‘Coloured White Not Coloured’: Portrait addresses Skin Bleaching

Picture this, a collection of portraits of a black family covered in white powder — how does it make you feel? Uncomfortable? That’s exactly the feeling Michaela King, a 21-year-old Photography student was hoping for. She spoke to Sleuth about raising awareness of the colourism and skin-bleaching happening in the black community.

Credit: Michaela King

What is it that initially inspired you to produce ‘Coloured White not Coloured’ and what is the message you are trying to convey?

My inspiration comes from an on-going issue that I’ve noticed in my local area. I’ve been to a lot of churches and a large number of women have bleached their skin, especially their hands and their faces because they simply can’t afford to bleach the rest of their body.

From having conversations with them, they perceived that being lighter automatically means you’re prettier. I believe everyone is beautiful no matter what colour their skin is.

The white powder edited over the models faces represents the skin bleaching cream. I wanted to use my project to bring light to the ‘colourism’ that is often a taboo subject in the black community, but also in certain parts of Asia.

How did you come up with the title?

Black people were referred to as ‘coloured’ back in the day. I wanted to play on the idea that white isn’t even a colour so I called it ‘Coloured White not Coloured’.

Credit: Michaela King

Why did you think it was important to raise awareness of the skin bleaching taking place in the African and Caribbean community?

Because bleaching is life threatening! It’s also scary to know that a lot of hair shops around the UK sell these skin lightening products openly in the form of soaps and creams. Many are illegal because the chemicals used to produce them are cancerous.

Some people even go as far as bleaching the skin of babies. To be honest it’s really sad and it’s important that we all work together to stop this continuing.

Who do you think is to blame?

For the most part I blame the media because there’s a number of skincare adverts publicised on TV that promote the idea that “brighter is better” and it’s slipped in and goes unnoticed.

Companies should also be held responsible. I came to the realisation that simple things like plasters and tights are catered to lighter skin tones. As a black person if you’re continuously exposed to these products, insecurity creeps in and you start assuming that something is wrong with the way you look.

Credit: Michaela King

What do you think needs to be done to resolve this issue?

People need to speak up to educate people about the dangers of skin lightening. Society as a whole needs to do more to embrace people of all skin tones.

What are some previous projects that you have done?

One of my best pieces of work is a biography that I did on my grandfather, Sam King who came to Britain during the Windrush era. He is known as the co-founder of Notting Hill Carnival in 1964 and became Southwark’s first black mayor.

When did you fall in love with Photography?

It started from a young age. My mum specialises in interior and wedding photography. She’s also an artist. If you come to my house right now it looks like an art gallery, there’s paintings and pictures everywhere.

Credit: Michaela King

What are your plans for the future?

I’d like to become a photography teacher in a secondary school with a small photography business on the side, but I’d like to continue doing projects that bring awareness to issues affecting the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK.

Also I’d really love to go to Jamaica, which is where I’m from and capture some amazing shots out there!

What tips would you give to somebody who wants to get involved with Photography?

1) Think outside the box! Always write down a set of creative ideas at the beginning of a project.

2) Have a firm message that you want to portray.

3) Think of ways to portray it in the best way possible.


Check out more of Michaela’s amazing work at; www.mkvisuals.portfoliobox.net

Written by Naomie Touré Samarou

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