Magnum photographer Khalik Allah releases a film portrayal of social and racial injustice on the streets of Harlem.
Created in just eight months, IWOW: I Walk On Water is a tribute to some of New York’s most marginalized people, an intimate and visually stunning deep dive into Harlem after dark.
In IWOW, Allah focuses on longtime muse Frenchie, a 60-something schizophrenic, homeless Haitian man with who he becomes increasingly intertwined. In parallel, Allah, the filmmaker behind Black Mother, also turns the camera on himself to document a turbulent romantic relationship and grapple with personal notions of spirituality and mortality – all inquiries about which he gathers advice from charismatic confidants including Fab 5 Freddy, members of the Wu-Tang Clan, and, in deeply moving exchanges, his own mother.
The three-hour and 19 minute-long “documentary-poem”—now released in virtual cinemas and on-demand by Dogwoof—is shot at night on the corner of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in Allah’s native Harlem, New York; the corner Lou Reed sang of in Waiting for My Man.
Over his five-year artistic engagement, Allah says life on the corner of 125th and Lex hasn’t changed much. “There’s still a heavy police presence; people are still being victimized and oppressed,” he says. “K2 [synthetic marijuana] is still being sold from the corner stores. There’s a lot of pain.”
Shot on 16mm film, Allah intends the film to convey “a snapshot of life—my life, my relationships, and the life of the streets”. The film conveys Allah’s relationships with the disparate people who somehow exist on the streets of Harlem, and who Allah has developed friendships with over the course of a decade or more.
“IWOW is a sort of first-person documentary poem; a statement of my artistic integrity and my uncompromising dedication to the streets.” (Khalik Allah)
About the Author
Khalik Allah (b.1985) is a New York-based photographer and filmmaker whose work has been described as “street opera” simultaneously visceral, hauntingly beautiful and penetrative.
Khalik’s passion for photography was sparked when he began photographing members of the Wu-Tang Clan with a camera he borrowed from his dad.
Real and raw, his profoundly personal work goes beyond street photography.
His eye for daring portraiture and bold aesthetics takes us into an entire world.
While the people he photographs on the corner of 125th and Lexington Avenue in Harlem have been his central inspiration, his work also extends to documentary film with “Field Niggas”, a chronicle of summer of nights spent at the intersection of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue. The film takes its name from Malcolm X’s famous lecture, “Message to the Grassroots.”
Khalik shoots with a manual, analog film camera, as photography and film-making form a venn diagram in his work.