The NYU Student Ditching Class to Shoot the Met Gala

photography, family, bedframe
Denise Stephanie Hewitt, “Found, Fond," 2022. All images courtesy of the artist.

At 20 years old, Denise Stephanie Hewitt conducts standard tours for prospective New York University students in her role as a campus ambassador and R.A. What’s out of the ordinary is that, while juggling a junior’s photography major at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, she touts a resume that spans a covershoot for Marie Claire to a highly circulated Barneys New York campaign. “I live this Hannah Montana double life,” she says. “I’ll be in class and then get an email from Vogue saying, ‘Hey, Simone Biles needs coverage for the Met Gala.'"

Hewitt attributes her prodigic career to the team at Red Hook Labs, a collective she discovered while exploring the South Brooklyn neighborhood as a part of a high school “project week.” With the guidance of the studio’s Executive Director Jimmy Moffat (also the co-founder of the premiere photography agency Art + Commerce), she was quickly immersed in the creative network of high-end fashion photography, with new colleagues like Tyler Mitchell.

But even as Hewitt has catapulted to creative stardom, her approach to the work remains grounded, familial, and, in the words of her mentors, intimate. Renowned artist, professor, and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Dr. Deborah Willis echoes that sentiment, celebrating Hewitt as a “compassionate photographer” with an impressive “storytelling aspect... specifically with narratives that explore Black women and beauty.” It's a fact that resonates in her latest work, which centers a backdrop she has often drawn inspiration from: her grandmother’s brownstone in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

Her grandmother, Agnes Stephanie, emigrated from Saint Vincent to New York and, after balancing multiple jobs, eventually bought her own home that is still kept by the family. She opened up certain floors of the brownstone to other Caribbean immigrants finding their footing, and established a moral code that her granddaughter holds close to this day.

Denise’s ongoing photo series, “Found, Fond," revisits this space entrenched in family “as if the house is a museum, going into cabinets with photos I didn’t even know existed, through shelves I had never dared to touch.” She captures various family photos against textured backgrounds like the dresser countertop of her grandfather, the living room bookshelf with a Bible, and a toaster oven full of foil-wrapped bread. For the artist, the series demonstrates “the weight of what the family means, particularly for the Black diaspora” that has faced a colonial history of purposeful ancestral erasure.