Stéphane Alexis’ Chains & Crowns

Rita Godlevskis
Stéphane Alexis from the Chains & Crowns series, 2020

It is clear, even at a quick glance, that Stéphane Alexis’ Chains & Crowns series is well worth a deep dive into the story behind these beautiful, precise, intentional images. Rest assured, the consideration behind this work does not disappoint. 

Stéphane Alexis is an emerging artist based in Ottawa. His work stems from personal experiences and an aim of  unveiling conversations previously overlooked by a mainstream media shadow.

His mission is clear. He states, “I believe in making personal work that resonates with the communities I belong to.” His artist statement for Chains & Crowns references “bringing negativity and difficulties to the surface.” The multi-layered meaning behind his use of the term “difficulties” refers to a desire to represent Black history, and the experience of personally navigating Black hair. His series of images celebrates the labour that goes into Black hair, and is dedicated to his mother. He also works to honour the people in his life with this shared experience.

Stéphane notes, “They say, ‘pressure makes diamonds.’ I believe when you are put in difficult circumstances you have to find creative ways to survive.” Stéphane’s focus on photographing hair supports his wish to start conversations about historic references, such as the meanings and symbols behind cornrows; contemporary issues such as appropriation; and the discrimination women of colour encounter from the beauty industry.

The formal gallery presentation of the Chains & Crowns series is as a traditional series of framed prints; but, in an Instagram iteration Stéphane created, as a social media presentation of the work includes positive affirmations ,—  or as he called them, “Afromations,”  —  accompanying the images. Each of the images was posted on Instagram along with a statement, such as “I am intrinsic. The world would not be the same without me. I am able to make positive changes in people’s lives with the help of the foundation my ancestors have laid…” or “I elevate. I can create opportunities for others and myself through my reposefulness, creativity and talents….” The photographer says, “I wanted to give people words that they could use to hold their head high and be proud of who they are, despite the circumstances. I’ve been trying to find ways to encourage the Black community. I figured social media would be an effective place to do that.”

Stéphane finds the static nature of still photography and the practice of working in a typology-format creates a unique focus for viewers. He says, “The thing that I appreciate about photography is that it forces whoever’s viewing it to just look at what the photographer is presenting. There’s no distraction. There’s nothing moving within the frame. I think that that’s a good place for meditation and reflection, if you give yourself the opportunity to do that. Typologies give the viewer the opportunity to see the nuances in each piece. I like the idea of cohesion: I like when things feel like they belong together.”

Stéphane cites Lorna Simpson, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat as being his creative influences. He is always looking beyond the frame to understand artists’ intentions. When I asked him what he thinks makes a great photograph, his response mirrored and articulated my own ideas of what captivates me when reviewing photography: “Composition is huge. The lighting is huge. But, on a deeper level, I like to understand where an image is coming from. What was the artist thinking when they shot it? Was it by accident? Was it planned? I’m interested in their intention. I like seeing the work. I like looking at an image and understanding the work and hours that went into it.”

Stéphane’s path towards a career in the creative industry began with a sensible degree in business. “I’ve always been a creative person. But I had a passion for business as well. The creative industry isn’t reliable. So, I decided to start with business and combine the two to create my career. I got my major in international business. When I had the opportunity to go to the School of Photographic Arts in Ottawa, I took it. I’ve always wanted to make art my career.”

His advice to someone just starting out in photography is simple: “Work. Don’t stop. If you really have a passion for it. Make it personal to you. Of course, you can make work about things that you’re interested in, but I personally believe that the best work comes from something ingrained in who you are and what you’ve gone through. People can feel that through your images. Be honest with your work and putting yourself out there. And work hard. Taking images is one part of the game but there’s a lot of networking and proposals and all that stuff that goes into really thriving. When the work is good, push it. Just keep working.”

What can we look forward to from Stéphane? A book, more exhibitions, and you guessed it, a lot more work. Stay tuned. ~ Rita Godlevskis 


All images are by Stéphane Alexis from the “Chains & Crowns” series, 2020.

This article originally featured in the TYPOLOGIES edition of PhotoED magazine.


Stéphane Alexis

Stéphane Alexis is an artist based in Ottawa. His work stems from his personal experiences: the demographics and sub demographics to which he belongs, namely within the Black community. The exploration of masculinity, and a multi-faceted understanding of healthcare. For each project, a large amount of research is conducted using both lived experiences and external sources to guide project direction. His photo-based work combines both conceptual research-driven design with aesthetic quality.  | @stephane_alexis

PhotoED Magazine’s Editor /Publisher Rita Godlevskis has more than twenty years of experience in photography based, creative media work, in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. She has worked across multiple platforms with a diverse range of projects in her portfolio in editorial, and creative production contexts. A passion for promoting diverse voices in Canadian photography, and great coffee keep her fueled.  | @photoedmagazine