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Eric Hart Jr.
Written By Elisa Sokoli
Photographed by Ragan Henderson,
Julia Mao, & Aryana Dehghan
Eric Hart Jr. has become somewhat of a well-known name, both within NYU’s campus and outside of it. Remember those viral photos of his grandparents wearing matching IVY PARK sets? Did you ever see the Rosie the Riveter-esque piece plastered to the window of the Tisch building? With all of these noteworthy moments and many, many more, Eric Hart Jr. has established himself as a rising star in the realm of photography. However, there is always a dilemma — especially in the age of social media — when it comes to interacting with art and artists; although we may see and be fans of their work, what do we really know about the artists themselves, and why are we so quick to idolize them?
It’s easy to admire someone with as much talent and clout as Eric. He’s shot for massive names like Spike Lee and Flo Milli (two of NYU’s favorite people), brands such as Calvin Klein and IVY PARK, and an extensive number of publications, and the work that he produces is nothing short of jaw-dropping. Even before sitting down and logging on to our Zoom session, I started getting nervous, because what is little old me doing interviewing someone like him? I found myself equal parts anxious and starstruck, like when you try to decide whether or not you should say something to the celebrity you just spotted. But with someone like Eric, whether you’d expect it or not, all of that simply washes away. He speaks from the heart with a kindness and authenticity that’s hard to find but can put anyone at ease.
ES: IVY PARK, fashion campaigns, artist shoots, having your work displayed right outside a Tisch building, you have just about a million accolades to your name; what has been your favorite memory of them all?
EHJ: I feel like I haven’t actually done a lot. Ya boy is a beginner. But I will say, my favorite moment out of everything is definitely getting an IVY PARK box from Beyoncé. It’s not even about the box, moreso the handwritten letter. In general, just having someone you look up to, someone you admire — I mean, you can see Beyoncé is everywhere behind me [photos of IVY PARK campaigns and Beyoncé’s cover art litter his dorm room wall] — look at your work, I still don’t even know how to describe that moment. To know that she enjoyed my work is so amazing. That’s definitely my biggest accomplishment.
ES: And we all know you’re the biggest Beyoncé stan. How has she inspired you over the years, whether it’s how you live your life or artistically?
EHJ: I think it's a multitude of things. From her artistry to the work ethic she exudes, I feel like that’s #1 for me. Someone who is driven and ambitious and doesn’t stop. She released BEYONCÉ, right? How do you top that? Oh, Lemonade!
It’s crazy. You can tell that she is her only competitor. She is someone that just wants to be better every single time she does something, like “How can I advance myself?” I feel like that’s a great way to live life in general, whether it's a hobby, something you're passionate about, or just one-upping yourself to always get better. On top of that, the way that she moves in the industry; you don’t hear about her beefing with anyone or putting too much of her information out. It’s just a stature and a classiness that she always presents, and I love that. Anyone who ever talks about Beyoncé, is always saying how humble and how kind and how pleasant she is. All around, it’s inspiration from everything she does.
ES: What inspired you to start LOVE HART? What made you feel that you needed this additional creative outlet?
EHJ: I think a lot of times with photographers, the branding aspect is what it is in the frame. Do you shoot colorful images, do you shoot movie-style images, what are you bringing to every single shoot? For me, I think the things that I bring aren’t as visible sometimes. Of course I do portraiture, and it’s nice lighting and polished, and I like to shoot people confidently, but I don’t know if it’s a certain aesthetic that I stick to. For that reason I thought that instead of branding images through what you see, why don’t you brand images under an umbrella? Kind of like a film production company or something like that. They have an array of films, a range of all different entities, but they’re all under this one roof. Like Shondaland has Grey’s Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and Scandal, kind of in the same world but still different in a sense. So I just was thinking in that mindset, and I’m still polishing it, it’s still young. But I definitely would love to figure out how to brand images under an umbrella as opposed to just branding myself aesthetically.
ES: Although maybe not as well known as the photography genius that is Eric Hart Jr., PB PRESS loves Erica with our whole hearts. What first got you interested in drag? How is that journey going so far?
EHJ: Ever since I saw [RuPaul’s] Drag Race, I’ve always thought that drag is so dope. I’ve been watching Drag Race for a minute, way before quarantine, so I think that was always in my mind. But when quarantine hit, I really binged all of it again, and I was like, “I wanna do this.” I kept saying this, but I also kept telling myself that I couldn’t do that. Mentally something was telling me that I shouldn’t do drag. But it stuck with me for so long that I decided, “I'm just gonna try it, why not?” So as soon as I got back to New York, I gave it a try and I loved it. I loved the feeling.
For me right now, Erica is a self-exploration and something that’s very intimate. When I’m in drag, I just feel a freedom, something spiritual. Specifically, growing up, when you have to suppress all these feelings of “oh, I like this, but it’s feminine,” or “I’m interested in this hobby, but I can’t do that because I’m a boy,” and your family tells you that it’s wrong… Erica is an exploration of the reverse of that. So as of right now, I’m in the stages of getting to know Erica and getting to be comfortable in that type of energy. She’s definitely on her way, her presence will become bigger as I get more comfortable with her. I love to type Eric(a) out and put the “a” in parentheses. It’s Eric and Erica, they’re the same. The A is kind of there, but hidden, shadowed. But I feel like we’re the same. Erica is just more vocal, more free.
"My journey with masculinity is kind of a reclaiming of the self. For so long, you have society telling you what’s right and what’s wrong. I feel like for me, even as an artist, what I’m figuring out is that your position in using your voice to do what it is you want to do or using your own talents to create the work you want to create is a form of power, and it’s a form of masculinity. I think masculinity is just a type of power, honestly: knowing your power, knowing what you’re capable of, and standing in it. I really struggle with knowing that it’s okay to just be you, so I think ultimately that’s my role as a man now.
ES: What’s something you’d love to talk about publicly but don’t because it doesn’t necessarily fit your “brand”? Give us your hottest takes!
EHJ: My mind instantly went to female rappers. So look, unpopular opinion, I’ll stand on this, I’ll argue with my friends all the time, and I’ll just say this in general; I’m very opinionated about music. I think music is one of the best forms of art, I wish I could do it. I think Big ‘Latto, Mulatto, is one of the best female rappers we have, and people are asleep! I know the name is...questionable, but miss thing is so authentic to herself. She represents Georgia so well and its sense of authenticity. Her references, her bars, I just really love Big ‘Latto. I really do. I have a list behind me of goals for shooting certain people or publications — and just personal stuff as well — but she’s on there, she’s like number three. I really wanna work with Mulatto.
ES: FMK: Flo Milli, Mulatto, Rico.
EHJ: Definitely, definitely marry Flo Milli. She is so kind and so sweet. She’s just so beautiful. I love Flo Milli. This is so messed up! I’m definitely not killing Mulatto, but I feel like we would argue. So I would… make love… to Mulatto. I would unfortunately have to off Rico, which is very sad because I love Rico, she is fire.
ES: Is there anyone in pop culture that you have taken as inspiration or that you look up to and how has their influence manifested itself in your work or in you? Besides Beyoncé, because that one’s a little obvious.
EHJ: I’m influenced by a lot of people in the industry, in different areas of success. I really really love Issa Rae. If you pay close attention to how she moves, she’s a writer, actress, all these different deals, but she also owns businesses and is launching things to help other younger creatives. I enjoy that momentum of a widespread territory. I love Symone on Drag Race. She’s bringing a different element of Black culture and aesthetics to drag that have never been seen before, and her attention to detail is so impactful. I also love Oprah. I love Oprah! It’s the widespread territory of O Magazine, OWN Network, her thirst for knowledge, her curiosity. I’m inspired by a lot of different women, specifically Black women. I’m very inspired by Black women across the board.
ES: Aside from the list, what current goals are at the forefront of your mind right now? Is there anything new that you’re working on outside of school?
EHJ: I have been working on a LOVE HART project. It involves me writing, so I’m excited about that. Of course consistently trying to shoot things, and really being intentional with what I shoot. I think now it’s a matter of knowing why I’m shooting something and not just shooting something for aesthetic purposes. I’ve been practicing that and really taking my time to mold a group of images in a series of images that I think really expresses who I am creatively. Personally, literally just continuing drag, being more vocal. I think as a person I’m very reserved, very chill, so I really am starting to branch out and have that confidence. I’m striving to be more unapologetic about who I am as a person.
"In my most ideal world, I get to create freely what I want to create. I’m definitely shooting, I'm definitely writing, I’m definitely doing drag, but I’m doing it to the beat of my own drum. My ideal world is being my own boss and being my own way of financing myself. Physically, I'm still living in New York. I love New York. It’s expensive and it's tiring, but I love it for some reason. Maybe it's the creative drive. Even just the way in which you have to live life, like walking everywhere or the pace of it all, I just think it motivates you to do. I would love to be able to be an artist who just creates freely, and creates work that's impactful. I feel like I'm very inspired by work that speaks to the culture, experiences, and identities. I want to hone in on stories or visualizations we haven't seen."
A quick Google search will show you all the reasons why Eric is a talented artist, a photographer to watch, and someone bound to blow up in the entertainment industry. But for every perfectly crafted image, there’s a person behind that camera that isn’t all that different from us. Though Eric can be wise beyond his years, he’s also just a young man figuring his life out. We live in a time where anything and anyone can go viral and gain popularity. Once that happens, we tend to put them so high on a pedestal that they seem untouchable, but also in a box. Eric Hart Jr. is simply the sum of many parts, slowly but surely learning how all those parts fit together to make one man.
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