Film still from ‘Through A Lens Darkly’, a film about African American photographers. Image courtesy of PBS.

African American Photographers To Know

Black image-makers haven’t been hiding from me; I haven’t been looking.


It has been a week since I posted my own rather short roster and the list of African American photographers has grown. Considerably. I was introduced to a lot of these photographers, thanks to the photo community, the old fashioned way: Twitter.

I’m humbled and grateful for the many responses, but I owe a tremendous thanks to Charles Guice of Charles Guice Contemporary, William Earle Williams of Haverford College and John Edwin Mason of UVA. They are great resources and thinkers. Also, an early mentor I met at Fotofest, John Bennette.

This list is by no means comprehensive or complete. As such, I encourage you to add more names in the responses field at the end of the post.

  • Melissa Bunni Elian — M. B. Elian is a Haitian-American photojournalist, writer and multimedia producer based in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin — A Los Angeles based photographer. Check him out. I’m especially fond of his Daily Recordings.
  • Aaron Turner — He’s living in New Jersey right now but, his work on the south is something to see. I really love this portrait.
  • Natalie Lawerence — Natalie is a UK based photographer specializing in corporate and editorial photography.
  • Quam Odunsi- Los Angeles based fine art photographer. He has become renowned in the Los Angeles area for his images of celebrities and pop culture under the pseudonym Reserve Result.
  • LaToya Ruby Frazier — She is a 2014 winner of a MacArthur Fellowship Grant. She is an immense presence and voice in the photography world. Her words It is interesting to read her response to receiving the award. “I’m overjoyed to receive this award because often, when you’re a young black woman talking about inequality, people don’t take you seriously,”
  • Raymond Tompson Jr. — Raymond is a freelance photographer and multimedia producer based in Morgantown, WV. He currently works as a Multimedia Producer at West Virginia University. Check out his recent work. Beautiful light and lyricism.
  • Charles Guice — Charles owns a contemporary art gallery dedicated photography, film/video and new media. Visit his blog about African Americans in Photography. I’m struck by the quote in particular:

Racial segregation has permeated our culture; thus it is no surprise that the photographic segments of the art establishment have been controlled by white males. Even though artists, and the art administrators who deal them, tend to be liberal, they have not erased racial barriers. The same has been true of photographic historians, not to mention publishers. What is too often missing from our photography world is decision making that is sensitized to other value systems, that recognize other visual priorities as legitimate, that allows the artists themselves to state what is important and then actually to listen to that voice.”

  • Lorna Simpson — She is simply amazing: photography, video, collage. Just looking at her website is inspiring.
  • Jules Lion — 1810–1866 Originally from Paris, France, Jules moved to New Orleans where he established himself as a master lithographer and portrait photographer. He also introduced the daguerreotype process to New Orleans before it gained in popularity.
  • John Edwin Mason — He is documentary photographer and teaches at the University of Virginia. His blog has been a terrific resource and inspiration.
  • Endia Beal — Her portrait work is beautiful and powerful.
  • Brian Palmer- Brian is a documentary photographer and photojournalist based in Virginia. His work is compassionate, insightful and engaging.
  • Marc P. Anderson — I love his color palette and his compositions. Marc is a writer and photographer who lives in New York City.
  • Stephen Marc — Stephen is a digital montage artist who tells stories and speaks to the history of the African American experience in America. There is a lot going on in his work. He is a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe.
  • Deana Lawson — Her photographs are mainly portraits but explore very complicated issues in Black culture. They are striking and sensual images.
  • Paul Octavious — Currently living in Chicago, Paul is a photographer and video artist with a slew of editorial and commercial clients. I respond to his sense of composition, light and subtle wit.
  • Carla Williams — She is a real personification of what a working visual artist is today. She has a very well established art record but currently owns a store in New Orleans dedicated to selling a variety of art related items. I know I’m over-generalizing so just go to Material Life NOLA and you’ll see what I mean.
  • Hank Willis Thomas — His work is very powerful and, I think, spot on with the culture and complexity of African American art. There is a lot going on on a variety of levels but one takeaway is the black experience has been commercialized by white America for a very long time and that says a lot about how white culture feels about non-white culture.
  • Ron Tarver — Ron is a photojournalist and artist who living in Philadelphia.
  • Jamel Shabazz — Jamel is primarily a documentary street photographer in New York City and Brooklyn.
  • Gerald Cyrus — Gerald is a visual documentarian who lives in Philadelphia. Just enjoy the volume of his work.

Kwesi Abbensetts- This guy is awesome and he has such a lively eye.

Zun Lee Documentary street photographer

Ruddy Roye- Brooklyn based documentary photographer.

Khalik Allah- I love his color palette and vision.

Eli Reed — Eli is a Magnum Photographer. That says a lot.

Not all of the photographer’s work is about race but it is important to realize that race has been an ingredient in the creation of it. It would be a tremendous disservice to reduce the African Americans’ photographic contribution to that of making work about “being black.” Great art challenges and expands boundaries; these artists do that.

I just want to take a moment say how stupid and angry I feel at myself right now. The community I dedicated my life to is just as guilty of excluding large swaths of creative talent based on the very things great art is supposed to challenge and transcend. I have been complicit in this. The clear segregation in the photo world is unacceptable.

My own prejudice and racism (fear) wants to reduce and contain the African American photo community to making work about race and nothing else. This allows me to appear outraged in public while dismissing the work in private saying: “I’m not the audience for this work,” or “Gosh…” (white people say “Gosh” a lot to change the subject).

The African American community’s job isn’t to make it okay, forgive or facilitate my maturation in the arts. They haven’t been hiding from me, I haven’t been looking. I’m the one who is cherry-picking what I’ll allow to move me. Thinking I had to be free of stupid prejudice before engaging in African American’s photography is even more stupid.

I’m comforted by the words of G.K. Chesterson (a dead white guy) who said “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” So, I’ll keep looking and I will keep sharing.

If you are so compelled, please add names and recommend bodies of work by African American photographers in the responses field below.


Originally published at Ron Cowie Photo