Black Photographers Matter

- - The Future, Working

Guest post by Amy V. Cooper

This past week has provided a huge swell of excitement about the potential for change not just in our country, but in the photography community. It has been amazing to see so many
businesses not only supporting Black Lives Matter, but also pledging to review their own
practices and biases, launching internal reviews and initiatives, and, for a few, publicly
announcing the steps that they will be taking to address racism and the lack of diversity within their companies.

We have seen white photographers create a database for finding Black photographers; photo editors, designers, consultants and agents offering pro bono services and mentorships to Black photographers. Resources for finding Black photographers like Authority Collective, Diversify Photo, Color Positive and others are being amplified.

Photo courtesy of Alexis Hunley

It’s not breaking news that the photography, media and advertising industries in the U.S.have a great deal of work ahead to further diversify. “I can’t find them” is no longer an excuse for not hiring and representing Black creatives.

It’s time to get to work.

With input from Black photographers, I’m offering these suggestions toward becoming a more inclusive and diverse industry. We are not suggesting that photographers be hired solely on the basis of race – nobody is asking for or wanting this. But Black photographers need to be seen and feel seen.

This is not about handouts. It’s about opportunity.

I am proposing that we work harder to include Black perspectives in our spaces and offer more opportunities for them to be seen, supported, educated, mentored, empowered, amplified, celebrated and paid.

I am proposing that we hire Black photographers to shoot more than race-related reportage and subjects or experiences that we think are germane to theirs.

I am challenging us to consider more Black photographers for shoots and triple bids, give them more of our time and invite them into our networks.

As a former editor and art buyer, I know that it feels risky to take a chance on someone when their current portfolio might fall short of our explicit expectations, but now is the time to start taking some risks so that more Black photographers have the opportunity to gain the experience that they need in order to compete with non-Black photographers.

Here are actions we can all take:

  • Offer scholarships, mentorships and/or paid internships to Black people.
  • Intentionally network and ask for meetings with Black creatives.
  • Accept meetings and respond to emails and DMs from Black people.
  • Do our homework to research and discover more Black creatives within our industry.
  • Hold others accountable for inclusion, ask questions and take inventory of diversity
    within our spaces. This is going to be uncomfortable and hard—do it anyway.
  • Create policies and diversity initiatives with practices to maintain momentum and
    responsibility beyond periods of protest.
  • Ask your friends and colleagues what they are doing to expand the diversity in their
    networks.
  • Amplify Black voices and issues in ways that are not self-serving.
  • Reach out to schools and colleges that have more, or majority Black students, or are in more diverse neighborhoods. Volunteer your time, expertise or money.
  • Listen to Black people. Make them feel welcome. 

Photo courtesy of Cedric Terrell

More Specifically:

Photographers:

  • Find, hire and/or mentor Black assistants, producers and stylists.
  • Cast Black talent, including those with darker skin and natural hair.
  • Find hairstylists who can properly style natural hair.
  • When joining organizations or directories and signing up for festivals, competitions and conferences, ask about diversity policies and pay attention to diversity in panels and reviews. If diversity is missing, speak up and invest your money elsewhere if not addressed.
  • Offer your services to Black-owned businesses and amplify their products, over-
    delivering to those clients when possible.
  • Take stock of the diversity in your own portfolio. Explore more diverse subjects,
    locations, cuisines, etc.

Photo Editors, Creative Directors & Art Buyers:

  • Add more Black photographers to your bookmarks and personal directories then utilize those directories.
  • Follow Black creatives on social media; invite them to your office or virtual office for portfolio reviews. Teach them about the process of working with your company and in your industry.
  • Initiate conversations and standards for reviewing and hiring more Black photographers and vendors within your company.
  • Feature Black creatives on the contributor’s page or bold the bylines. Advocate for them and amplify their work to other editors and buyers. If they are not ready, help them grow, introduce them to other photographers, crew and resources.
  • Mentor Blacks who want to be photo editors, creative directors and art buyers.
    We need a lot more of those. 

Photography Producers:

  • Add more Black people to your crew and vendor list.
  • Mentor or provide paid internships to Black creatives.
  • If you haven’t already, start building more diverse crews – before your clients start asking for them.
  • Find hair stylists who can work well with natural hair styles.
  • Talk to your vendors, casting and location scouts about their diversity initiatives.
  • Create production guidelines to address discrimination on set.
  • Ensure equal pay for Black crew and talent.
  • Offer to produce test shoots for Black photographers.

Stylists:

  • Find, hire and/or mentor Black assistants and stylists.
  • Source products from Black-owned businesses and designers.
  • Educate yourselves on Black hair, skin care, and products. Refer a more experienced stylist for a job if you are not qualified.
  • Offer your services for test shoots with Black photographers.

Photography Reps & Agents:

  • Understanding that less than 10% of major agency rosters are made up of BIPOC, work harder to diversify who you represent.
  • Mentor and introduce less experienced photographers to more experienced photographers, producers, stylists and consultants who can help them elevate their portfolios.
  • Offer portfolio reviews and more thorough responses to Black photographers’ inquiries.
  • Take Black photographers with you on agency visits and consider offering paid internships.
  • Consider creating an informative auto-reply or FAQ page to educate younger photographers or refer them to consultants.

Consultants: 

  • Introduce Black photographers to editors and art buyers. Amplify their work.
  • Encourage your white clients to diversify their portfolios and networks.
  • Connect with schools and colleges that are more predominately Black.
  • When you are asked to teach, review or be on a panel, evaluate the diversity of that panel or event. Speak up and ask for accountability if diversity is missing. Offer suggestions to include more Black creatives in the event or program. If diversity is not addressed, decline to collaborate until it is.

Photography Associations & Clubs: 

  • Diversify your boards, teachers, members, speakers and mission statements.
  • Amplify Black creatives on your platforms and in your newsletters, webinars and podcasts.

Directories & Sourcebooks: Pay to play directly affects diversity in all industries.

  • Amplify Black photographers and offer scholarships.
  • Diversify the decision makers who accept or reject applicants.
  • Diversify your webinars, podcasts and newsletters, and ensure the initiative
    continues after periods of protest
    .
  • Promote Black photographers to your network of art buyers.

Photography Festivals & Competitions:

  • Diversify your panels, judges, instructors, speakers and featured photographers.
  • Offer more attendee scholarships and ask sponsors to be a part of that.
  • Question the diversity of your sponsors’ ambassadorships, representatives and
    mission statements.

Technical Equipment Companies (Cameras, Lighting, etc.):

  • Diversify your ambassadorships and branding.
  • Sponsor Black photographers, offer scholarships and mentorships, provide teaching and training opportunities.
  • Donate equipment to, and volunteer in schools with majority Black students.

Schools/Colleges/Teachers:

  • Invite more diverse guests and Black creatives into your classrooms.
  • Hire more diverse instructors.
  • Invite Black students to audit your classes.
  • Teach about Black photographers and give your students assignments to report on more diverse photographers. Show them that not all successful photographers are white men.

Galleries & Museums:

  • Diversify your collections and amplify Black artists.
  • Offer mentorships, reviews and other access to Black photographers and
    communities.

Advertising Agencies: 

  • Update and clarify your diversity policies to your employees as well as your
    clients.
  • Advocate for better representation in front of and behind the camera.
  • Hire more Black employees, creative directors, art buyers, producers and writers,
    please.

Photo courtesy of Martine Severin

I understand that hiring, charging and offering discounts on the basis of race or ethnicity will require attention to legal guidelines. I am aware that we are going to have to uncomfortably navigate the complicated waters of tokenism and exploitation. And I realize that some of these suggestions may sound discriminatory in the exclusion of non-Blacks. That is certainly not my intention.

I am asking all of us, including myself, to work harder to empower and amplify Black artists so that we may have more balanced, consistent and truthful visual representations in our media and lives.

Let us remember that it was in fact an image, a video of George Perry Floyd Jr., that woke up so many people in our country to finally call for change. The photography industry will no doubt be a powerful agent in this revolution. It’s up to us to make it happen. Let’s get to work.

Amy V. Cooper is a Photography Consultant and Editor offering mentorships to Black photographers and to BIPOC interested in becoming photo editors or art buyers.

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.

  1. Jim Bracher

    This is well done.
    Thanks for sharing this, and putting in the time to write all of this out.
    I’m working on policy statements for different projects and studios, and this helps me think about how I need to phrase policies and act on those policies.

  2. Wow! Amy, thank you for such a thorough article. The action steps you listed per category in the industry is spot on.

    Here are my overall comments: I’ve been wondering what happens in one month or one year when white people feel sick of talking about racism.

    The thing is for we BIPOC we can’t stop talking about systematic racism because we encounter it everyday. And what we’re fighting for is equality and inclusivity.

    The other day, a white colleague said, “Wow, Martine you’ve arrived.” I arrived alright, I’m doing the work, I’m booking some clients, I’m attending portfolio meetings, I’m marketing, I’m checking all the to-dos on my list to make sure that I arrive at my destination–steady work with brands to help tell their products’ promise.

    But you know what, I may have arrived but the door is closed. And there’s a password to who gets a meeting, and who wins those bids and that password is that my skin isn’t white.

    I see my white colleagues getting in the door. Each time I pull the handle though, it remains locked.

    Am I talented? Do I work hard? Pfff, sometimes it doesn’t seem to matter.

    I thank you Amy for being an ally. And for speaking the truth. Change will come when each of us start taking action by hiring more people of color and by making sure that there is support for those POCs. There’s nothing more discouraging than being on set with a group of “woke” people who fling abuse left and right (you say microaggressions, I say abuse).

    If you want to be “woke”; do the work. And if you can’t find us, it’s because you’re not looking (as a start, look into the resources Amy mentioned in the article)!

    If you’ve gotten all the way to the end and are still debating whether or not you’re going to take action. Just know this issue IS binary. You’re either helping or you’ve decided to maintain the status quo.