Kelechi Asagwara isn’t afraid to step away while his cameras are rolling.
The 29-year-old self-taught photographer and videographer got into the habit while shooting the second instalment of his ongoing project …I Don’t See Colour, which features Black Winnipeggers sharing personal stories in a series of testimonial-style videos.
After hitting record, Asagwara often left the room to allow participants to speak unencumbered by his presence.
"I want this to be their moment," he says. "I don’t want to have too much direction or influence and I want them to feel like they can be honest."
Eleven friends and family members — including the filmmaker’s sibling, NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara — took part in the project. The resulting videos are set to première during Nuit Blanche on Sept. 26 from 6 to 11 p.m. at Bijou Patio, where clips will be projected on a wall and full versions will be accessible by scanning QR codes.
Asagwara, a software marketer by trade, was inspired to buy his first camera in 2016 after police in the United States shot and killed two Black men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, in two separate incidents within the same week.
"It has been something that I’ve been meaning to do for a long time," he says. "I just kind of felt a sense of urgency to just do things that I want to do now and not really worry about if I’m good enough or not."
The goal was to capture moments with friends and document what was happening in his community. Asagwara presented the first chapter of ...I Don’t See Colour at a Nuit Blanche event in 2017 with the intention of showcasing people who inspired him. The black-and-white videos received unexpected attention.
"I actually had a teacher that approached me wanting to share some of the videos in her classroom," he says, adding that the project circulated widely online.
Asagwara shot and edited the first series in less than a week and was eager to revisit the concept as his video production skills improved.
“I want this to be their moment. I don’t want to have too much direction or influence and I want them to feel like they can be honest.” – Kelechi Asagwara
"It more so had to do with just me wanting to do it in a better way and take my time with it," he says. "But obviously, with everything that’s been happening in 2020, it’s also a fitting time for something like this to be part of the conversation."
Filming took place this summer in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and against the backdrop of ongoing local and global protests against police brutality. Some participants responded to the current events, while others shared stories from their childhood or personal struggles.
"When you watch all the videos together, you kind of get a spectrum of what’s on people’s minds," Asagwara says. "Everyone went in very different directions with their approach, (but) there’s still some universal truths to human experiences that I think are important to take time to listen to and just kind of reflect on."
The project’s title, ...I Don’t See Colour, refers to the phrase often heard by those in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) communities and challenges the idea that Canadians live in a "colourless" society free from racism.
"To say those things doesn’t really take away the stories and the experiences that we have in our relationship with race in society… it’s something that’s important to our identities," he says. "I understand where it comes from — you don’t want to judge others based off race, which is a noble thing to claim — but at the same time, it doesn’t really add to addressing the real issues of systemic racism if you’re just saying that you’re not a part of it."
Asagwara’s project is one of nine selected for Nuit Blanche Winnipeg’s annual Illuminate the Night program, which will see jury-selected installations scattered through downtown, the Exchange District and the West End.
A full list of Nuit Blanche events and coronavirus safety protocols can be found at nuitblanchewinnipeg.ca, but these are the Coles Notes: there will be no public toilets this year, event hosts are responsible for managing crowds and volunteers will be asking attendees to (voluntarily) provide contact details for public health tracking purposes. The latter information will be kept for 21 days.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.