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The Growing Pains Tour - 24kGoldn Live

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Ferns Francois

Ferns Francois, who has lived in Lynn for 33 years, is a local business owner and community leader who was recognized as Local Black Excellence by the North Shore Juneteenth Association in February.

January 25th, 2024

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I’m just someone who’s extremely proud of Lynn, Massachusetts who hadn’t been in the past, and wants to be a part of its resurrection, or its revolution.

Ferns Francois

Behind The Lens: Ferns Francois

Story — Matteo Valente

Visuals — Matteo Valente & Francois Visuals

For the past five years, Ferns and Danielle have worked together in the fields of photography and filmmaking, which eventually led them to open up their own business, Francois Studios, just two years ago. From that point on, the couple has produced work displaying the beauty and art of people and life. The studio offers a range of services that can cater to a variety of different events, branding, headshots, engagement, boudoir, and even filmmaking services including music videos, Instagram reels, and more.

Ferns is also no stranger to the other side of the camera. Since 2013, the photographer has modeled for an agency, Maggie Inc. Through the agency, he had booked gigs for brands such as Puma, Converse, Reebok, and New Balance. Advertisements featuring him have been on buildings and companies’ social-media platforms. As of late, he has put his modeling on hold to raise his son and focus on the business full time.

Ferns Francois, who has lived in Lynn for 33 years, is a local business owner and community leader who was recognized as Local Black Excellence by the North Shore Juneteenth Association in February.

“I pride myself on speaking on behalf of the people who most need it. The children of immigrants, immigrants that need asylum, immigrants that need jobs, need a safe place to raise their family, the homeless, that’s what I’m proud of,” Francois told The Item at the association’s Local Black Excellence event in February. “Black people always need a platform… Sometimes we have to make platforms, we have to create space because we have to represent ourselves.”

Francois came to Lynn in 1990 at the age of 4 with his parents. More than 30 years later, he is raising a family of his own in the city with his wife, Danielle Francois, as they welcomed a baby boy in 2023. Not only do the couple make time to take care of their growing infant — they also make time to take care of their growing photography business.

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Ferns said that he has always had an interest in photography, adding that his mom was one of the reasons he got interested in the first place. His dad had recording equipment such as camcorders, and his mom adopted that interest. A Sony Minicam was one of the cameras that she owned and he would take that when he went on vacation. With these things around him, he found a way to utilize them and eventually started to refine his craft.

“You probably don’t remember the square or rectangular Sony cameras. They were always available at Best Buy for $400 or something like that. They were about 10 megapixels, and this was before the smartphone and so it could fit in your pocket,” Ferns recalled. “So I would take them to clubs, to friends’ events, and I had a friend who had a wedding when I was about 20 and I took photos not thinking I was gonna be a photographer, but something I picked up just because it was there. Eventually people start asking you, ‘Hey, can you do this for me?’”

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Francois came to Lynn in 1990 at the age of 4 with his parents. One thing Ferns loves to do is travel. His adventures are documented on Travel Bugsss, an Instagram account he shares with his wife. The account features them traveling to places such as Italy, Thailand, London, and New York and capturing their time spent at these locations. That’s where the journey to Francois Studios took off.

“My wife and I wanted to travel, and for us it was a new adventure that we were going into together. I had done some traveling with family, but this was an us thing, so immediately I wanted to document it,” Ferns said. “iPhones and Instagram were already a thing at the time, so I decided to buy a camera. I invested in my first camera, which was a Canon Rebel 26, and that started our joint journey into photography. We really couldn’t put it down.”

More than 30 years later, he is raising a family of his own in the city with his wife, Danielle Francois, as they welcomed a baby boy in 2023. Not only do the couple make time to take care of their growing infant — they also make time to take care of their growing photography business.

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When asked about photographers that he admires, there were two who came to Ferns’ mind.

“My Tom Bradys or Michael Jordans are James Felix and Prince Meyson. If my work were at that level, I’d be good,” Ferns said. “(Felix’s) work now is more risque, it’s in the boudoir realm. It’s not even so much the content for me, it’s the lighting and the finishing. It’s got this warmth, and it’s very consistent. He uses sunlight a lot. I think he’s somewhere… like Arizona, so he gets tons of sun. It’s that golden hour kind of sun and he uses it to his advantage. The photos are just dreamy and warm. I don’t mind modifiers, you can do so many creative things with them, but shooting in natural light and having a beautiful product in my mind is every photographer’s dream. Prince Meyson is one I watch on YouTube. His work is so great, and he also gives great tutorials. I’ve learned a lot from his work, and his tutorials.”

Local artists inspire him as well. He mentioned that he sees a lot of them on his timeline and respects the work they put out.

“We’re all doing something similar, but also taking very different approaches to it,” Ferns said.

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With a laugh, Ferns went on to share some moments that made him jubilant.

“I’ve caught some crazy stuff on camera. You know how some friends will have some unique daps, I’ve seen people with unique dances. I’m like, ‘You greet each other that way? That’s so dope!’” he said.


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“If I boil it down to where I’m having the most fun, it’s probably fun events,” Ferns said, describing his favorite subject to photograph.

“Capturing beautiful candid moments for me is the most satisfying.”

His appreciation for fashion shoots doesn’t go unnoticed either.

“Sure, when I’m doing fashion and I get a great edit that I’m really proud of, if the client is also very proud of it, I get a kick out of that. But that’s a longer payoff. That payoff comes way at the end, when you deliver the final image,” Ferns said.

Capturing candid moments that will live on forever in people’s lives is also something Ferns is keen on.

If you’re not familiar with Ferns , or Francois Studios’ work, perhaps you’ve seen him in Downtown Lynn. If you’ve driven, or walked by, 23 Central Ave. in the last four years, you’ve most likely seen a larger-than-life mural of a man painted on the side of the building. Who is that man? Ferns himself. It is one of many murals around the city that were created through a collaboration between Beyond Walls and a group of artists found locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Although humbled and honored, he said he finds it to be a difficult thing to embrace all the time.

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“I’ve seen Lynn go from a bit of a slum. It really earned its reputation ‘Lynn, Lynn, city of sin.’ Drug busts every month on the street over from me starting from 1997 to 2003. On our street police routinely, every two hours, would patrol that zone, they had to. I’ve seen it go from that to what it is today, which is a thriving community, both in its people and its economy. Education is still faltering, but everywhere else I’ve seen vast improvements, and I’m very proud of that,” Ferns said. “Lynn is somewhere to be proud of. The strides they’ve made, the people that live here, this is where I’m from.”

Feeling inspired and invigorated, Ferns wanted to get more involved in the community. Using their travel vlog brand, Ferns and Danielle talked about Beyond Walls and what they’ve been doing for the community. They then created a video displaying where the new murals would be for a festival. Beyond Walls caught wind of the video and loved it, establishing a friendly business relationship with Francois Studios. Beyond Walls played a big role in Francois Studios becoming a profitable business. It was the studio’s first big client, even though it is a nonprofit.

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Through LEAP for Education, which Ferns was referred to by John Andrews at Creative Collective, Ferns was brought in to speak and present to Marshall Middle School’s photography class. The goals of his visit were to inspire the kids, to educate them on the potential pitfalls of owning a photography business, and to show them pathways for success.

“Kids really are the future. I wish I could give back more, so why not give back to kids who are interested in a field that I’m pretty good at,” Ferns said.

He spent the class providing his expertise, answering questions, giving some guidance, and taking interest in the students’ work.

“Some of their work was pretty awesome, and I’m glad they were proud to share it with me,” he said.

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“He is committed to painting someone local to the community that brought him in,” Ferns said about Smug. “He brings in his immense talent and he honors someone within that community.”

When it came down to choosing who to paint for his mural in Lynn, Ferns was one of the names that came to mind.

“Fate had it, when he was doing research about Lynn after they made contact with him, he came upon one of the videos I made on behalf of Beyond Walls. Before he even got on a plane to come over here, he was already acquainted with me, with my work. Then he asked Beyond Walls, ‘Who should I consider?’ and I’m one of the names they put forth. I guess it was so serendipitous to him that he was like, ‘This has got to be the guy, right?’” Ferns said.

He went on to say that he knows there are people who do not agree with the decision.

“I don’t want to make that mural just about me. I don’t post about it all the time, sometimes I will repost it when people post it because I am grateful and I want to share his work and I want to honor his work and the work Beyond Walls has done, but it’s definitely a point of contention for me because I don’t wanna come across as arrogant because I’m on a mural. I’m not that person. I’m just someone who’s extremely proud of Lynn, Massachusetts who hadn’t been in the past, and wants to be a part of its resurrection, or its revolution,” he said.

The Creative Side: Rafael Arturo Shabazz

Story — Matteo Valente

Visuals — Rafael Arturo Shabazz & Courtesies

Fast forward to high school, Shabazz continued painting, but took on sewing and designing pieces. He still kept his love for poetry, and found himself listening to jazz and expanding his music taste. Out of high school, Shabazz packed up and moved to Paris and got his first full-time job cleaning floors in a hospital. He took his mom’s camcorder with him to Paris, just like how she brought it to the Dominican Republic to capture moments with her family.

“I figured out that me and my mom have the same mentality when it comes to recording history. You know, documenting history, documenting ourselves. Growing up, there’s a battle between me and my mom low-key because she doesn’t let me do what I wanna do. There's a similarity between us. That’s a relationship I reflected on. While she was building a life for us and the struggles sort of prohibited my freedom into the world, we shared a lot of similar interests. So my mom is someone who has been very influential in my life.” Shabazz said.

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Rafael Arturo Shabazz, an Afro-Latino photographer, published author, poet, musician, and visual artist, has quite the portfolio.

“Less is more and after all there is beauty in simplicity when you think about the art of photography. My mission is to magnify the visions of my collaborators, my clients and create images that reflect everyday life and beyond,” Rafael said on the Instagram account for SKIN & BONE, his company.

Born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts, Shabazz grew up in low-income housing with his mom, who worked a part-time job for $9 an hour. His mom worked hard to maintain the household, but it was unstable, and domestic violence was present.

“I’ve gone through bullying most of my life. I’ve had a speech impediment growing up because my primary language was Spanish, but then I had to adapt to the Boston public school system and learn the English language.” Shabazz said. “In the process, I fell in love with literature as literature became a bridge to gap the alienation of where I come from and how I grew up. Falling in love with literature introduced me to poetry, and introduced me to Langston Hughes, so journaling became a safe haven for me whenever I felt too different or couldn’t fit in certain places, or I felt alone or I felt like I needed to express myself… I resorted to poetry.”

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Q: How did you come up with the name SKIN & BONE? What does it mean to you?

A: I came up with the name SKIN & BONE because I wanted it to relate to just the basis of fashion photography. And that is a person right in front of the lens expressing themselves through their clothing. SKIN & BONE has always been about fashion. The root of how I started was with landscape photography and documenting the times. So, I still wanted to incorporate that and that rawness of capturing time is embedded within the metaphorical meaning of skin and bone. It’s just raw. SKIN & BONE on a more technical aspect, is like, yes, I’m capturing people, you know, I’m capturing different kinds of people in different ways. So, it’s pretty much I came up with this slogan “SKIN & BONE: Show us you, show us who you are”.

Q: How would you describe your style of photography?

A: My strength is portraiture work, that’s something that I’ve recognized, I think within the last few years or so. My strength is capturing faces, literally faces, anything above the chest. So, I would describe my work to be sort of intricate, and sort of intimate in a way, but also natural and colorful.

Q: What do you think makes a perfect photograph?

A: What makes a perfect photograph is understanding what camera you’re using. I think once you understand the mechanics behind the camera and you understand yourself because now you’re able to filter out, or filter down, what type of photograph you intend to capture. I mean it really all just depends on how much time you spend with your hobbies. A perfect photograph depends on repetitive practice.

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These past couple of months, Shabazz has made big waves to kick off the year. Back in February, he sat down with host Paul Willis at the Frugal Bookstore and discussed Shabazz’s journey and SKIN & BONE. And just earlier this month, Shabazz landed his first art gallery exhibition at the Urbanica Gallery in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

“This exhibition is dedicated to Dorchester, Roxbury, my friends, loved ones, and the art of repetition.” Shabazz said via the SKIN & BONE Instagram.

If you want to learn more about Shabazz, see more of his work, book a photoshoot or consultation, or buy his book, “I.S.A.A.C,” click here.

Q: Within this year, or the next two or three years, what goals do you want to achieve?

A: I got some big goals in my life. I feel like this is a way of manifesting it. That’s why I was so excited to pop on because I’m manifesting this. My goal is to do a Vogue cover, and also to be on ID Magazine, and O32c Magazine as well. These are the magazines that I resonate with, my type of style, and once that’s said and done I’m retiring. I’m done with photography, I have nothing else to prove.

Q: Are there any photographers that inspire you, or that you admire?

A: Yes, yes, one of them is Tyler Mitchell. He inspires me a lot. Another one is Helmut Newton. Newton is the guy who photographed this really infamous editorial of Yves Saint Laurent. It’s this woman in a full suit trying to pursue this other woman, and Newton plays a lot with different aspects of sexualities and incorporating fashion into both of those worlds and merging them. Mitchell focuses more on distorting reality with his backdrops, and telling intimate stories about boyhood or girlhood stuff like that. I really like that.

Q: Is there anything else you want the people to know?

A: I believe that I’m one of the best photographers in Massachusetts. Period. I really feel like, you know, the amount of time I’ve spent learning my craft has really proven itself over time. Even in that aspect it’s distinguished itself amongst other photographers. I like that because that’s special to me, to stand out sometimes in the art world. That is something I wanted to get off my chest. Another thing is obviously if you love what you do and invest 100% into it, it’ll come right back to you. Something else I wanted to share is SKIN & BONE is not a magazine. It’s just photography, and I don’t want people to get it confused because of the branding now.

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3000 to the (I)MAX

Story — Matteo Valente

Visuals — IMAX & Dice.FM

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More than 17 years ago, Outkast released what appears to be their final studio album, “Idlewild.” One half of the Atlanta-based group, André 3000, has kept a seemingly low profile in terms of his music career. Throughout the years, André has been featured on tracks with the likes of John Legend, Lloyd, Beyoncé, Kesha, B.o.B, Gorillaz, T.I., Anderson .Paak, and others. In 2021, he teamed up with Ye on the track “Life of the Party.” Last year, he collaborated with Killer Mike on the track “Scientists & Engineers,” which featured artists Future and Eryn Allen Kane.

In November, André returned to social media and announced an upcoming project he’d be releasing. Fans were exhilarated to hear what the upcoming project would be. An Outkast reunion album? A long-awaited solo rap LP? Those ideas would be dismissed with the announcement of his first album, “New Blue Sun.” This would mark André’s first-ever studio album since he hopped on the music scene nearly three decades ago. Three Stacks wasted no time in stating there would be no rapping on the album.

“It actually feels… sometimes it feels inauthentic for me to rap because I don’t have anything to talk about in that way. I’m 48 years old. And not to say that age is a thing that dictates what you rap about, but in a way it does. And things that happen in my life, like, what are you talking about? ‘I got to go get a colonoscopy.’ What are you rapping about? ‘My eyesight is going bad.’ You can find cool ways to say it, but….” André 3000 told GQ last year.

Instead, the album was an 87-minute (originally three hours long), eight-track, instrumental piece that was sonically different from what we’re used to from the Atlanta native. New-age, spiritual jazz was the direction he had gone with for the LP, largely consisting of experimental flute music. 3000 has been credited with playing digital wind instruments, contrabass flute, wood and bamboo flutes, Maya flute, and pedals on the album.

Some fans who had waited more than a decade for new music were stumped and disappointed to hear the news. After its release, it seemed that most reviewers were satisfied with the album.

“Luckily, André 3000’s 87-minute ambient music odyssey is a gorgeous, deeply contemporary, prismatic breath of fresh incense,” Rolling Stone critic Christopher R. Weingarten wrote about the album.

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There was nothing flashy about what André presented. The sounds, movements, and facial expressions were enough to get the point across and keep the viewer intrigued in the art piece. The audience watched on, pondering what the flutist was trying to paint on the screen before them. It was a refreshing break from what we hear today in mainstream music, and invigorating to see an artist take such a different leap in their career. From beginning to end, the cinematic experience was truly new-age. From the actions on screen, to the atmosphere of the theater, everything felt serene and peaceful. Although, if you’re not a fan of new-age music, but a fan of André, the visual experience and music felt reminiscent of “Prototype,” the fifth and final single from Outkast’s fifth studio album “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below,” which was released 21 years ago.

After the long-form music video came to an end, the showing ended with a live-stream conversation with André and Nance, who were present at the Lincoln Square Theater in New York City. Audience members from each theater were able to submit questions to be answered by the two.

Benjamin from New York sent a question about the track “Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Your Lord & Savior J.C. / Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, And John Wayne Gacy,” and wondered what the connection was between all the people listed.

“I was just trying to show the extremes of a balance,” André 3000 said. “I wasn’t trying to get at anybody, or do anything that would piss people off, but I want to put those names right next to each other just as a reminder that us humans, I mean, we all have like good and bad in us. Nobody’s all good, nobody’s all bad. So, it was the most extreme way I could think.”

When asked about self-doubt when releasing this album, André 3000 shot that down.

“It’s really not overcoming self-doubt. I think it’s a misunderstanding. People feel like, ‘Oh, he’s doubting himself so much, that’s why he’s not putting out music.’ For me, it’s always been I have to like it, period.” André 3000 said. “I’ve been close to things, but not worth sharing. Once we started working on ‘New Blue,’ I felt compelled.”

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The opening track, “I Swear, I Really Wanted to Make a ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally the Way the Wind Blew Me This Time,” broke the record for the longest song to debut on the Billboard Hot 100, and “New Blue Sun” was the first instrumental album to take a spot on the Billboard Hot 200.

Next, it was time to bring it to the big screen. André 3000’s company, A Myriad of Pyramids, and IMAX teamed up to present a one-night showing of a cinematic interpretation of “New Blue Sun.”

“Directed by Terence Nance, witness André’s fusion of improv creativity and musical exploration in vivid detail and unparalleled sound quality through the IMAX Live Experience, blending captivating visuals and instrumentation,” the IMAX website reads.

“André 3000: New Blue Sun IMAX Live Experience” was brought to life in 22 theaters across the United States, most of which were sold out by the time of the showing.

For an hour and 31 minutes, viewers sat back and watched André 3000 as he displayed his creative evolution that led to this new project. Sitting in a blue room, with a candle lit on the bottom right, André introduced himself to the audience and thanked everyone for taking time out of their day to be there and watch this cinematic experience. He was quick not to waste any more time and began to take the audience on an artistic journey as each track from the LP played back to back.

On the album each song was pure improvisation, and that’s what it felt like on the screen. Using the environment around him as a canvas, his body movements on the surface level looked irrational, but they told a story. Utilizing improvisation, the spontaneous creation of movement, Three Stacks opened up as we watched him play, let go, and act on impulse. It took you through a range of emotions including happy, sad, angry, confused, lost, and content. The pairing of the onscreen visuals and the volume the theater produced got the viewer fully immersed in the experience, and although there were no words to be heard, you felt and were moved regardless.

When ending the conservation, 3000 had one more thing to say.

“I realized that popcorn is underrated. Movie butter popcorn in particular is underrated. So thank y’all for bringing me to that smell,” he added.

If you missed the one-night showing, André 3000 will be on the road for the “André 3000: New Blue Sun Live” tour. Carlos Niño, Nate Mercereau, Surya Botofasina, and Deantoni Parks, who all performed on “New Blue Sun,” will join him in bringing the album to life. Don’t wait too long, as a lot of stops are already sold out.

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In terms of upcoming performances and collaborations, André dropped some big news.

“You should be on the lookout for both,” he said. “We just announced the tour that’s actually starting in New York. I think we’re starting in Brooklyn. The way we made the album, the energy that we took to make it, it’s pulled out of the air and I can’t wait to do that for people live, to see it in person. We have a whole tour coming up, and we will have special guests pop up, so stay tuned.”

What made him want to allow people inside his world and see his creative process?

“I felt like it was beautiful and just worth sharing. That’s simply it,” he said.

Another viewer asked him what advice he would give to young Black creators from the South who are feeling constricted by social norms.

“I don’t know the restrictions, I would have to know which restrictions you’re talking about. But I think we’re in the best times. We grew up and we only had one or two opportunities to make it. You only had a radio station or a record company. If they ain’t like you, you are just gone,” André 3000 said. “Now I think the youth or anybody trying to do art or music, you just have so many tentacles, you have so many ways to get out. You can do something tonight, put it out tomorrow, and just be popping. We didn’t have that opportunity, you just have way more opportunity. Like at a click of a button, you could share a thing and people will hopefully like it. Back then, even if you had a demo, you only got to the 10, 20 people you sold it to. The opportunity of technology now is almost unstoppable.”

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