Standing in front of the camera against a white brick wall, Eric Hart erupts into giggles when he is forced to stand as the camera’s subject. His hands shield his face.
Back safely behind the lens, however, the Tisch first-year stands a little taller. He moves his hands in a graceful dance, the camera an extension of his arms. He is self-assured when he shoots and directs his visual brand, LOVE HART, a compilation of his photography, film work and clothing line. This confidence looks natural, but it’s learned.
His hometown of Macon, Georgia is filled with foliage, “Make America Great Again” hats and a strong “can’t-do attitude,” as Hart puts it. The town’s history is fraught with segregation in its school systems, and there is a clear racial divide in the town that persists today.
Hart attended Rutland High School, which had a population of primarily white and African American students. With the school’s college readiness index score of a 19.4 out of 100, teachers were cautious in their expectations — or lack thereof.
“It’s the mindset that [Macon] is in — this is where we are, this is how school works, this is how society works,” Hart said. “In high school, my teachers didn’t teach me to strive for the best.”
Hart didn’t want what most of his classmates wanted, or rather, settled for. While teenagers elsewhere were applauded for striving toward a prestigious school like NYU, he was met with shaking heads when he talked about his dream of studying photography in New York City. Teachers encouraged him to play it safe, focus on his core classes and attend a university closer to home — something many of his classmates did, according to Hart.
Fear clouded the support Hart got from his family. His mom works as a nurse in a nursing home and his dad is a landscaper. While receptive to his dream, they asked a lot of “how” questions and left Hart to answer them by himself.
“I had to prove myself,” Hart said. “I can get in, I can work hard in high school, get the right grades and get a scholarship. Once they saw that I was actually really motivated to obtain this dream, they believed in it more.”
Besides his aunt, Tina Jones, Hart is the only one in his family to attend college. As a freelance film and television production supervisor in Atlanta, Jones was his mentor when it came to applying for college and cultivating his artistic career. Not having a son of her own, she wanted Hart to maximize his potential.
“I’ve always encouraged him to have a grand vision for his life,” Jones told WSN over email. “Understanding that exposure and access were key, I decided early on that I would support him by exposing him to as many experiences and opportunities as possible.”
Jones helped Hart tour colleges sophomore year. When she saw that his heart was set on NYU, she helped her nephew apply to Tisch’s Summer High School Program and later to the arts school as a high school senior. Hart had one goal — he only applied to NYU Early Decision I. Now majoring in Photography and Imaging in Tisch, he lives out his dream daily.
But Hart still fondly reflects on his first memories of photography in Macon. He was limited in his artwork to begin with. He remembers first shooting at the age of 11 with what he had — an iPod as his camera and a bunch of trees as subjects. It was more about technique than experimentation. When he was 16, he received his first actual camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T3i that he still uses today.
The summer after his senior year of high school, Hart began shooting with friends until he collected enough photos to create multiple series. He recognized patterns within what he captured and created LOVE HART as a brand to take with him up north.
“Now that I’m here, I’m free to express myself through my artwork,” Hart said. “My content deals with identity, masculinity and the overlap with femininity — that’s something that I didn’t really try back home.”
In his predominantly black hometown, Hart states that the general closed-mindedness was less of a matter about race than one of comfort. His skills in photography, film, writing and fashion design encompass themes of representation, social change and awareness — all aspects that were not part of the everyday talk of his hometown.
“The conversations [in New York], the mindsets that a lot of people have — people in Macon just do not have or even begin to think in that mindset,” he said.
Hart’s photo series, DIMINISH and WINDOWS, and his newspaper publication, THE BLACK MAIL, deal primarily with society’s perception of queer and colored individuals. In his clothing line, he chooses an eclectic group to model the words “LOVE HART” and “SOLDIER OF LOVE” across their bodies in simple print and stark colors, no trees or Georgia peaches in sight. A mix of vibrant hues and darker subject matters, his work turns one’s senses and thoughts on their preconceived heads. As a visual brand, all boundaries are fluid and ever-changing.
While Hart worked throughout high school to save money and produce LOVE HART solely on his own, he feels blessed to work with other creative minds in his next endeavor, hart.fm, a visual compilation album that will premiere on May 3. Hart, along with fellow Tisch first-years Anthony Rivera and RJ Anderson, gathered songs from various NYU artists about love that later inspired the creation of the short film. He explains that the name is reminiscent of a radio show — callers calling in about love and requesting songs form the basis of the film.
Hart’s love for photography drives his constant desire to create. Anderson, a friend and collaborator on hart.fm, enjoys working with someone who has huge aspirations and inspirations.
“If you do not know Beyoncé is his idol, then you do not know Eric,” Anderson said. “Admiring such a hardworking woman like her is what I believe has inspired Eric to be the best at his creative field.”
It’s no title of “Queen B,” but Hart’s name plays a crucial role beyond defining his brand. His middle name, “Love” describes him both figuratively and literally. He shows love for art and for others in the gentle way he speaks. Although his work of posed and made-up bodies reflects hard truths about race, politics and identities, he still manages to portray vulnerability by capturing the one emotion that connects all humans.
Hart dreams big and boldly. However, he doesn’t claim to know all the answers — instead, he wants to start asking the questions. While LOVE HART has gained traction within Tisch, he hopes that his work can speak to anyone outside the school as well. With a mouthful of a name, Eric Nasir Love Hart Jr. was not meant to stay in his small, southern town. He has finally broken free of Macon’s mold.
A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 29, 2019, print edition. Email Anna de la Rosa at [email protected]