“A Letter To What Used To Be” visually expresses the narratives of indigenous black people born and raised in North Carolina. The state is changing rapidly and it’s important to remember those who built the culture it represents: the natives. Using film photography, digital photography, video and collage, Phillip Loken connects his audience to the memories and experiences of those who’ve long called North Carolina home. Three pieces from "A Letter To What Used To Be" were exhibited in the "BLACK GAZE" group exhibition at The Light Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina; on view until Feb. 28th, 2022.

All works created in 2021

“Indigenous peoples are the holders of unique languages, knowledge systems and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They have a special relation to and use of their traditional land.”

United Nations

Patricia’s Letter I


Patricia standing outside of her old elementary school, PreEminent Charter School, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Far behind the gated fence in the background of the image was a hill that Patricia would play on and roll down as a child. During her time at PreEminent, Patricia discovered her love for dancing, reading and writing.


Prints available (framed and unframed):

Austin’s Letter I


Recording artist Austin Royale at music venue Motorco Music Hall in Durham, North Carolina. Motorco has always been a pivotal space for the music community in Durham. This was the first venue Austin was ever paid to perform at and the venue of his first festival performance. When asked what message he would like to convey to Motorco’s newer community, Austin stated “don’t forget about the natives.”


Prints available (framed and unframed):

David’s Letter I


David Butler standing outside of Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina. This high school was named after David’s father, an educator in Mecklenburg county who passed in 1997. David comes from a long line of impactful educators, but didn’t exactly choose that path for himself. Although he didn’t follow the traditional route as much of his family did, David still carries on the Butler legacy of education through his own creative endeavors.


Prints available (unframed):

Patricia’s Letter II


Patricia sitting outside of her grandmother’s old apartment complex, Green Meadows Apartments, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Patricia reminisced about the African soap operas she would watch at her grandmother’s home and how she was the neighborhood babysitter. Although Patricia wasn’t a blood relative to her grandmother, the love and connection was undeniable and always felt.


Prints available (unframed):

Austin’s Letter II


Recording artist Austin Royale at music venue Motorco Music Hall in Durham, North Carolina. Motorco has always been a pivotal space for the music community in Durham. This was the first venue Austin was ever paid to perform at and the venue of his first festival performance. When asked what message he would like to convey to Motorco’s newer community, Austin stated “don’t forget about the natives.”


Prints available (framed and unframed):

David’s Letter II


David Butler standing outside of Butler High School in Matthews, North Carolina. This high school was named after David’s father, an educator in Mecklenburg county who passed in 1997. David comes from a long line of impactful educators, but didn’t exactly choose that path for himself. Although he didn’t follow the traditional route as much of his family did, David still carries on the Butler legacy of education through his own creative endeavors.


Prints available (unframed):

Patricia’s Letter III


Patricia standing outside of her grandmother’s old apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina. Patricia reminisced about the African soap operas she would watch at her grandmother’s home and how she was the neighborhood babysitter. Although Patricia wasn’t a blood relative to her grandmother, the love and connection was undeniable and always felt.


Prints available (unframed):

Austin’s Letter III & IV


Recording artist Austin Royale at Hillside High School in Durham, North Carolina. Hillside is the oldest remaining historically black high school in North Carolina. As we entered the auditorium of the high school, we realized we had walked into a rehearsal practice for an event that celebrated their 100th anniversary. In these images I capture Austin reflecting on the legacy of Hillside while also contemplating his own additions to that legacy. 


Prints available (unframed):

David’s Letter III


David sitting in front of the “From Charlotte With Love Mural” in Charlotte, North Carolina.  While sitting, David reflected on the importance of celebrating the culture that the natives of Charlotte have built up throughout the years.


Prints Not For Sale

Patricia’s Letter IV


Patricia standing outside of her old house in the Riverbrooke neighborhood of Raleigh, North Carolina.


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David’s Letter IV


David sitting in the dugout of the baseball field at Steele Creek Athletic Complex in Charlotte, North Carolina. David played half of a season of Pee Wee Football at this athletic complex when he was a child. David mentioned having football practice on the baseball field before they even had a dedicated football field.


Prints available (unframed):

Austin’s Letter V


Recording artist Austin Royale looking over the American Tobacco District in Durham, North Carolina. Austin’s grandfather was the first black supervisor at the American Tobacco Company in Durham. Austin mentioned the company would send his grandfather cigarettes when he was in the military to pass out to soldiers in stressful times. The “Old Bull” sign and the flame of Austin’s backwood glow in unison as an unspoken channeling of Austin’s grandfather.


Prints available (unframed):

David’s Letter V


David’s hat resting on top of a sculpture outside of the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. The iconography of the hat next to the name of one of Charlotte’s historically black neighborhoods, Brooklyn, infers that David is carrying on the tradition of black excellence left behind by his ancestors.


Prints available (unframed):

Adult Swim Inspired Commercial


Pulling inspiration from Cartoon Network’s nighttime programming Adult Swim, Phillip continues to mix his career background in marketing with his love for visual arts. This commercial serves as a brief intermission between the more serious subject matter covered in “A Letter To What Used To Be”, while still directly tackling the topic of gentrification. This piece will be available for sale as an NFT in early/mid 2022.

Music by Julian Argo & Josh Fonzarelli of $BlackProfit$

The Bridge


With an authenticated Colton map from 1865 serving as the base of this collage, “The Bridge” serves as a connection between the experiences of freed slaves and current black life in North Carolina. The documents shown in this collage are the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment and General Order No. 3 that freed the slaves in Galveston, Texas.


Medium/Materials: Oil Based Sharpie, Epson Paper, Plastic, Colton Hand Colored Map (1865)


Original piece available (framed and unframed):