Arts + Culture

Roscoè B. Thické Remembers it All

“True Beauty is a True Sadness” in Liberty Square. An emerging lens-based artist finds beauty in the transience.

Monica Uszerowicz
November 14, 2023

The photographer and artist Roscoè B. Thické III can’t recall some of the earliest images he made, only the alacritous curiosity that incited them. Thické, who captures his loved ones in photographs with a pensive, moving tenderness, is garnering overdue recognition. His work has been exhibited widely in the past three years—at institutions across his hometown of Miami, at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and, most recently, in DARK MATTER, a group show at New York’s Kates-Ferri Projects. He’s also won multiple honors, including an Ellie Award from Oolite Arts, the Miami-based arts organization and residency program that hosted his first studio and solo show. But then there is the other beginning, before he owned a camera: he joined the military at 18, just out of high school, and was stationed at Camp Casey, the US military base in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea. Thické was young and bewildered, out of the US for the first time ever. “Everything was new—a whole new culture, a whole new world,” he told me during a studio visit earlier this year. “I was scared because I didn’t know anything. But it was amazing.”

Down, 2020


Thické found love in Korea: he met his wife, a young soldier stationed nearby, on a night out in Seoul; he took a photography class, too, at the base’s education center, using Polaroids and disposable cameras to document and explore his new home. The subjects have faded from memory. What remains is the feeling, the way photography brought him nearer to the place and rendered it familiar. He remembers the experience like a former romance, finding the words for its ineffability, the rush of it. “Being able to capture things, to look at them, to hold them tightly: that perspective was something new. I fell in love with it. That’s when I knew.” The camera became his way through and toward a place, teaching him to see it—to study it like an observer, and then cradle it closer, lovingly.

Thické describes himself as a lens-based artist—he would never limit himself to a single descriptor, but photography was his first love, the medium that roots and animates all the others. His current studio is in Little Haiti’s Laundromat Art Space, where there is an invisible vapor of cedar and palo santo permeating the hallway, inviting visitors to his door. I imagine it as a wafteron, as it’s described in cartoon lingo: the image of a visible, follow-your-nose odor that sends Mickey Mouse floating toward some baked good. I pursued it that first spring afternoon I met Thické, almost hovering; the smell was Erykah Badu’s incense, scented like earth. Thické has made a home of his studio: lush-smelling and cool and stacked with photographs of his beloveds, enlarged and deific. A soft couch. Good music. That day, he played Indigo, an album by rapper RM, or Kim Namjoon, of BTS fame. On the way over, I had listened to “Yun,” RM’s single featuring Badu. I decided that this was a good sign, and suggested we listen to the song, which Thické hadn’t yet heard. “That is crazy,” he exclaimed, elated to learn that a member of the K-pop phenomenon, so loved by his daughter, had collaborated with one of his favorite musicians.

Roscoè in chair, photographed by Juan Luis Matos

Thické is a son, a brother, a cousin, and a father of three—Nazir, 21, Jada, 14, and Blake, 12. “Everything else comes after that. Everything else comes from that,” he told me. While at Oolite Arts’ Home + Away Residency at MASS MoCA in April of 2023, he worked on an upcoming photo and film series, The Fabrication of Fatherhood, for which he received a WaveMaker Grant from Miami’s Locust Projects, an organization and project space dedicated to the support of emerging artists. The project will examine “how fatherhood is seen, how it’s viewed, how I see it, how I view it. The things that make up fatherhood: the ills of it. The all of it. That’s who I am. It’s the lens through which I see everything. That’s what I was made to be.” Quietly, I hear RM singing his introspective refrain, “I want to be a human/before I do some art/it’s a cruel world/but there’s going to be my part/because true beauty is a true sadness,” which sounds like a song Thické might write, too.


The first work of Thické’s I saw was Mental Prison, a closely framed portrait of his cousin, Dre, on view at Oolite Arts. The work was part of the artist’s first solo show, ORDER MY STEPS: There are no answers here, move on. Dre’s head is bowed, his gaze somber. The ambient shadows of midday—the scene illuminated by a small sliver of sun—lend the image an incidental chiaroscuro effect: all shadows, with just enough light to outline the stone-smooth plane of his forehead, the soft slope of his nose. Behind him is a gated window, and beyond the window, there’s a pale expanse of sky, not quite in focus. The photo is framed by small wooden shutters, which Thické coincidentally found a day before the exhibition’s opening. ORDER MY STEPS, curated by Rosie Gordon-Wallace but named by Thické, takes its title from the gospel song, “Order My Steps in Your Word.” Thické is prayerful, a person of faith; he finds serendipity because he believes in it.

After returning home from the military, Thické lived in Texas, where his son was born, and then D.C., before settling with his family back home in Miami Gardens. He attended Broward College, taking photography courses under the tutelage of multidisciplinary artist Teresa Diehl, whom he credits for pushing him toward his distinct style. For a final in his Color Photography course, Diehl waited nine hours for Thické to color-correct his images in the lab before approving them. “The work came out amazing. I needed that at the time. I love her for that. I just love her. She’s an amazing artist.” Thické had become both a sports dad—his older son is an athlete—and “a PTA dad, selling cookies on Wednesdays.” He took on an IT job, which he still maintains. On weekends, he would screenprint images and develop photos using a darkroom he’d built in his mother’s storage closet. “It was my first studio; I was just creating for the love of creating.” When Oolite Arts issued an open call for studio applicants, his portfolio was already dense. “You’ve got to be in it to win it, baby,” his wife encouraged him. The organization would go on to grant Thické his first professional opportunities, including a home for ORDER MY STEPS, but he’d been ready for a long time.

Oolite Arts’ residencies have a maximum length of two years. Today, that image of Dre—the one surrounded by open shutters like butterfly wings—lives in Thické’s new studio, alongside photographs of the artist’s then-pregnant sister, whose recovery from breast cancer Thické documented with care. He captures her as she strokes her skin with a makeup brush, adorning her body as it heals and makes room for new life. There is his late maternal grandmother, the family matriarch who watched over Thické and so many siblings, cousins, children of friends. There is Dre’s daughter, soaring past us on a bicycle, front wheel in motion, mid-yelp and jubilant. Thické experiments with framing, like the shutters; the frames for a diptych of a young girl—a family friend’s child, taken in by Thické’s grandmother—are thrift-store finds, decorated with stained-glass flowers. Hand-painted by Thické in candy-pastels, the flowers obscure the photos, and the girl becomes part of the blossoming flora. In another set of images—a triptych—a boy is photographed from the back. He’s holding a paper lantern at the end of the block, a cigarette behind his ear—the suggestion of another flame. The lantern falls; he lifts it again in a raised, ecstatic fist. “It was my grandmother’s birthday, and she’d already passed away,” Thické explained. “The lantern didn’t go up. There was this action of him trying to release it, throwing it up, it coming back down. It was so ritualistic. I thought it was beautiful.”

Thické uses the word “beautiful” often, because the whole of it—life—is beautiful to him. Although ORDER MY STEPS was his first solo show, it felt like a retrospective, a lifetime’s worth of photographs of loved ones. The exhibition was presented in three chapters: Recovery, Absolute, and finally 1402 Pork N Bean Blue, a series documenting Miami’s Liberty Square housing complex—specifically his grandmother’s former home. Also known as the Pork & Beans and located in Liberty City—bound by NW 27th Avenue on the west and Interstate 95 on the east—Liberty Square was set to be demolished and renovated as Thické’s grandmother, who’d lived there for the entirety of his life, fell ill. “The project was originally called 1402 Pork N Bean Blue at the Intersection of Two Deaths—the death of my grandmother and the death of the housing projects,” he told me. “I initially started shooting the house, my grandmother’s house, and Dre, because he’s so, so beautiful and complicated. Then I’m hearing about what’s happening to the neighborhood, and seeing the whole neighborhood being destroyed, buildings getting demolished. ‘What do you mean grandma’s getting sick? What do you mean you’re about to move?’”

Liberty Square, one of the first public housing projects for Black Americans in the country—and the first public housing project in Florida, period—opened on February 6, 1937. Into the 1920s, Miami’s racial segregation laws confined the city’s Black residents primarily to Overtown, a neighborhood just northwest of Downtown Miami. Community organizing among its residents led to the creation of the Southern Housing Corporation (SHC), which consisted of several attorneys who lobbied the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration to develop Liberty Square, located around four miles northwest of Overtown. It was a fraught decision: the SHC likely had their own interests in mind—namely the development of private real estate in Downtown—and white residents adjacent to Liberty Square pushed to erect a seven-foot wall along Northwest 12th Avenue, accompanied by trees large enough to obscure the development from their view. Still, Liberty City became a predominantly Black neighborhood, well beyond the Liberty Square development (and meanwhile, less crowding in Overtown engendered its christening as the Harlem of the South, a thriving art community where Black musicians like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald—who performed at Miami venues but could not stay overnight due to segregation—gave late-night shows).

Thické’s parents grew up in that development, “across the courtyard from each other, attending the same church.” They lived together at 1402—a deep-blue house—after marrying, and had Thické, who was not then Roscoè. His late father had named him Albert Alexander Forbes III. “Roscoè is what they used to call me in the military,” he said. “I was wild and crazy—I seemed more Roscoè-ish than Albert-ish.” Thické’s grandmother was never fond of “Albert” herself, and called him “Baby” forever, though he was the eldest of four: two boys, two girls. He remembers leaving Liberty Square for other parts of Liberty City—his grandmother stayed—like “one of the duplexes on 77th Street. I was four or five, maybe six or seven. I used to drive my Big Wheel to the corner store and give the man our book of food stamps; my mom would have a list of all the stuff we needed on the back. He’d go around the store, pick up everything, and put it in my Big Wheel with a piece of candy.”

Missing Matriarch, 2021


In 2015, Miami-Dade County announced plans to redevelop Liberty Square in a multi-phase project and went on to partner with The Related Group, a Miami-based development corporation. The move was initially met with criticism: “The only way [Mayor] Giménez can sell this plan is by allowing trusted community leaders, not the paid-off pastors or political cronies, to have oversight on the project,” wrote Luther Campbell—better known as rapper and icon Uncle Luke—in a February 2015 op-ed for the Miami New Times. The mixed-income project is still growing, and while Related shared in a 2022 article for the Miami Herald that “we haven’t displaced anyone,” every change in Miami today, even the rare few that don’t seem deliberately intended to uproot a community, feels tenuous. Miami is now the country’s least affordable city, and neighborhoods like Liberty City—historically Black neighborhoods located on high ground, at least slightly safe from sea-level rise—are vulnerable to climate gentrification. The displacement of nearby Little Haiti’s residents is ongoing, ruthless.

There’s reason, historically, to be on edge. Thické’s concern is space, or the way a neighborhood’s contours shape the lives inside of it. “Liberty Square hadn’t been taken care of since the 1940s. The houses were dilapidated, and they had to be remodeled,” he said. “Looking at it objectively, these new places are nice. But this was a five-bedroom house with a front yard, a backyard, a porch, a clothesline. Their new space is a two-bedroom apartment. We would go everywhere: the front yard, the side, the grass. How can intergenerational families gather? Communities change when there’s nowhere to meet. The whole soul of the community has already changed.”


Boodawooda, 2021

Thické traces these changes, the smaller but potent tremors of daily life, with the sensibility and sensitivity of a poet. He has a palpable desire to name them, to hold them in mind. Photography is the heartbeat of that need, enlivening other mediums like text and song. In the catalog for ORDER MY STEPS, photos are separated by cinematic title cards: The Resurrection of Reese, A Box is a Trap, ABSOLUTE: There are Certain Large Cardinals that Cannot Exist in the Constructible Universe. The show’s opening was accompanied by Parables, a performance featuring Thické’s own poetry, soprano Whitney Morrison, and Thické’s daughter, Jada, a young writer herself, who responded to Thické’s photographs of 1402 with a poem titled “Grief.” “It’s amazing,” he said. “When it came to speaking publicly, she was better than me.” She recited the poem with her father’s hand on her shoulder. “I can’t help but miss the time and memories in this place,” she read. “It’s empty now/gone/and the memories with it, dying slowly/fading away, without our consent/Lord, I don’t want to forget/please, don’t let me forget.” The Miami-based artist and director, Juan Luis Matos, documented 1402 Pork N Bean Blue, the series, in a short film of the same name—it won a 2022 Suncoast Regional Emmy. For this, Jada read the poem again, in one of the few Pork & Beans houses left.

Jada’s perspective gives her father’s photographs an even deeper potency. His work is collective, intergenerational. “I learn so much from my kids,” Thické tells me. Reflecting on traveling for his older son’s track meets and preparing for his younger son’s competitions—he’s a mathlete—he added that “nothing is for sure. I tell them that next year they might be in a whole different situation, and to take advantage of things when they can.  I’m just listening, trying to help them be the best people they can. That’s my calling.” He attributes his impulse to listen, “to try to realize who they are and help them cultivate it,” to his own father, who loved him deeply and who Thické cared for toward the end of his life. “I’m just happy to be here, being able to do this—I was always doing photography just for me, so…”

Thické trailed off, then. The rest of it is faith. He orders his own steps, following the flow of his life and those of his children and his city. He knows his photographs, however personal, are testaments to the places that are “being demolished as we speak,” he said, later. They’re proof of life. “There’s so much I don’t know. But I’m exploring and documenting it to lay it down, to see what’s going on. Sometimes you’ll have an artist’s work on the front of a gate—and inside that gate is a whole block that they’re tearing down to build a condo. Ten years from now, all of this will be gone.” He was speaking about Miami, though it’s true of life itself, especially now, as climate catastrophe and endless greed threaten to wash away generations of communities and their memories. Thické’s children give him hope. He’ll keep observing, keep trusting in the beauty he continues to find, everywhere.

I want to walk worthy

My calling to fulfill

Please order my steps Lord

And I’ll do Your blessed will

The world is ever changing

But You are still the same

If You order my steps

I’ll praise Your name

— From “Order My Steps In Your Word,” written by composer Glenn Edward Burleigh.

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