In John Edmonds’ work, photography’s relationship to truth is repeatedly questioned. Describing his images as ‘quasi-documents’, the artist works almost obsessively with a number of models. These figures and friends – who become close to muses, hold, caress, and measure themselves against African sculptures in a search for subjectivity that is humanising, vulnerable and tender. 

The human body’s relationship with sculpture in Edmonds’ images can at times be erotic, other times playful. His subjects’ ambivalent expressions seem to consider the value of these objects and, in doing so, raise questions over the roles that individuals, institutions and photography play in assigning meaning and authenticity.

While Edmonds has worked extensively in large-format colour photography, this exhibition gathers work made in monochrome. Back with Scales and Shadows acts as a genesis point for the artist’s examination of Black and white photography specifically as its own medium, where the artist works with Black as both form and content. In Edmonds’ hands, African sculpture signifies both traditional cultural heritage and diasporic memory, and thus becomes a way to explore displacement and dispossession.

The exhibition’s title, One, affirms Edmonds’ photography practice as an evolving continuum. Collected here, the multiplicity of his subjects and ways of working – across formats, scales, colour and medium – nurtures a throughline tensioned between still life and portraiture. In merging the eternal beauty of African art with the vitality of the human body, One acknowledges the infinite interdependency between a single figure and a community. Edmonds’ sustained commitment to transatlantic dialogues reveals the potential of an image to stretch life cycles across space and time, and to point towards visions of possibility.

For Edmonds, the photograph captures an act of transmission, where the image becomes a threshold between narrative and reality. He is endlessly interested in what he terms ‘photography’s ability to assign life’, and in its ability therefore to move beyond representation towards animating visions of the gaze. Edmonds’ iconic Du-Rags series, one of which is on view here, concentrates on headpieces as symbols of self-constitution, and frames them and their wearers as otherworldly. Echoed by the silk of their surfaces, these works counter often-repeated stereotypes of Black masculinity, and signal towards new images of beauty and power.

John Edmonds’ first solo exhibition in London, One, is on view at Maximillian William. Titled One, the exhibition unites Edmonds’ work in Black and white from several bodies of work made between 2016–2022.