Photojournalist Gyasi Explores the Fragility of Life in ‘The Last Days’ Project

Photo by Valentino Watson

“What would you do with your last 24 hours?” Multi-disciplinary artist and photojournalist, Gyasi, created a reflective portrait project based on this harrowing question. Using a polaroid camera and a smile Gyasi has dug deep into the minds and souls of artists like Naomi Campbell and Jaden Smith. After losing two close family members, the 23-year-old Bed-Stuyvesant native began to think deeply about how people were using the short time they had on Earth.

The Last Days Project was born from Gyasi’s own curiosity about the inner fibers of some of her favorite artists. She sought to get behind the facade of public perception to find out what really matters to people. Attending three NYC high schools through her secondary school years gave Gyasi knowledge beyond her years although it also was the toughest time in her life due to bullying. Using art and music to escape she found that her creative pursuits led her right back to people and human interactions.

For the last year, Gyasi has traveled across the country asking influencers and celebrities about how they would spend their final hours. In the celebratory settings of festivals, concerts and shows Gyasi unexpectedly delves deep into this incredibly sensitive with finesse and understanding resulting in some stunning portraits.

We got a chance to learn more about her experience building “The Last Days” project and how she became the journalist who asked the hardest questions.

Jaden Smith shot by Gyasi for “The Last Days Project”

Where did you get your professional start after high school? 
I started working at this magazine called Beyond Race magazine. They’re not even in production anymore. When they were they were a print magazine and they put J. Cole on his first cover. I was in love with him. I kid you not. I was like: “What school does he go to? Apply!”. I really wanted to meet him so I applied and started working for him. The Beyond Race editorial team really held me down. Anything I wanted to do they supported me. My first interview was with Mac Miller for their digital cover. That was a weird ass experience. From there I kept on writing and worked for Mass Appeal for three years and now I’m here… doing me.

What does doing you entail? What does the average day look like for you now?
Honestly, I do whatever I want do. I’ve been working on my music. I’ve been working on my photography…the project. Dancing a lot. I’m just in a space where I’ve done enough downloading and enough watching and I’m ready to go. Whatever makes me happy that day I’m ready to do it.

Who do you look up to? Who gives you this drive to attack life like this?
My mama, my daddy and actually my younger sister, Kirk. She and her band have shows every week and I’m just like “Who are you?”. She moved out of the house and just started doing sh*t. She inspires me a lot. Also Anwar Carrots, Reginald Sylvester and Carlyle. SZA too. She has great work ethic. It’s hard to separate yourself from the internet and she does that well. Last one, there’s this artist named Uzumaki from LA and she’s dope. I’m inspired by anything…anybody. You can be tap dancing on the train and I’ll be like “Bro!”.

What was it like transitioning from a not so great place in high school to now where you’re creating freely? I’m sure people come up to you and ask how you’re doing this all on your own. Truly a one-woman show. 
You know what I tell people? Just do it.

What if they feel like they’re lacking something? Like they don’t have the confidence, the support or the money to pursue their dreams? 
When I was in high school I realized I don’t like to feel like sh*t. It was a mental switch. When you go through bullying and in my case people tried to play for things that I knew that I was good at. I got picked on for being talented. I didn’t like to show out for that reason but that restricts you and makes you mentally tired.

George Clinton shot by Gyasi for “The Last Days Project”

After you lost your godmother how did you cope? 
Accepting that she was no longer here was a part of me doing this project. Me not being able to close ends with her was really hard to deal with. I talk to her all the time now (points up). But I knew how I felt at the time and I knew that there were other people that felt this way.

With her passing I was really, really upset and I had to get it out. I had to have the conversations with somebody.  I though I’m already a journalist so I need to start something. Also at the time I was unsatisfied with my workload so something had to change and it ultimately transpired into the Last Days Project.

People don’t like to talk about death. It’s a very touchy subject especially among young people. What was it like getting this project off the ground and suddenly asking these people in the public eye about a sensitive subject such as death? It’s not your average blogger topic at all. 

It’s been weird because some people are like “Who the f*ck are you? What are you asking these weird ass questions?” 9th was like “I’m not answering that”.

Photo by Valentino Watson

Really?
Well Prince had just died so I understood. And that’s why I started this project. I would have loved to sit down with Prince and some other people that passed. Because I wasn’t able to I had to get the people I’m around now. At some point some little kids is going to be like “I’m inspired by Sango and I want to know where his mind was at when he was creating in his prime”. I feel like in journalism people ask dumb questions. You should be asking these people “What are you doing to change the world? How do you feel about the rainforests?” Some real life sh*t. I feel like people are too obsessed about clothes and who’s listening to who.

Don’t tell me what your album sounds like. I’m going to listen to it. Share something else that we wouldn’t know. If you have the chance to talk to somebody that has influence ask them real life questions that connects universally.

I only think about death maybe once a year or when someone around me passes. It’s not in something that’s on my mind everyday and it makes some people very uncomfortable. How do you approach asking about it? What kind of responses were you expecting?

My godmother and the people in my life who are strong-willed. I was tired of mediocre journalism so I start my own thing. For responses, it depends on the person. Sango wasn’t as surprisedot and George Clinton said he would just get high so it really depends on the person and where they’re at mentally at that very moment.

Naomi Campell shot by Gyasi for “The Last Days Project”

What are some of your favorite responses?

The response from a producer named Black Party. He told me he would do acid and buy bikes for kids. You can’t think on acid so I was confused as to how he would buy bikes but that response made me think about my entire life. It reprogrammed my entire brain. It was one of my first portraits and thats’ when I knew that I had to keep going.

What made you decide to use the physical polaroid photo as a format? It’s disposable. You can lose it at anyone of those concerts/shows you go to, the film can be damaged. It seems as if journalism these days clings to the digital format. Why head in the opposite direction? 
When something is digital the moment is temporary. I take a photo of you and then its over. We both probably will forget it. If I come to you with this old school polaroid camera we get to have a conversation. You get to touch the camera, the photo that comes out and you’ll most likely want to know why I chose to use this medium to document time. Then you get to write on it which makes it an even more personal and interactive experience. I’ve found the more attention you give your subject the more genuine and open they are which leads to a better outcome.

A portrait that stood out to me was Kari Faux’s. Can you tell me what it was like talking to her?
She’s really cool. Her response was ” I would tell everyone what I thought about them”. That would be really hard for me to do. I’m not sure I would be able to tell someone everything that I felt about them. I wouldn’t want my words to be misunderstood.

Okay you know I have to ask….What would you do with your last 24 hours?
I don’t know. We’ll just have to find out.

To support this project visit The Last Days Project site and support page.

Photo by Valentino Watson
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