27-year-old photographer Brittani "Brittsense" Sensabaugh's first foray into the field was shooting fashion. The Oakland native moved to New York to pursue her dream and she did just that.
Sensabaugh shot fashion week shows at Lincoln Center and Bryant Park while also shooting for a number of blogs, but after three years in the fashion industry, her passion for capturing fashion on film started to wane. Sensabaugh shares with Konbini:
"I realized that what I was really connected to was the person in the story and not the garment necessarily. When I got to New York, I realized it was more about consumerism of fashion and the price tag versus the expression of the designer. I stopped shooting fashion because I started to feel it lacked substance."
A pursuit for deeper material to connect to led her back to where her love of images first developed as a teen in her hometown of East Oakland when her brother, two years prior to his passing in his sleep, gifted Sensabaugh with her first Kodak camera.
But it was a snide comment from a stranger on the subway in New York in 2013 that inspired Sensabaugh’s to document her Oakland community and launch the #222ForgottenCities series.
"I was on the subway and I was wearing my Oakland hoodie. This Caucasian woman sitting across from me pointed at my hoodie and said, 'I don’t know if you’ve ever been there but don’t ever go there. There is nothing but drug dealers and thugs. I asked her if she has ever been there. She said "no." How does she know these things exists? You are basing your perception of this place off of what? She told me the media.'"
Four months later, Sensabaugh was back in Oakland and she couldn’t stop thinking about her upsetting subway encounter, so she grabbed her camera walked outside her house and began taking pictures of the men, women and children living in East Oakland.
Her goal was and has always been to alter the perception of melaninated communities by exposing the humanity, diversity, struggles and resilient spirit that thrives in these forgotten communities across the country. A narrative seldom addressed in the media when it comes to covering melaninated communities.
"I wanted to capture the life of the people in Oakland because I realized that melaninated people are not telling their own stories. People who don’t live in our community are telling our stories."
Sensabaugh says she wanted to document the love and beauty she sees every day just by walking around the streets in her community. She was also interested in exploring topics such as drugs and crime, and why these things are happening in Oakland.
The #222ForgottenCities series, about which the photographer kindly says "it's not a project, it's my life," has expanded from Oakland to include eight other cities such as Houston, Philly, Baltimore, New York and Chicago.
"I document the cultures and areas people don’t want to go to or are too scared to enter.
People are surprised I capture my shots in those areas. People ask me how do I go to these areas when I don’t know these people. I build with them and I ask questions. We as a people are taught to fear each other. We are a reflection of each other.
It's a movement to break the separation and disconnect to show love is more powerful than fear. We are a people of love."
Within the #222ForgottenCities project, Sensabaugh has broken down certain aspects of African-American everyday life with The Power of Melanin. First up, she highlights the aesthetic of black hair styles with portraitures of beautifully intricate braiding.
"The Power of Melanin was a way to show that in any forgotten city, the power of melanin is what uplifts us. The harshness that melanin people go through around the world and we are still able to smile, and see the brighter side of things."
This year, Sensabaugh is venturing outside of the country with her camera to expand the #222ForgottenCities and Power of Melanin globally. The photographer will be shooting her series in Italy and all through Africa. She recently returned from shooting in Kingston, Jamaica.
"I document the cultures and areas people don’t want to go to or are too scared to enter."
While the series has now taken an international spin, Oakland, where this captivating and ambitious project came to fruition, will always hold a special place in Sensabough's heart and body of work.
"Oakland taught me about struggle and culture. It was the first place that showed me that even in the most fucked up conditions my people are beautiful."
Check out this video to learn more about Sensabaugh's community-driven project: