A Photographer's Passion Project Is Bringing Black Designers to the Forefront

Updated 02/08/18

David A. Land has a knack for capturing the unique details that make a space feel personal. He knows how to use his lens to tell people's intimate stories through design and personal mementos. The prolific New York–based photographer, who specializes in interiors and portraits, has shot people and spaces for Country Living, Architectural Digest, HGTV Magazine, and more.

More than anyone else, he knows how much the world we see in magazines isn't always representative of the world we live in. And so he took it upon himself to change that reality in the best way he knew how: photography. "Representation isn't important for its own sake; it's important because it validates who we are. When my kids look at the world around them, I want them to be able to recognize themselves in the faces they see," says Land. Through this philosophy, Corner & Compass—a photography project aimed at featuring creative people of color in the design industry—was born.

David A Land
David A. Land

Land knows firsthand the importance of representation: "I remember coming of age and looking around me in the world to find stories or images that I could identify with, about a boy who liked another boy," he told MyDomaine. Now a husband and father of two boys of his own, he recognizes the importance of ensuring that his own sons can see themselves in the media they consume. "I know so many talented, creative people of color who are not well represented in the wider media. And while that's not me, that is my family.

The fact that my own work didn't reflect my family was something that had to change."

Find out how this photographer is shining a light on black interior designers and in turn telling an important story about race and the meaning of home.

On How It All Started

Nicole Gibbons
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Nicole Gibbons

The project started out of conversations between Land and his friend, interior designer Nicole Gibbons. "She was amazing at connecting me with people who I didn't know yet, and from there, it kind of spiraled," he explained. "On every shoot, I would ask, 'Who do you know who has an amazing home or story?' One of the things I love about the subjects is that even though there are so many different styles, the homes all have such a strong connection to personal history and culture."

Land's project is an important one. It shines a light on underrepresented talent in the design industry—talent that should be showcased on a greater scale. It tells compelling stories that celebrate the meaning of home in all its shapes and colors. And it hopefully will validate and inspire the next generation to celebrate their history and reach their goals. "Seeing yourself reflected in the wider media validates you," says Land. "It lets you know that you are okay; you are accepted."

Corner Compass
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Malene Barnett

One of the first profiles Land worked on was Lisa Hunt, a former creative director and artist in Brooklyn. As it turned out, she and the photographer only lived about five doors down from each other but had never met. She immediately recognized the project's significance. "David explained that he was inspired to create Corner & Compass after meeting and photographing so many talented designers and artists of color who often don't get featured or given a platform to share their work," she told MyDomaine.

"I was thrilled that he asked me to be a part of the project. Hopefully we're seeing a seed change of inclusion of creative talents and voices from often overlooked communities in media."

This sentiment was echoed in many of the creatives featured in Corner & Compass. "The project is so needed," artist and designer Malene Barnett told us. "I've been an artist and designer all of my life. I read design magazines on a regular basis, and it's frustrating not seeing people who look like me. David's project was an opportunity to show the world that artists and designers of the African diaspora exist, that they are talented and have a different point of view which should be acknowledged and celebrated."

On the Importance of Storytelling

Black Interior Designers
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Ishka Designs

"As someone who has worked in interior design, this has been something I have been trying to address for a while, so I was thrilled to be a part of this project," interior designer and market editor Angela Belt told us. "Interior design is so much more than just your home; it's storytelling, and seeing who lives there is a big part of the narrative. As a person of color, when you see yourself only a few times a year in editorial publications, you begin to feel left out of those lifestyle stories."

Joy Moyler
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Joy Moyler

This sentiment, the importance of telling stories that represent people of color, was echoed by many, among them interior designer Joy Moyler. "David's work is amazing, and I knew how important this project was for him," she said. "I understood his frustration of constantly shooting homes of people, lacking a cultural colorful face. The inclusion was missing. The diversity was extinct, particularly in lifestyle publications. It's important that pages reflect the lives of all people if the stories are to be authentic.

It's important for children to look at the media and see images of people who look like them. It was easy for me to support this project because my heart was screaming for it."

On the Meaning of Home

Black Interior Design
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Jerome and Lucie Lagarrigue

The stories highlighted in the project do more than simply showcase a house or a career. They paint a picture of loving homes filled with energy and character: "Our home is where soft jazz is almost always playing and breakout dance parties happen often," says Moyler. "Good food! Good drinks! Good times! My design philosophy is to surround yourself with things that make you happy and make your heart full. They shouldn't be so precious that in a disaster you grieve for things more than people."

Lisa Hunt
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Lisa Hunt

Far from the sometimes cold perfection of glossy magazine pages, these stories instead showcase a realness, family, creativity, and love. "My husband is a video editor and graphic designer, and as a family, we often draw and paint together," Belt tells us. "I have endless rolls of craft paper to cover my dining table with; I use washi tape to hang artwork on the walls and tons of vintage metal bins to store toys and games. I'm completely cool moving the coffee table out of the living room to do yoga with my daughter."

They also touch on displacement and the meaning of creating a home no matter where you find yourself—something that is often overlooked in interior design features. "I grew up as an Air Force brat, and our family moved about every 18 months, so our physical home was constantly changing for us," shared Hunt. "It was difficult to move so often and say goodbye to friends, but my mother always made each house feel like home. She had a way of creating comfort no matter where we lived."

On the Value of Objects

African American Interior Designers
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Angela Belt

It's easy to feature an immaculately styled home, but the beauty in these features is the personal narratives that shine through objects and family heirlooms, like the broom that hangs above the sink in Belt's kitchen—the same broom that she and her husband jumped over on their wedding day.

"My mother passed away suddenly from cancer about eight years ago, and I have several of her things that we live with and use every day that mean everything to me," Hunt told us. "She used a marble cutting board and cast-iron skillets that we use several times a day when cooking. I have a small collection of her crystals. My mother showed me in so many ways how to make a house a home. We cooked together, sewed curtains, hung wallpaper, and planted flower and vegetable gardens together."

On the Significance of History

Corner & Compass Project
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Angela Belt

The importance of history and family also takes special significance in a household with young children. "As an African American woman, I definitely want to my daughter to learn about her history and be proud to be black," Belt told us. "In our home, I style with a lot of artwork and books that celebrate our history. Having a child has also encouraged me to infuse more color into my home. With a lot of my clients, I normally work with white walls and inject color in with accessories. In my home, it's the complete opposite.

In my home, almost every single wall is painted, and then I double down with colorful accessories."

Malene Barnett
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Malene Barnett

The cultural history is rich in these homes where identity plays an important role. "My home is inspired by colors from my Afro-Caribbean heritage," says Barnett. "I have a turquoise front door. The floors and walls are shades of teal. Each room is painted in various shades of pastel colors and showcase textiles and art from various countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. All of this is mixed alongside modern furniture."

Black History Month
David A. Land ; DESIGN: Jean Brownhill

"My most prized possession is a photograph of some 120 'negro' porters who worked at The New York Times in the '50s," Moyler told us. "They are wearing their Sunday best, standing proud and confident. Often underlooked in their daytime roles due to their utilitarian tasks, yet they stand their grace. My Dad worked at The New York Times for 40 years rising to high executive ranks. This photo hung in his office until his retirement as a reminder to always reach back and pull someone else up because their job may be much harder than yours.

These men looked after him. It stands behind my chair. When I turn, they are looking over my shoulder, supporting angels encouraging me through my daily tasks, reminding me to always 'reach back' and help someone else too. When I moved away from home, my dad gave me with this photograph, unwrapped with tears in his eyes. Some days, I take it off the wall, hold it in my hands, hug it close, and cry for all of us. Especially for those who remain ignored for their utilitarian, menial tasks." 

David A. Land ; DESIGN: Jerome and Lucie Lagarrigue

Interior designers often recognize better than anyone the importance of mementos and personal objects in great design—a design that is real, meaningful, and not staged. These objects are at the center of our lives and tell our stories. They should be celebrated. What Corner & Compass has created is a place where we can appreciate the beauty of these objects, admire these authentic homes, and celebrate the incredible talent in the design industry that should never be overlooked.

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