January 4, 2021
Fashion & Beauty
Across the photography industry, publications, editors, and photographers are having long overdue conversations about racism, equity, and access. People in positions of power have ignored complaints about the industry’s exclusivity up until this point, but that is no longer profitable for them. After a summer of protests demanding racial justice, media companies and brands are scrambling to present themselves as diverse. But I am skeptical of symbolic gestures like social media statements. I am tired. I want action.
First and foremost, this isn’t a trend. Things won’t return to the way they were before. We aren’t going away. You’ll continue to see us in all our glory and beauty on your magazine spreads, on your timelines, and on your billboards, so you better get used to us. The industry needs to learn that they need Black photographers and photographers of other ethnic minorities more than we need them. With the increased visibility of Black creatives, these past few months have shown that there is zero correlation between the colour of your skin and the quality of your work, and the sooner the photography industry (editors specifically) realises this, the better for them, not us. Representation is more powerful than one might think, and I believe that this increase in representation for Black photographers will spawn a new school of artists, fearless to dream.
Kemka Ajoku, London and Lagos @kemkaajoku
I was born and raised in Ludhiana, a city in the state of Punjab in India. I belong to a very conservative Punjabi family. My family did not support my decision to pursue photography; I couldn’t walk around my city and photograph because of this. So I moved to Bombay a few years ago. Most of the established photographers live there. Here there is more work and more opportunities to make contacts. At the same time, I also feel that established photographers dominate the industry. They are only interested in promoting and acknowledging each other’s work. I feel like an outsider sometimes. It is very hard as an emerging photographer to break in.
Bhanu Sachdeva, Bombay @bhanusachdeva_
Black photographers need to tell their own stories. A lot of outlets will have non-Black photographers document Black experiences. I feel that this leads to the sensationalisation of these moments. I think in the long run this change can lead to seeing the Black experience in an honest way, not through a skewed lens. Black people are multifaceted. Over and over, our story is told with a view of us being poor and sad, but there is a lot of joy and prosperity that isn’t widely presented.
Jelani Rice, New York City @andyrockhampton
The photography industry has been dominated by white men from its very beginning. It has been used as a tool for propagating stereotypes, discrimination, and racism. The medium was used as a colonial tool on the documentation of peoples and cultures that colonisers encountered, portraying them as exotic and otherworldly. This resulted in the alienation of other ethnicities, and later, setting European standards that are not representative of the diversity of race, gender and cultures around the world. The industry needs to learn from its long history of oppression, rethinking its practices in order to break from its history of oppressive actions. Decolonising the industry means giving better opportunities to minority groups, and working on narratives that aren’t built around the white, male gaze.
Rodrigo Oliveira, Rio de Janeiro @Rodyoli
I grew up in southeast London, on the border between London and Kent. The area felt more like a small town because of how little was going on. There wasn’t a lot of diversity either. So I didn’t grow up seeing myself in the people around me. That’s influenced the work I’ve made for myself recently. I’ve really wanted to explore my family heritage in Ghana and capture stories that felt relevant to me. There was so much beauty there; I think it was really formative for me as a photographer. It highlighted to me, in a really personal way, why it’s really important to have different voices in front of and also behind the camera.
Abena Appiah, London @theaya_
This is NOT a moment in time. This is an Uprising, a Revolution, a call to action, and a light being shed on the years of oppression and disregard for Black and other underrepresented communities. To move forward with equity and inclusion, BIPOC and QTPOC artists must be given the opportunity to tell their own stories. They need to be photo editors, agents, executives and sit on decision making boards. There is such power in representation and authentic storytelling that does not translate through the white gaze.
Sidra Greene, New York City @sixid
There are underlying geographic discriminations when it comes to freelance creatives finding work. It’s very evident that in cities like New York, LA, or London, the opportunities and resources are more concentrated. Thus, in North America, I find most work opportunities prioritise talents who are based in those places, as they already have a mature and established reputation in those cities. So for someone like me who is from Toronto, I hesitate to display or announce my location because I don’t want to be eliminated right from the beginning of the process due to where I am based. I also don’t want my work to be seen in a different light because of where I am from.
Mary Chen, Toronto @chen.mary_
The issue of gaze is very topical right now. I recently saw statistics regarding Black Lives Matter protests across the United States and the amount of Black photographers commissioned to cover them. To me, if you’re a photo editor, this is a great opportunity to allow the Black community to tell their story, but it was like 80% white, male photographers doing the work. So I think for particularly sensitive stories, we need to really think about who gets the opportunity to photograph them. In general, there needs to be more empowerment of minority communities in this industry, particularly in large institutions who have huge amounts of reach and power.
Chris Gurney, Perth @chrisgurney_
Photography is built on a history of perpetuating racist stereotypes while emphasising the power of oppressors. It categorises, exoticises, and erases which informs our collective understanding of race and class. Too often we gloss over the fact that the absence of material in photographic archives speaks louder than what is present. As viewers, we need to understand that these absences represent voices that have been unaccounted for, eliminated, and omitted. This presents a heavily edited sense of our surroundings. Revisiting historical bodies of work and identifying their blind spots and biases should be a priority. This means returning power to people whose images have been exploited, appropriated, and forcibly taken.
Myu Inoue, New York City @myu.inoue
Growing up in the American Midwest, Black lives, by design, have been the unreported, undocumented, and uncelebrated. The middle of the country has been a place to fly over but never explore. The industry has rarely turned inward to elevate our narratives and discourse through exhibitions and displays. To be from these spaces and to excel in any way within the industry is almost folklore. Access constantly separates our truths from concept to execution. We’re the stories the world hasn’t felt yet. We’re finally witnessing the industry experiencing firsthand what, in many ways, they too have perpetuated.
Curtis Taylor Jr, Los Angeles & Atlanta @curtistaylorjr_
Photography calls for a certain amount of empathy; it’s not necessarily an act of pure objectivity. To capture the rich complexities of life into a single frame requires the ability to understand the significance of the subject, which inevitably asks us photographers to care. Storytellers have diverse life experiences and cultural backgrounds – each person offers a different perspective, perhaps more heartfelt and authentic for certain subject matters that inspire empathy in them. I hope this becomes the standard to approach a photographer, to actually see who’s behind the lens.
Tess Ayano, New York City @tessayano
I have always been aware of the difficulty of breaking into the industry as a Latin and queer identifying person. I have a large number of hurdles to hop over compared to some of my privileged peers, but that’s been the case for my entire life. I am prepared to deal with that. That doesn’t make it easier, but accepting the fact that my hustle will have to be harder motivates me. It helps me to remember to open the doors for my peers who face the similar hurdles. My immigrant mother set an example for me by opening the doors for me and my sister, by hustling so that we could live in the United States. Her sacrifice and love is the example I work to show inside our industry. We must tirelessly question our intentions, and work to be better because of it. We must celebrate each other and care for each other, and the imagery in front of us.
Steven Molina Contreras, New York City @stevenmcontreras