Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Courtney Coles was raised by two military veterans and is the eldest of three. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from the Pacific Northwest College of Art and her Master of Fine Arts in Photography and Media from the California Institute of the Arts. Her photographs are a mixture of collaboration with the people she is closest to and a visual diary of a Black Lesbian. Working with themes surrounding longing and belonging, she is interested in dissecting the various ways that people, places and memories are home.
Back in 2017, two Los Angeles-based music photographers, alongside Erica Lauren Perez, she co-founded a pop-up traveling art show called To The Front. The idea behind it was to highlight underrepresented photographers in the music industry. Originally intended to be a one-time-only event, To The Front has since traveled to Nashville, Toronto, Boston, and more, and grown to include 50+ photographers across 10+ states.
With traveling not currently a safe or responsible option, Perez and Coles had to innovate and find a new way to bring TTF to music fans everywhere. With the help of Little Dipper, a music/art collective run by members of PUP and photographer Amanda Fotes, the two collaborated with the other photographers involved in the show to create their very first photo zine: To The Front Volume One: Black Lives Matter. The book will highlight works from artists part of To The Front, as well as essays and poetry that speak to the very issues that TTF was founded on. All proceeds will be donated to the Summaeverythang Community Center in South Central LA: https://summaeverythang.org/
when erica lauren and i started to the front, we were heartbroken. we met in the parking lot at the summer music festival and instantly bonded over our similar backgrounds. the two things we love and know are music and photography, and at the time, both were breaking our hearts. when she asked if i wanted to have a show featuring female photographers i instantly said yes. at the time i was in an art show featuring women of color and that inclusion had me thinking i should also get some friends together to show our work. it was serendipitous, having erica vocalize what i was mentally mapping.
i have been in love with rock music and its little sub genres for a little over half my life. i found a safe space within this world. i couldn’t play music, but i dreamt of photographing my favorite musicians in intimate spaces. the way a friend would photograph you drinking coffee, i wanted to do that with my favorite musicians. it would serve as my “thank you” to them. at 13 i didn’t think “photographing musicians and putting the photos on the internet” was a real job because in 2003 the internet was only blogs and chat rooms and myspace. fast forward a few years and i did just that: photographed musicians and the photos lived online. the internet was also how i came into contact with some of my favorite photographers, some of whom are part of to the front. the internet is also extremely loud and amazing voices and art gets lost within the endless scroll. the idea to take our photographs off the internet and into the Real World was more of an act of transgression than anything. as accessible as the internet is, it can really warp your senses.
girls to the front started with erica, dani parsons, carly hoskins and myself and all we wanted to do was take our photographs offline and put them on the wall of a gallery. just because we could. because we didn’t want to wait for someone else to ask us if we wanted to show our work. because it’s better to celebrate your friends than sit around and let the sadness of not getting hired take you over. soon after our new york show we dropped the “girls” and moved forward as to the front. we had no idea it would grow to be a collective of over 50 female and non-binary artists working in music, but we are incredibly thankful.
the elephant in the room is not only the racism and sexism within the music industry, it’s also the abuse of power. to put it bluntly: the elephant in the room is an enabled sexual predator. i have personally made it this far relatively unscathed, though i wish i didn’t have my own scars. i can’t (and won’t) speak for everyone involved with to the front, but i will say that i want to burn it all down and start anew. with each passing day more and more people are coming forward and sharing stories of their abuse. this collective has become a safe space within an industry that oftentimes feels alienating. i wish none of us had these stories of racist, sexist, homophobic, sexual abuse etc. to share, but i truly hope that in the coming years we can eradicate the monsters in charge.
this zine is a collection of work from some of the artists in the collective. right around this time we’d be planning on having a group show, but with the way the world is who knows when we’ll all be able to safely be in the same room. just like that first show, why wait around to make something when we can just do it on our own? the recent Black lives matter uprisings inspired all of us to use our art in a way to not only raise awareness, but to come together and show everyone that we’re not just artists working in music. we’re advocates and activists. we believe in a world where everyone is liberated.
To The Front is available for purchase now.