Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery's photos uplift the multi-layered beauty of sisterhood

The New York-based photographer's new series 'SORORITY' celebrates the supportive circle of friends he holds close.

by Ashley Tyner
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20 April 2021, 11:12am

“My mother is my best friend,” Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery says over Zoom. As a child, he was deeply impacted by the relationship she shared with her sister, an aunt that served as a second mom. The photographer, who also goes by Xavier Dominic, remembers their bond as the “first instance of sisterhood” in his life. It was a singular closeness he’s always seen as an ideal framework for connection. This way of seeing relationships built the logic behind “SORORITY”, Dominic’s new series featuring portraits of his close friends. “Me and my friends walk around saying, ‘Sister, what are we doing?’ You know, as a term of endearment. We all choose to actively be in and participate in one another’s lives because we want to,” he explains.  

Born in Harlem and raised in Queens, Dominic’s journey coming of age in New York City has gifted him with a group of trusted friends who have one by one been folded into his expansive world of sisterly love. “‘SORORITY’ is all about the chosen family I’ve found for myself in New York, who continue to change and save my life every single day,” he says.

Dominic’s cousin Tony is the only subject in this series that he’s related to by blood. He felt it was crucial to include him because they have cultivated an incredibly powerful relationship over the course of their lives, also by choice. Dominic wanted to embrace the hard truth that even blood does not always guarantee real intimacy. “It takes constant love and tending to cultivate authentic, unconditional love,” he says.

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"Tony" photographed by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery

Dominic and Tony have modeled their relationship in the image of their mothers. Tony might identify as straight, cis and male, but Dominic says that he too will respond to a “Yo Sis!”

“I have him, like, three decades in, calling me sister,” he continues. “I’m like okay the work is being done, it’s being achieved.”

For Dominic, this work of building sisterhood aligns with his racial and sexual identity. Like so many Black folks, he was raised in a matriarchal household. As a queer Black man, he belongs to a culture that uplifts femme figures of families forged by personal choice, complicating binary notions of motherhood and sisterhood while recognizing these roles as available to all of us. 

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"Magnolia Polaris" photographed bby Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery

As a native of New York City, Dominic knows from experience that survival here relies on instinct. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed in what can feel like indifferent chaos, one eventually begins to notice the city’s capacity for care and grace. Supportive relationships and open doors of opportunity can and will unlock, if only out of pure luck and divine timing. Dominic has learned to explore the freedom and power in channeling that live wire of uncertainty, using it to fuel his creativity and pursue friendships marked by an instant sense of what he calls “softness.” 

“Each portrait in this series speaks to a friendship that began with a spark,” he says. If it feels like two genuine spirits recognizing one another, his intuition says, hold them close.

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"Marissa" photographed by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery
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"Anna" photographed by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery
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"Alex" photographed by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery

Dominic’s photography is the result of this intuitive practice. “None of the photos from this series were planned,” he says. “Sometimes we were just walking down the street and I just had my camera and I was like, ‘This feels right’. It was just spontaneity and curiosity. The light is hitting a certain way and I think, ‘This is it.’” 

Dominic studied film and media in college, but the camera became his primary tool when he set out on a life-altering year abroad in Paris five years ago. It was there that he forged a relationship with the work of James Baldwin, a queer Black ancestor who’s mythic sojourn there has pulled many of us to the ancient city in his wake. Dominic’s idea of sorority extends to an ancestral community of artists and writers like Baldwin and Maya Angelou, who themselves famously saw each other as kindred brought together by choice and chance. Dominic sees their experiences as towering testaments to ”figuring out the life that you want, and choosing it for yourself”. 

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"Levi" by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery
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"Alfonso" photographed by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery
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"Eddy" photographed by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery

There is a carousel post that’s been circulating on Instagram lately, featuring captioned stills from a 1970 documentary called Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris.

Together the slides show the artist in mid-soliloquy, words Dominic returned to often while working on “SORORITY”:

“Love has never been a popular movement,” Baldwin says. “The world is held together, really it is, held together, by the love and the passion of a very few people. Otherwise, of course you can despair. Walk down the street of any city, any afternoon, and look around you. What you’ve got to remember is what you’re looking at is also you. Everyone you’re looking at is also you. You could be that person.”

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"Alexis" photographed by by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery
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"Emir" photographed by by Xavier Sharod Dominic Avery

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NEW YORK CITY
portraits