On Being a Black Woman Photographer

In May 2016, after abruptly ending a decade-long stint in the writing industry, I began to court a more creative, more exciting profession — photography. As awesome as it was for this new experience, there was one thing missing.

Melinda F. Emerson is the author of Become Your Own Boss in 12-Months and is America’s #1 Small Business Expert. © The Melinda F. Emerson Foundation, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Just like any other in any other industry, there was an extreme lack of Black women photographers that were front and center. For about two years prior, I had been keeping up with the successes of Black women such as Rosetta Thurman, Melinda F. Emerson, Dr. Venus, and Allyson Byrd. These beautiful Black women of every shade, background, and size are leaders of their niches and collecting hella coins doing so; they dominate the small business consulting industry. They are published on various websites and publications and have been featured on television. They’re bringing in at least hundreds of thousands of dollars annually — each. Most importantly, they keep one another close and always promote one another. They reflect where I want to be.

Then I wondered, damn. Where’s the network like that for Black women photographers?

I want to have brick-and-mortar photo studios in Washington, D.C., New York City, Winston-Salem, Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

I want to be published on platforms such as Medium, The Root, Amateur Photography Magazine, Essence, American Photo Magazine, and Black Enterprise.

I want to speak at the Black Female Photographers Conference, the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International Conference, the Real Life Photography Conference for Women, and Shutterfest.

I want to appear on Good Morning America, Wendy Williams, The View, Just KeKe, Rude on the Radio, and the Oprah Show… hell, I want to speak at Howard University and Spelman while I’m at it!

Most importantly, I want to show little Black girls from Southeast, D.C. and beyond that if they want to build a successful career with their camera, then they can. Based on the way this industry is set up, they, and I, don’t have immediate access to those types of figures. I wasn’t exposed to any Black women photographers who were rolling in the dough, which led me to believe that there weren’t many (if any at all) that were thriving in the industry.

The one conference that specifically targets Black women photographers to train in the industry. It has six speakers — all of whom are Black women. Tickets are available here. © Black Female Photographers, 2017. All Rights Reserved.

As I read books by Scott Kelby and took courses by Sue Bryce and John Greengo, I simultaneously searched for resources curated by Black women photographers — women who we could look toward in the industry to fulfill our yearning to see ourselves as dominant, published, wealthy photographic entrepreneurs. A quick Google search led me to The Root, Medium, and Essence, but most divinely, by the grace of the universe, I was led to the website for a conference for “Black Female Photographers.” My soul was settled in way that I canNOT even explain. Naturally, through all these resources, I was lead to the works of a vast amount of Black women photographers. Including:

The good news is that there is no shortage of Black women photographers for me, and women like me, to network and aspire to. The curated list above includes women from all up and through the African Diaspora — continental Africa, African Americans, Caribbeans, Afro-Latinas, and even those from the United Kingdom. I also found hella photography books by Deborah Willis that intentionally and unexploitatively (yes, I made that up) center Black women as photographic subjects. I also know of a small collective called Brown Girl With a Camera. (Check them out!)

The one book that solely centers Black women photographers. We certainly have our work cut out for us. © Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, 1993. All Rights Reserved.

The bad news is that I could literally only find ONE book that centers Black women as artists; that resource is Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe’s Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers. I can’t lie, this lowkey reinforces the invisibility of Black women in the photographic world. Perhaps this is why at the Out of Chicago Summer Conference and the Real Life Photography Conference for Women not a single Black woman photographer was hired to speak. Maybe this is why women like me don’t know where to begin in our search for local mentors who are where we want to be. Regardless of the challenge ahead of us, we will find Black women photographers in our communities. We will find them. We will hire them. We will support them. We will network with them. And then, we will become them.

We can only get there together, though.

Until then, if you know any incredible Black women photographers, please drop their information in the comments section. This will be a living document, so keep it bookmarked to find new Black women to support!

Love, KJ Hodge.

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