Family Swank: Justin Amoafo

At only 16, New York City photographer Justin Amoafo is proof that age is just a number.

Name: Justin Amoafo
Age: 16
Sign: Aquarius
Swank: Photographer


Mass Appeal: At only 16, your name is well-known throughout the New York City photography scene. You’re proof that age is just a number.

Justin Amoafo: Thank you for the kind words, I am truly humbled. My only hope is that I am growing on a daily basis, in my eyes as well as in the eyes of my peers, and those who support me.

MA: You’ve written that defining yourself has been an ongoing struggle. Why is that?

JA: Defining myself has been an ongoing struggle due to the diversity I’ve been exposed to throughout my life. I spent the first decade of my life living in Queens and attending school there. [For] middle school, I attended boarding school in western Massachusetts, which completely changed my perspective on life. Shortly after, I returned to the city and it seemed like I was in a foreign land. Along the way, I have connected with countless amounts of people, near and far. This has helped to shape me as the individual I am today. I used the word ‘struggle’ for lack of a better term. However, I believe that the definition of myself is so diverse, that it is hard for most people to grasp.

MA: How would you describe your photography?

JA: Being that art is subjective, different people see different things when they view my work. Personally, it directly reflects what I am feeling. When other people view my photographs, they see a more simplified version of what is going through my head. Throughout my photographic journey, my feelings have been increasingly comprehensible to others, almost as though they are able to get into my head and see things from my perspective.

MA: Do you prefer capturing New York City street life or composing portraits?

JA: I would definitely have to say portraits. Although, street life as a whole is what shapes New York as a city, I have been able to get closer and more personal with portraiture. I feel that the same applies for portraits of other people. I like to put others in vulnerable positions photographically. There’s a saying that the closer you get to your subject, the more you get out of it. Portraiture has completely closed all boundaries for me in terms of connection with my subjects.

MA: How has living in New York shaped your photographic style?

JA: New York City has been my playground since the day I became old enough to take public transportation by myself. Some days, I can walk around the same block for hours, searching for something that sticks out to me. Other days, certain aspects of a neighborhood intrigue me, to the point where I just cannot leave. Certain scenes I captured in my latest series, Inner City Living, really speak to my love for the city: each one shaped me as a person, and plays a role in my daily life. Another amazing aspect of New York City’s beauty is its tiny size. On a universal level, the world is small and I’ve heard this phrase countless times. It was not until I really got out in the city that this was proven to me. The close-knit community that New York City is has done so much for me, as an artist and businessman thus far. Simply carrying my camera around with me, on a daily basis, has opened so many doors for me that it is difficult for me to leave it at home. A wise man once said, “You miss every shot you don’t take.” I am not willing to miss any shots or sacrifice my growth as a person. Living in New York City has made my camera a part of me.

justin amoafo

MA: What do you think black-and-white photography captures that color doesn’t?

JA: There is a certain mood behind a black-and-white photograph that doesn’t exactly translate the same in color. Similar to the qualities that film photographs possess. Since black-and-white photographs are often associated with antiqueness, looking at a black-and-white scene evokes a feeling of nostalgia to me. Contrast is another important aspect in a black-and-white photograph. Monochrome complements such aspects of a photograph perfectly.

MA: Favorite camera owned so far?

JA: My Canon 5D, definitely. The rugged build makes me feel like I could jump into a war, or riot and shoot away without any fear of scratching or denting my camera: it’s indestructible.

MA: Biggest obstacle you’ve encountered while taking photos? 

JA: The biggest obstacle I’ve encountered when trying to take a picture is consent. Street photography is the most difficult type of photography I’ve encountered thus far. Many people, especially in New York City…do not feel comfortable being photographed, which is often times a let down for me. This same obstacle has also pushed me forward as a photographer.

MA: Top three places you want your photography to take you?

JA: The number one place I want my photography to take it is back to my home country, Ghana. I have not visited Ghana in 15 years, and it would mean the world to me to see my mother country in all of its beauty. The second place I want my photography to take me is to success. Thirdly, I want my photography to take me to a place where I can inspire others. They say a picture takes a thousand words. I hope to speak to the world through my photographs, and let my stories touch everyone’s ears. My happiness lies in my work.

MA: Favorite quote or motto?

JA: Flannery O’Connor once said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” This quote speaks volumes to me, not only because life has had its ups and downs, but also because walking around every day and observing life around me, all I see is truth.

justin amoafo at the train

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  • Joan Morgan

    Not only do I love the subject matter but as a long-time editor, I’ve had ‘writers’ whose interview skills paled in comparison. KUDOS!

  • Drew Kil

    Like the new Feature — great interview!

  • Justin Amoafo

    Appreciate it!