Frank Ocean’s “Visual Essay” is a testament of multifaceted artistry

This blog was originally published in the University of Denver Clarion on October 30, 2017

Frank Ocean is perhaps one of the most elusive figures in the modern music industry. Known for avoiding interviews, photographs, social media and even performances, his mystery makes a release like his recent visual essay on i-D particularly intriguing. This artistic endeavor, including a 32-page photo portfolio, two covers and a short essay, is part of the “Sounding Off” issue of i-D released this month. Keeping up with the modern times, the project can be viewed online for free.

In 2016, along with the release of “Blonde,” his revered return to music after “Channel Orange,” Ocean published an exclusive 350-page magazine titled “Boys Don’t Cry” with contributions from German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans and Kanye West. The i-D visual essay serves as a small taste of “Boys Don’t Cry” without the outrageous Ebay prices upwards of $500.

Ocean’s success in his photographs is evidence of his unique artistic abilities. He is able to use various mediums to discuss the topics of music, race, sexuality and pop culture. While many famous pop stars rely on Twitter or interviews to express their opinions, Ocean lets his art speak for itself. The i-D visual essay depicts the stages of his musical process and includes various portraits, both of himself and of the people who make his music possible.

The portfolio is inspired by Ocean’s 2017 festival season experience where he gave large audiences surprisingly intimate performances. The surreal images and crowded scenes capture the sun-soaked, magical spirit of summer days. Along with the magic of festivals, Ocean also focuses on the power of saying “yes” in both his photos and his essay. He states, “You can answer a lot of questions with ‘Yes.’ But you can answer many more with ‘No.’ No is run of the mill. Yes is a gem.”

In many of Ocean’s songs, his lyrics express a dark side that is validated by his introverted personality. The visual essay’s lighthearted photos and positive outlook contrast this characterization, giving an intimate look into a complex individual. Perhaps his new era of “yes” will expose even more of Ocean’s many idiosyncrasies that he previously veiled in mystery.

Although Ocean’s next move is almost always kept secret, he gives an optimistic hint for the year to come, stating, “If you liked 2017 then you’ll love 2018.” In his typical fashion, though, his next project will likely be released without warning. Until then, all we can do is wait in anticipation to see what artistic endeavor he will undertake.

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