Relationships are the foundation of Heagins’ work. He treats every session as a mindful exchange, carefully framing each subject’s story in a positive light. His work counters stereotypes and highlights the humanity in subjects that are often passed over. His latest work centers around the Black Lives Matter movement and closure protests. As ever, he has approached this work with a desire to understand and aims to capture each individual’s emotion and intent. Heagins also has two upcoming exhibitions: one in Havana that recalls slavery photographed on plantations and one in Raleigh, North Carolina of portraits of transgender women in Cuba.
How did you fall in love with photography? What sustains your motivation to do this work?
When I was in my early 20s, I visited a camera store with my friend, and about two weeks later, I went back to that same store and bought one for myself. Photography was nothing more than a hobby at first, and it wasn’t until I went to Cuba in July of 1997 that I really considered it a serious pursuit. After my trip, I was at a crossroads of what to do next in my career. I had recently been let go from my job as program director at a historic foundation and was invited to have lunch with a composer and mentor, TJ Anderson, who had been following my work there. I knew I had to have some sort of plan of what I was going to do next, and I had just come from getting the photos from my recent trip to Cuba developed. As I looked through them, I thought they looked pretty good for someone just starting out. As we sat there having lunch, he asked me what my plan was and I blurted out “I’m going to pursue photography.” I stuck with what I said that day and continued to where I am today. It was really a stumbling into the field — I didn’t quite fall into it, but I stumbled into it. I was influenced by being in Durham, North Carolina, which was where the Center for Documentary Studies was getting started. I was looking at the type of work they were bringing in, and it seemed like the work I should do. I chose photography because it was something I could do on my own terms and my own decisions. I didn’t need someone else’s permission or approval to do that. Photography gave me the opportunity to do and say the things I was interested in. I had always been interested in doing things that related to studies of race and class, and it was a way I could address those issues from my own perspective. It is what has sustained me and kept me in the field. It’s allowed me to have a voice and to have that voice not be regulated by others. It’s given me a tremendous amount of freedom to pursue my own truth or the truth as I view it from other people’s lives. Plus, it has given me an amazing opportunity to travel the world. My cameras have taken me to five continents!