Diontae Davis, a nineteen-year-old Hyde Park native, is the man behind Westworkd, a fashion blog and Instagram account documenting young African-American people around Chicago. He met with the Weekly to talk about Westworkd’s origins, his inspirations, and the importance of history in his work. Davis has style himself—he came to our interview carrying a vintage gym bag and wearing a hat, tortoise shell glasses, and multiple sweaters. Davis had requested a space with no people, because he is, in his words, “pure. I talk really loud.” Well, when you have something to say, as Davis does, you may as well shout it.
In your own words, what is Westworkd?
Westworkd is an outlet for people to become closer, an outlet for communication, and an outlet for African Americans. I focus on their external uniforms. My goal is to capture those uniforms, and, later on in life, write a book on how those uniforms relate back to our ancestors. Also, I focus on people who have broken out of this Westernized way of thinking about the world. I have no Western knowledge at all. I can’t talk to you about Greek philosophers or French Revolutionary Wars; I don’t know anything about that. These braids you have in your hair—I don’t know if they’re called faux braids or faux locks?
They’re called box braids.
Those braids originated from Senegal. So I am just trying to make that known, and I am really going to write a book. Because it is very hard to physically retrain your brain to be like, “You know, I don’t need this straight hair.” It’s very hard, because wherever you go that is all you see, especially with black people. But you should at least know who you are and where you come from, and then it can be your decision if you want straight hair or not.
How do you find people to photograph?
Really, I am a stalker. [Laughs] I am a big creep. So pretty much I search people up on Instagram and I’m like, “Hey, you look cool.” Sometimes people hit me back, sometimes people don’t. Now that my work is getting bigger, people actually come to me.
How did you get into photography?
Skateboarding. Prior to this I used to skate a lot, but I broke my ankle and I couldn’t skate as much. So I just started taking pictures. And on my computer I went back [through] like a thousand photos and thought, “There is a relation in all these photos, but what is it?” And I was like, “Well, they’re all black and they’re all dressing cool.”
My goal is to present more Afros and present more locks. Women are strong, but I just really want to advocate for women who don’t see it. AFROPUNK, all of that New York fan girl stuff—they got their lives. I really want to focus on the girls in Chicago. Chicago is where I am from, so I just want to advocate for these young ladies.
I see men on Westworkd too—would you say it’s also a place for presenting alternative styles for black men too?
Definitely so. It is kind of a different approach for black men, since the paradigm is that black women are the most objectified by the media. So I tend to focus on women, because I love women. I want to help her know she has a voice and she doesn’t have to conform to a certain way of living.
Who are your inspirations?
Rog Walker. The way he shoots his photos, it’s a contemporary way of shooting. The image itself is so quiet and so beautiful, and sometimes I feel like you have to love being quiet so you can like being around people, and he just shows that so much. And he’s doing what I’m doing now, but more subconsciously. He shoots a lot of black people.
Any last words before we end?
I really do have love for every single one of you. Like right now, once you press that red button to stop recording, I really do want to get to know you. [If you] see me on the street, say “hi.” Buy me coffee or I’ll buy you coffee, doesn’t matter. I really want to get to know you. Also, drink your water and eat your fruits and vegetables. That’s important.