Photographer: Kriston Jae Bethel

Heidi: Along with taking photographs, what else are you involved in?
Kriston: I’m definitely the kind of person that needs to be doing something! Right now, I’m the head girl’s cross country coach at my high school alma mater in suburban Philadelphia. Cross country taught me so much about pushing past my limits and how hard work can lead to success, and it’s great to be able to pass on these lessons. It’s incredibly important to me that these young women gain these experiences, learning that they can accomplish so much, both on their own and with the help of a team.

I also teach from time to time as an adjunct instructor in the journalism department of my other alma mater, Temple University. I never saw myself as a teacher, but mentoring young journalists is a great way to give back to the university that believed in me and set me up for the success I’ve had today.

Aside from that, I started playing music when I was 8 years old, taking after my father in that regard, and play about four instruments, in addition to singing. I mostly spend my time singing at karaoke these days (aside from the pandemic). In the past year, I’ve also really gotten into rock climbing. Its been great seeing my progress from a beginner at V0 and no rope experience, to more intermediate sends of V6 and 5.11c, some getting lead certified. While this has mostly been in a gym with a mask on, I’m excited to see where these new skills will take me

How much time did you spend at the farm?

I spent a couple hours at the farm, as Devon and Daekweon showed me around. They’ve built up a lot! It was great to just meander about with them and hear about all the work they’ve put into it. They both were very generous with their time, despite Daekweon having another engagement scheduled. Having photographed politics and sports, it’s always a blessing to not feel rushed to photograph, edit and file!

How did you connect with Devon?
Devon and I mostly talked about the meaning of Life Do Grow Farm. You see, it represents more than just an urban farm, but the idea that Black people can have ownership of their land, something that has been kept from us for generations. First as slaves, then as share croppers, and even today, with the difficulty in which Black farms and businesses struggle to receive loans. I do think there’s something wonderful that only a century and a half ago, a man like Devon would likely have been forced to work the land. Now, he’s his own master and the prosperity he’s worked to build can be passed down, while benefiting his community. I think a lot of people misunderstand photographers as thoughtless button pressers. The truth is, we need to have an understanding of what it is we’re creating, if we want our work to have meaning.
Having covered Philadelphia for years, I talked to him about what it means to be a Black man with a farm in North Philadelphia, a section of the city that is often only talked about in terms of gun violence. I remember saying to him, “Who says North Philly can’t be beautiful?” And it’s true, as long as there is the will and proper support to help make that happen.

How long did you wait before pulling out the camera?
When I first pulled up, I don’t even remember if I took my camera out of the car. Sometimes I don’t, I just want to give someone a chance to know me before I start putting a camera between us. We probably had a relaxed conversation for about 5 to 10 minutes, just to hear about his day (spoiler: it was extremely hot) and what he was working on. Since this was for a brand, I also made a wardrobe suggestion and living near the farm, Devon was able to make a quick change. In the meantime, I hung out with Daekweon and some other staff from the farm. They had just come back from a trip to New Orleans and we’re feeling really inspired.
When the camera does come up, I make sure to tell people that I’m still listening to them, so they don’t feel like I’m ignoring them or that they need to do anything different. You never know what kind of experience someone has had with photographers in the past and establishing that trust is a key part of my process.

Tell us about the moment they were on the bench smiling.
So that was actually pretty simple. I saw the light and asked Devon and Daekweon to grab a seat on the bench. Then we all just talked. I positioned myself pretty far back with a long lens, so they could could feel like they were together, while staying engaged with them the whole time. They really do love one another and it was really important that I capture that. One of them made a joke and they both lit up with laughter. Again, when thinking of how Black men are frequently portrayed in media, I feel a responsibility to break those stereotypes and show that we are capable of strength through love.


Kriston Jae Bethel



Recommended Posts