feature: representation matters! – photographer austin willis’ “natural melanin” project

June 19, 2015

My name is Austin Willis. I’m a visual artist from Hayward, CA. I choose to express my message through fine art and portrait photography. I went to college for graphic design at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco before leaving because of personal reasons to pursue my dream full-time. After leaving school my passion for visuals arts grow deeper as I submerged myself into becoming a student of the craft and build a portfolio that is visually compelling but a message that can change peoples lives.

By Austin Willis, AFROPUNK Contributor



At a young age I was captivated by cartoons which lead me to finding a love for art. Whether it was sketching my favorite cartoons or just watching other create and find amazement in the products outcome. Yet, even though I had such a strong love for arts my path took a stray as I got older. Once I got to high school my time was over taken and so focused on sports that my passion for being an artist slowly faded. As I entered college, I was still solely focused on athletics and trying to earn a scholarship to a university to pay for my education but life had a different plan for me. In the summer of 2014 an injury forced me to throw in the towel and retire from my pursuit in a collegiate career in sports. Emotions took over as I felt depressed and confused on what was next for me. Art was there to guide me; to be the friend that let me express myself. I began designing for a clothing brand called “Devoting Time For Success” and from their on the fire was rekindled. As I continued to progress and grow my directions changed time and time again, as I looked for my lane and belonging in the creative community. Fast forward to November 2015, this time the stars were guiding me down a path that not only would change my approach as an artist but my outlook an growth as a 21 year old young man chasing a dream; I place of happiness and purpose. This purpose came through the expression of fine art and portrait photography. the love for this medium continue to develop the more time I gave to it. I always knew I had a gift for getting to know people and just talk to them person to person due ti moving around a lot as a kid. Because of that I choose to focus on portrait photography so I could capture the faces and diversity behind each story I encountered. In March 2015 I came up with the idea of creating a project to showcase the beauty and diversity behind women of color; from their skin

complexations to their hairstyles and textures. This project later become known as “Natural Melanin.” After posting it on my tumblr and instagram, the shock began as it was received so well just between the just the first two parts that were completed as it was shared 75,000+ times on tumblr alone. I began getting emails and messages from people telling me how much my project had inspired them to be confident in their own skin. That they felt they could wear their natural hair now and be proud of it. The experience was so humbling but made me even hungrier to keep progressing and spreading the message as the project wasn’t even fully competed yet. It was just the first two parts of a much large project in mind. Regardless of what has been achieve so far their is still much work to be done for me and the “Natural Melanin” as I plan to keep reaching out to different audiences along with capturing and documenting the beauty of the people in this world. I want to inspire people to never be insecure about their own skin because we are are all beauty and so unique in our own right. Once I have completed this project to the point I believe will be best represented I plan to take it to the end game where I can deliver a product that I am proud of but also people can be proud of whether they were part of the development of “Natural Melanin” or just supporting the message and spreading the word that we are all beautiful; the diversity within our skin complexations and culture behind each story adds to your individual beauty and makes you who you are.

* For updates on can keep up with Austin Willis at | Instagram