An unwavering manifestation of love is in the air on a Saturday afternoon in Union Square pedestrian plaza, and neither heat or rain can diminish its power.
In the wake of police brutality and injustice around the world, celebrity photographer Chenoa Maxwell has taken the initiative to take a stand and spread love through the art of photography.
Propelled by passion and an urge to create, Maxwell shared with me her long running love affair with photography, “I’ve always been into images, something about them spoke to me at a really young age. Before I got into acting, I really thought I was going to be a cinematographer.”
Maxwell's success in the industry extends from actress, photographer and producer. She is best known for her roles in the 1997 romantic comedy Hav Plenty, hit UPN sitcom Girlfriends, and as a host on web series, Closet Talk.
Fascinated by the beauty of visual arts, Maxwell stepped out from being in front of the cameras to soon discovering that her true calling lie standing behind them.
In 2006, she moved to London to study photography at Central Saint Martin's College of Arts and Design.
It was here where she would have the grand opportunity to study under photo masters, David Alan Harvey, Phillipe Pache, and Stephen Shames.
Specializing in portraiture, her works have been featured and exhibited globally. Maxwell has captured the likes of many prominent icons including Shaquille O’Neal and Annie Leibovitz to name a few.
Maxwell expresses that someday she would love to capture President Obama and his wife.
You can see every ounce of her passion in not only the way she sees the world, but in her eyes themselves. “I see the beauty in everyone and a lot of times I feel like people fail to see the beauty in themselves,” she said, softly. “I love to capture people to make them happy.”
When asked how art has saved her life, she disclosed that at one point she was in a place of darkness.
“When I was a teenager I felt very suicidal. I had a really hard childhood, and when I found acting and the arts it really gave me a way to express myself in a positive way. Art has brought a whole new meaning into my life, it’s given me purpose.”
Her one-day public art installation “Awaken Love,” served as a beacon of light, a sanctuary or an oasis in these turbulent times. It taught us to cancel out the noise, chaos and negative aura around us. It served as a moment of reflection, to really search deep within ourselves and discover self-love.
Each of the portraits taken were uploaded via The 8 App profile, a fun and creative app that allows users to tell stories through photo and video. Each attendee was also encouraged to register on Maxwell's Live Limitlessly site following the event for a free podcast with tools to start their positive journey.
The intimate “Awaken Love” booth was beautifully decorated with paper pastel-colored flowers, emblematically aligned along with the theme, since flowers represent love, generosity and strength.
The most exhilarating and rewarding facets of all human experiences is to fall in love, but in order to commit to love, you have to love yourself. You need to take care of yourself, appreciate, and treat yourself with respect before you can love and respect others.
This is why before entering the haven of “Awaken Love,” there was a signage on the ground handwritten in white chalk that read, "Love starts here,” and once you entered the space, there was another one saying, “Commit to love.”
“I believe that photographs are amazing artifacts of life. You can always look at them and they take moments that tell stories through time,” Maxwell explained as she waited to capture New Yorkers in action.
“Awaken Love” was a spiritual journey of emotions and stories that ignited a seemingly lost sense of community, a moment powerful and moving, visitors stirred to tears.
Maxwell’s riveting energy of love goes beyond her lens. Her chemistry with each subject was transparent and indescribable.
A woman suddenly broke down into tears before getting her picture taken by Maxwell. She shared that her dad had just suffered from a stroke.
In that one moment, as I saw her embraced this woman ― I thought, indeed love can change the world. The act of expressing and extending loving-kindness outward starts from within.
“Anyone can pick up a camera and take a photo, but it’s really how you connect with the person. That’s what makes the image. You need to capture someone’s spirit and evoke it somehow,” she said.
Her compassion for humanity poured out with hugs and words of comfort. This simple act of kindness spoke values to me.
In such a bustling city, where we are constantly on the move you never know who’s internally struggling. Yet a simple hug or a smile can make all the difference.
Tackling the crisis of hate around the world, Maxwell also took the time to share about her sentiments of the “Black Lives Matter” movement with me. “I think a lot of people feel things, but not too many people do things. I really think that it’s beyond just a protest.”
The sincere look in her eyes as she spoke about this matter expressed an immeasurable amount of pain to me.
Although, I’ll probably never know what it feels like to be judged by the color of my skin, as a minority I can understand and acknowledge that these killings are not a mere coincidence.
Indeed we have made great strides, but racism is still very much alive. To assume its extinction, or to neglect this movement, is to be completely blindfolded and disconnected from reality.
However, when we are able to master love for ourselves and our surroundings, I believe wholeheartedly that anything is possible... hope is possible.
Maxwell further disclosed, “People need to take personal responsibility for themselves and really come together as a community, and as a country to really understand what the real problem is. The people that this is happening to the most ― they understand the underlying problem, but there are others who simply seem to just skim through the issue.”
In the future, Maxwell would love to continue using art and photography in order to inspire others in the wake of a tragedy. “I would love to take this all over the world. The next place I would love to take this to is Washington DC, Art Basel and Los Angeles.”
Overall, “Awaken Love” was like a seed bursting through the earth in its transformation to a flower.
Maxwell’s positive vibrations to lift up spirits and spread a message didn’t go unnoticed, as many people of all ages, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds, including pets, came together in New York City to successfully “Awaken Love.”
Check Out This Amazing Beautiful Sh*t Right Here.[Feature Image Courtesy Instagram]