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Giving Voice to Black Female Photographers

Giving Voice to Black Female Photographers

It's one thing to be a female and feeling represented in this industry, but it's a whole different thing to be a black female, trying to acquire recognition and voice in photography. How many can you name from the top of your head? For the first time in 30 years, there is a substantial body of work to give an international representation to women of African descent. MFON, "an exclusive and commemorative publication," has collated stories and photographs from over 100 women of African descent, to kick off their first issue, "MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora."

The beauty of this grand project is that it also contains voices of women from academic, journalism, and other arts backgrounds. These women work within different genres, are of various ethnicities and ages, contributing to a truly diverse display of work that celebrates different identities and their ways of telling stories, ranging from fine art to photojournalism and beyond.

Black female laying on a bed surrounded by Polaroid images.

Image by Ian Dooley via Unsplash.

This project is aimed not only at photographers or art enthusiasts, but also as a legacy to the youngest generations. Women are sharing their stories, which act as a historical documentation covering various issues, such as racism and identity.

MFON do not intend to just stop there; they have also developed "MFON Legacy Grant," which will see "emerging black women photographers of African descent" celebrated and awarded. It's inspiring to see that more and more women will be encouraged to display their works of art, even more so because MFON's application process is not confined to those who can afford to enter, instead it's a "no-fee application process" and as such provides a fair opportunity to women, regardless of their financial background. It'll be exciting to see the vast range of work submitted.

Lead image by Autumn Goodman via Unsplash.

[via MFONfoto]

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Previous comments
Matt Cheale's picture

As you've rightfully corrected yourself, you can discriminate without negative meaning. Such as between planets and stars in the sky. You can also discriminate between skin colour or race without being negative. An example being saying person X is the white or black person on a team if they were the only one, you're discriminating but not in a negative manner.

This book promotes one small minority in a positive light, it's not being racist against every one that's not black and it's not being sexist against people that don't identify as women. It's just shining a light on an under-represented group within photography and hopefully positive things will come of it. Now if it was a book that showed everyone apart from white men because they suck, or something, then yes you'd probably have grounds for complaint.

Matt Cheale's picture

Who's harmed by publishing this book? Because if it's no one then it doesn't meet those dictionary definitions does it.

Mokhtar Chahine's picture

Does FStoppers have a hiring criteria ? Or are they just sexist ?

Seriously people should stop nagging and understand that there is a process to get the job, Do people ever consider that there might be a slight chance that the number of "Qualified" males applying for the job is higher than the number of "Qualified" females ?

As always, Let's not complicate it.

Dennis Johnson's picture

fsstoppers doesnt have a tutorial featuring a black female photographer or german photographer. something is fishy,......just saying. another thing,. i have been doing photograpy for a few years and honestly i dont see many people of color at shows or trainings, was at a nikon show last friday and it was an all white crowd. maybe that says something. i think fstoppers should start promoting dutch photographers, they are very much underrepresented, racism i say,.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly. The amount of good female black photographers is very low. I would read their articles and watch their videos if they were good. But then they need to work for it and not expect to get everything for free in life.

Dennis Johnson's picture

not many black woman won a Nobel prize for science, must be racism too.

snowflakes scream racism every chance they get, in all cases their claims miss a foundation. besides this i can only say that introducing racism and discrimination to fight exactly that is not the answer.

Jeff McCollough's picture

It's just entitlement. They feel that they are owed something instead of just shutting up and working harder.

Matt Cheale's picture

But why is it low? Are there levels of discimination that make it hard to make progress in your career? Is the work passed over by editors so people don't hear about them? Are they indoctinated at an early age into other paths? Rather than bemoan a platform that promotes work from a particular group of people, who seem to manage to find plenty of examples of this work, we should be questioning WHY the apparent numbers are so low. Because there's no physiological reason for it...

Jeff McCollough's picture

None of those supposed reasons are valid in the photography community as now with social media, as long as you make good work you will get noticed.

Matt Cheale's picture

I don't know, social media is a bit of a game. The way the algorithms work etc. I don't believe that just putting great work on social media will work as a build it and they will come system. There's a whole department in my work dedicated to using social media for marketing clients, there's a whole additional skill set to getting the most out of social media.

Jeff McCollough's picture

So now we all blaming social media? Are the algorithms racist now too?

Dennis Johnson's picture

like i said before. in photography school i did not see people with an african background. when i go shooting in nature, meet other photographers, go to social meetings, visit a class, go to a photography show, i do see people from asia western europeans (i live in Amsterdam), east and northern europeans but i do not see black african woman. even when i think really hard i cant see i have ever seen one. i do now 2 black male photographers but they are not from africa, they are from suriname. and i never hear them complaining about representation and their skin color. i say, work hard and be judged on your work, not by the color of your skin.

Matt Cheale's picture

Just for a minute and stop. Ask WHY you don't see many black photographers or any black female photographers. Perhaps you just live in a predominately white area. Perhaps they tend to be less affluent, this is statistically true in America for example, and they can't afford the starter kit. Perhaps by some fluke they're all rubbish.

But what if, and don't shoot me down because I'm not trying to suggest that lower quality work gets recognition over higher quality work, the reason we don't see an equal proportion of black photographers entering the field is because the experience of being one is worse for them. That they're discouraged from taking it up at an early age. The endemic sexism and racism is having an impact on the pipeline. That people are dropping out of it because their experiences are toxic.

I'm coming at this from my experiences in the technology industry. As a bog-standard white male in the technology world I found it difficult to conceive the amount of crap that goes on for the minorities in the field. From putting my preconceptions aside and listening to said minorities, stopping myself trying to explain it away and believing what I'm hearing, stories of women that have trained their juniors only to have them promoted above them. I've reached them point where when you hear reasons like, I don't see them so they don't exist is all, you stop and think that it just doesn't add up. If I can pay this forward and make others just stop and question their instant conclusions, then at least I've done my bit.

That said, can you truly explain why there's less of them? And why a collection of work by black female photographers is such a problem to people anyway?

Dennis Johnson's picture

i wrote that i lived in Amsterdam. according to the statistics 49.5%(2017) is not dutch where i live. that means non white dutch people. melting pot of everything from everywhere.

point is that somethings are more important to certain groups.
i have never heard any one say, i love your picture but your black so i dont like it. nobody is stopping anyone from being successful in photography. the truth nobody knows, might be culture or something else. a camera is cheap, every phone has one. websites are cheap and nobody is stopping you from selling images on shutterstock showing your work on boredpanda, flickr etc etc,.
but why Matt are black female photographers doing that ?

maybe the simple reason is that there are less black female photographers then other groups. im trying to find a black, i mean dark black female portrait model where i live,.i can find loads of girls but a dark black african model i cant find ? why is that Matt? they just are not interested.

Matt Cheale's picture

That's the same argument that's used in the STEM fields. And you know what, it's not true.

As for your points, you live in Amsterdam, which I'll admit I have little knowledge of. Statistics say that 49.5% is not dutch but that doesn't tell you how many are white.

You claim some things are more important to certain groups. Why? Are you suggesting that black people just aren't into photography? And that's a realistic answer?

You claim that no one says they don't like someone's picture because the photographer is black. But on another post on here there was an example of someone not hiring a photographer for that reason. That'll certainly make the profession harder to maintain.

You claim that camera's are cheap, depends on what you mean by cheap, it's a relative thing. And yes, there are people out there doing pro work on phones now but even a bottom of the range Apple costs £350, the 8 is £800 and the X is £1000.

I agree that anyone doing photography will have access to all the websites and selling on shutterstock. Maybe black female photographers are, it's pretty anonymous after all.

However, it appears you've made up your mind. You've gone, there's not many black female photographers therefore they're can't be interested. You don't seem willing to challenge your self and your views. So all I'll add is, so many years ago, there weren't many women in work, so they can't have been interested...

Dennis Johnson's picture

define white Matt. define black Matt.
example without proof is difficult to follow. maybe its not true.
you dont need the latest greatest camera,. you can shoot amazing pics on a rebel 350D or even an older camera. its not about the gear. a 50 $ camera of ebay does the trick. remember that old epic pics are shot not on a megapixel super monster. they didnt have those 20 years ago.

i didnt say that. i said they might be less interested into fashion photography then other groups.
maybe there is a different reason then the color of someones skin why there is less representation in a certain profession. following your reasoning maybe there are more black rappers then white ones because white rappers are discriminated against. i dont believe that. maybe there are less black Canadian lumberjacks because,. fill in a snowflake reason Matt. bottomline, racism is wrong so is discrimination. and you dont fight racism with more racism. mlk said that

David Stephen Kalonick's picture

Gotta love it when an organization or group wants to give notice to anyone other than white dudes, and in turn, white dudes get super butthurt. Hilarious!

Dennis Johnson's picture

not the point david, its discrimination and racist against Asian or eastern European woman. dont make me put you back in your place,. and i will tell your mom your using her ipad again.

Anete Lusina's picture

I am an Eastern European woman and I wrote about an unseen body of work that has been put together by black women to celebrate their talents. Your point?

Dennis Johnson's picture

With all respect Anete, you might wanne read the other posts.

Anete Lusina's picture

The other posts? What do they have to do with me reporting that for the first time in decades we have had a substantial body of work coming from black female photographers put together and shown to the public? :)