “There has to be a world that exists inside of the color. A spiritual process is happening that is begging us to look inside of it, and somewhere within it are answers,” the photographer says.


In an interview about the elegantly subversive series, Theodore shares that the original idea for the series emerged in 2016 and was inspired, in part, by the aesthetics of nature photography. Whether a portrait or more expansive shot, many of the works feature the sky, stars, and water elements that have deep and storied roots in African and African American traditions.

Along with his larger body of work, Night Stars is based on what Theodore terms “Afromythology,” a non-linear blend of histories and speculative futures derived from both real and imagined scenarios. This theme, in addition to the perpetual infusion of blue light, binds the individual works that otherwise encompass a breadth of Black experiences decontextualized from time and space. Theodore says about the intentionally broad series:

Featured in this collection are portraits made of bejeweled deities in the indigo-hued ether, the fervor of fête revelers, the quiet stillness amongst the dense foliage and haints of Low Country of South Carolina, possession in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica, and sunrise reverence at the edge of the Caribbean Sea. At the center is the viewer, who stands at the bardos of these seemingly disjointed experiences, their presence unifying the real and unreal.

Night Stars is on view at Philadelphia’s Paradigm Gallery both in-person and virtually through March 20. Find a larger collection of the Germany-born photographer’s works on his site and Artsy.