Kendrick Lamar has just released a new video for his song “ELEMENT” off of his latest album, DAMN. Lamar, who has also released videos for his songs “DNA” and “HUMBLE,” uses cinematography in this new video that undeniably alludes to the 2016 Best Picture, Moonlight. The high definition camera work portrays scenes of Compton in the summertime, serving up imagery of young men and women in moments of violence and serenity. There are slow motion takes of violent punches, one of a young boy being coaxed by an older man into slapping his face. Another features Lamar as the aggressor, slapping a man that kneels below him. Lamar uses blood splatter as an aesthetic throughout the video, depicting both the moment of impact and the stain it leaves as a result. Lamar wears a shirt ornamented with droplets of blood in a few scenes, and the video continually returns to an image of another man kneeling on the ground at night, soaked in blood.
The video is also said to pay tribute to the photojournalism of Gordon Parks, who was the first black photographer to work for Life and Vogue magazine. Parks’ work focused on the lives of black Americans. Parks is best known for the photo essays he made for Life magazine in the period between the 1940s and 1970s.
Lamar’s video borrows an image from one of Parks’ series, “Segregation Stories,” taken in 1956 and named, “Untitled.” The photo depicts two young black boys and a white boy peering over a wire fence. The boy in the middle points a gun at something out of the shot. Lamar’s video replaces the blonde white boy with a girl, still white, who looks on over in the direction of her companion’s gun. The scene is fleeting, but gives motion to Parks’ photograph from 1956, creating more of a moving image than a standalone scene. The “ELEMENT” video in general works in this way, a string of quick moving images that tie in together to create a narrative, that while not immediately easy to follow, is undeniably present.
Photography credit: Sharon Alagna