I’ve been shooting as a professional photographer for over 11 years and the way too frequent comment, “Oh, you only focus on black people” still strikes a nerve. My response has always been, “No, I take pictures of people who hire me.”
Other than that, it’s personal projects.
In all honestly, as much as I love and appreciate how brown skin tones reflect light and the natural richness of melanin, I do not focus only on people of color. In other words, I do not live in a box.
An unfortunate truth is my offer to include white women in my previous projects was NOT so kindly declined.
In 2010 I launched a call for participants for a then new photography project. I approached random individuals wherever I traveled, posted it on my social media platforms and some family and friends helped to spread the word as well.
The result is a book with a portrait series I titled Feminine Transitions. The purpose of my project was to celebrate our natural beauty as women through unaltered (meaning no Photoshop) photography.
Despite my message of self-love and acceptance, most readers never fail to point out the “lack of diversity” of women. Usually stating “I would have liked to see a variety of ethnicities in your book.”
I must admit, I find it ironic that this before anything else this is usually the first thing most viewers observe about my work. Yet when my white counterpart produces works of art and photography that include all or majority white subjects, it’s deemed normal. Instead of being criticized, these photographers are praised.
It’s odd there aren’t more write ups about this subject. Alastair Sooke’s article on BBC, Kerry James Marshall: Challenging Racism in Art History, explains in a bit more depth.
Quite frankly, this bias in photography disgusts me. And as much as I despise being put in a box, people always to try and place me there each and every time.
It was only after the success of Feminine Transitions, did I seem worthy of having other nationalities included in my upcoming book projects. What has changed from my first project to my upcoming? Maybe it’s due to the success and publicity gained since then. Or, to play devils advocate, maybe my delivery is different.
I’m honestly not sure.
But what I do know is just as racial bias exists in life, it is also prevalent in art.
This is no different than the police randomly stopping me while white drivers speed past. Or when I am the only black person in line selected as a “random” check at the airport. Or when a store employee follows me while I’m doing my usual shopping.
Sadly, this unfairness comes from all nationalities, not only whites.
It’s 2015, I am 36 years old and have never lived in a box. View works of art as simply that… ART. Because in most cases our art is a reflection of our lives.
If you want to see diversity in the works of artist of color, you should also hold white artist accountable. One is not more normal than the other.