Meet photographer, Lumia Nocito, Destiny's Child
Written April 2017
Destiny had a child and its surname was not Knowles. The same way you’d trace an outline of your hand onto paper, this child outlined her identity hesitantly with a pencil. Prepubescent but mentally developed, she shook her head at the silhouette she had drawn. It depicted someone in a straightjacket and that person was supposedly her. In middle school then, too ripe for self-love, she was straddling the space between expectation and manifestation, trying to find an answer to questions that have plagued and haunted us all: who am I? What am I good at? What is my destiny? She exhaled but there were no answers to be found lingering on a breath.
Lumia Nocito inhaled. Representing TriBeCa but no longer a child, an 18 year old award-winning photographer and the assistant to cult photographer, Petra Collins, sat cross-legged on a bench with me, smoking a cigarette on a sunny, Saturday afternoon on Essex street. Half-Italian and half-Chinese, Lumia grew up as the middle child with an older sister, a younger brother, six half-siblings and one aunt from China. She was cultured by the streets but educated on the Upper East Side at the Dalton School, a century-old private school known to breed Ivy Leaguers, it’s motto: Go Forth Unafraid.
Sporting khakis and a sweatshirt she was too cool for effortless, her voice was slated with a gritty tone. “I was like, I can’t do anything. Yeah I can do school but I can’t do it as well as these other kids can. At a certain point, I was like I just want to go to a really good college and then work on Wall Street,” she said shouldering defeat once upon a time. Although it’s easy to brush off another common case of millennial insecurity, you can’t write Lumia off with a prescription for: time. She doesn’t need it, it’s mid-day and a large duffel bag rests at her feet. Only glancing at her phone as it vibrates, she’s busy but on schedule with a shoot planned to take place on the Williamsburg Bridge later this afternoon. She doesn’t stutter when she speaks and carries herself with the confidence, eloquence and maturity of someone beyond her years. Does greatness have a catalyst? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t, but in this case, it was necessitated for it would be Lumia’s only option.
It began with the nonchalance of three iPhone photos, encouraging words from her older sister and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Shrugging it off, she hit the submit button with hope and resignation. What were the chances she’d win? “My sister had drawn since she was little but I was never as good at it as she was. I knew I liked art but I didn’t know that I had a medium and I ended up winning three, gold awards and I was like okay, maybe I can do this,” she said.
Validation arrived. The driving force for so many individuals in the creative industry, it offered direction but hinged upon self-doubt with a presence ever-fleeting in the age of the Internet. Sitting with one arm out of the window it would take the drivers seat until the passenger, you, had enough courage to grab the wheel and take the exit to self-honesty, the exit to freedom.
Lumia rode in that car her freshmen and sophomore years of high-school. Shooting photos as if it were a drive by and the subjects in her life were the targets, she captured the years of her youth with unwavering purpose, the pursuit of beauty. She had taken detours dallying from the highway, picking up a photo class her freshman year here, a scholarship to the ICP there. Validation was delighted as it drank and drove, a toast to more awards from the Scholastic association?! Yes. Yet Lumia never succumbed to its coos of submission. “My home life was shitty, my school life was shitty, I had nothing to fall back on during that time in my life and I was like, oh my god, I have to do art,” she said. This was more than just a wild ride, it was her life.
Destiny’s envelope arrived her junior year, inviting her to Miami to accept her place as one of 10 winners from across America at the Youngarts Awards. Lumia’s hands were sweaty, unaware that this would change everything. In Miami she found community, a place where she “completely fit in” and her world spun on a different axis. “There was a lot of self doubt you know but after I got back from Youngarts my perspective was completely changed and I just got really, really hungry to start working. I was so hungry I was fearless about it,” fearless enough not only to take the wheel but to get out of the car entirely as she took ownership of her own karma.
Walking the earth with the world in her hands, Lumia clutched her camera to her chest. Opportunity came knocking and she would connect with Petra Collins through a friend named Samira. “Hey Lumia, wanna come to Petra’s house with me and shoot with her for her Crying series?,” asked Samira. Lumia’s answer was, “absolutely.” So elated she felt like flying, she assessed her reality, here was someone a few years older who was living her dream. Was there a flicker of destiny in Petra’s true, blue eyes? At the time Petra was working on a body of work titled, Crying, setting the stage for a deeply intimate feat for a first meeting. “I met her and I was just talking to her because I was so interested, because she was such a big inspiration to me. I asked her if I could come assist sometime and I ended up assisting her once, and then a couple of times, and then we really grew together in terms of the process on set,” said Lumia. She identifies with Petra for she too felt that photography was her end all as she dropped out of college in Canada and moved to New York. “She [Petra] was like, if I don’t make it here, I don't know what I’m going to do. She really had no option either and now she is where she is now”, said Lumia before continuing, “I really think this is the only thing that I can do, this is what I have to do to survive.”
Initial contact was over a year ago and Lumia has spent almost more time in the studio with Petra than at school, warranting dirty looks from her teachers but it took courage to look fate in the eye. Call it art therapy, photography’s re-wired Lumia’s brain to seek beauty in an honest representation of her life, to know that shadows were only cast in the presence of light. Her work has been called intimate and journalistic, and she strives to shoot with a “conceptual awareness” that awards purpose to pixels instead of a fleeting dissonance. When asked about her process, her response centers around “feeling”, reinforcing a visually organic truth when time is frozen. “Art saves me. It’s the way I feel when I pick up the camera and start shooting. My mind goes blank and I feel so happy. Things get more beautiful because my eye gets better and in return, I can show other people what I notice as I walk through life,” she says breezily.
With the turn of her next chapter, Lumia recently received her acceptance letter to attend Cooper Union’s School of Art this fall. Her college supplemental essays are lavishly decked out with notable recognition highlighting her work with scores of big names in the industry. From a group show benefiting Planned Parenthood, to working on a shoot with former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, to creating and organizing installations for Pop Rally Presents: In Search of Us, a performance art show by Petra Collins at The Museum of Modern Art, it is not surprise that Lumia is currently an official candidate for the U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts award.
But does she believe in destiny? According to Lumia, “artists are born artists, it’s not a choice, you can’t really escape being an artist even if you don’t call yourself one.” This belief, this feeling of not having a choice as a member of a generation that is so often called “privileged” for the sheer number of options that technology puts at the tips of our fingers, signals a different way to look at millennial photographers, millennial artists. A white flag is waved as folks are able to understand that our “idealistic” dreams and visions require self-awareness and a hell of a lot of conviction. So to answer the question, Lumia says, “sure. That’s such an interesting way to characterize it because no one has characterized it like that before. It’s kind of like this is just how it all went down. I’m super about thoughts manifest reality, you just have to want it really badly.”