Are Black Female Fashion Photographers Underrepresented?

Are Black Female Fashion Photographers Underrepresented?

The fashion industry is home to some of the most dynamic and fluid trends that the world has ever seen. No doubt, the existence of this ever-changing and highly creative environment is mainly as a result of the diversity and creative uniqueness of the individuals that constitute it. However, even with this seemingly all-inclusive and globally encompassing genre, there is a prominent neglect that seems to be growing even further: the underrepresentation of black female photographers.

Racial divide and marginalization has been a big problem in most fields and even more so in fashion photography. One may argue that this issue spans across all other aspects of black women participation in the fashion industry and there definitely would be a point there. However, the contribution of black women to fashion and beauty photography has brought about great innovation at both ends of the camera and it is a wonder that there are so many of these talented individuals flying under the radar with very little representation.

Photography by Joyanne Panton


A vital point that must be noted is a severe lack of appreciable participation in the industry as a whole as a direct result of the marginalization that these woman face. Not only do they lack a strong platform that provides more opportunities for them in all areas of the industry, black female photographers seem to lack the proper exposure necessary for them to get their work noticed by the larger audiences. Even more interesting to note is the remarkable talent of the few black photographers in the industry. Any in-depth research will reveal a good number of black women who are doing groundbreaking work in their functional spaces and possess a strong portfolio of projects under their sleeves.

Photography by Letura Idigima

Photography by Kia Caldwell

Why then do the big photography companies and other major players in the industry not shine enough light on this demographic? And why does their work seem to be hidden among their fashion photographer counterparts? Why aren't they standing on the forefront as ambassadors or speakers for any of the photographic companies or community in general? Whatever the case may be, the amazing talent that black women have to offer has proven to be a tasteful and revolutionary touch that cannot be ignored. Bringing more notice to this faction would require the creation of strong platforms for these voices to be heard and for their works to be showcased. This helps to provide an avenue for proper recognition while creating prospects for opportunity and progress. By doing this, these women not only get to learn more about themselves but also find support and motivation in one another by fostering a professional community of like minds.

I did months of researching to compile a list of black female fashion photographers. These ladies are talented and deserve a bit of recognition. I am happy I am able to give them a platform to showcase their talents and work.

All images used with permission.

Dana Cole's picture

Dana Cole is a beauty and portrait photographer and retoucher who resides in Oslo, Norway.

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I personally don't see color amongst photographers, b/w, color all remains behind the viewfinder, it is the photograph or the art that speaks for them. just my opinion, no offence.

That is great that you think that way individually, but this topic touches on the community as a whole, and as a whole, there is a lack of representation. Hopefully it changes, with more topics and open discussions ! :D

While I would agree generally that you are correct, unfortunately, the results do not support minorities getting fair representation in the market. It is not to say that these groups are not working, but I see first hand inside a creative company the lack of diversity in photographers hired.

I'm skeptical of people, especially photographers who don't see color.

What do you mean? I didn't understand Dimasa's comment either.

To say that you don't see color is disingenuous at best. We all see color first. Once you get to know someone that thought may fade away but you always see color first.

I think that depends on what you mean by "see". I take it to mean, "take notice of". Of course, when I see a white Ferrari, I can see it's white but the first thing I notice is, it's a Ferrari.

I don't know about anyone else. When I see someone, the first thing I notice is male or female. Then "approachability" based on clothing, attitude, activity, etc.. Skin color is probably in there somewhere but pretty far down the list. But then, I've known a lot of people of various races. My wife is Japanese and the first time someone mentioned I was in a mixed race marriage, I had no idea what they were talking about. My eldest sister's husband was black and her children, by appearance, are black. My oldest son's fiancé is black. When I describe her to anyone, her skin color is one of the last things I mention and sometimes, it doesn't occur to me at all. But again, I don't know about anyone else.

"Don't see colour" doesn't mean someone can't physically see colour, it means they are looking at the talent and/or competency of the persons work instead. I'm more skeptical of people who see skin colour in everything and then claim that they can't be biased because they are in some form of minority.

"I don't see color" is a coded phrase for denying the existence of structural racism and their potential complicity in it.

What structure is the racist one? And honestly what you are saying isn't even remotely true.

I mean, the very fact that you replied with "what structure is the racist one?" tells me that you're both entirely ignorant of the issue, but also very reflexively defensive about it. But hey, don't take my word for it—there's just thousands of studies and articles that are abundantly available which explain the machinations this problem to help you understand:

Lol. I couldn't find anything in those articles that specifically pointed to the structure that is racist. This is not the same as saying racism doesn't exist. What am I saying is that in a country (mine at least, yours might be different) where anyone can live anywhere, go to any school they want and get any job they want (as long as they are qualified) there is no structural racism. I'm certainly not oppressing anyone and I find it weird to be accused of oppressing anyone because of my skin colour. That's racist. Once again, I couldn't see anything in those articles except for extremely weak conclusions and dodgy reasoning that would make me think I am in any way complicit in any of this nonsense. If you want to feel guilty, go ahead, just don't expect the rest of us to buy into your dogma. And honestly I think it's disgusting to blame the "sins of the father" so to speak on the next generation due to their skin colour. It's deplorable.

Oh no...politics, religion and race issues. A sure way to ruin a person's daily flow.

GREAT ARTICLE! And that list is phenomenal!

thank you kindly ... As I find more fabulously talented women, they will certainly be added to the list. :D

Photography/art is subjective and to say that Black women face challenges we all as photographers don't, is making a claim that cannot be justified. I appreciate the attempt at bringing light to a subject but the argument made is so convoluted that your piece loses steam.

"Why then do the big photography companies and other major players in the industry not shine enough light on this demographic?"

- The easy answer is that it doesn't matter who is behind the lens, the work is what matters. You may really love a photographer's work but do you check on their gender and race immediately after you see an image? If this is what you do, then you're making an issue of something that isn't of any concern.

Representation matters !
So we can agree to disagree.

If representation is the key focus here, then the quality of work these women are doing isn't the issue (it's clearly not), it's the representation they are hiring to get them noticed and them being female and of color second/third. Anyone in the industry can say they are "represented" but you can find representation at any local burrito barn in LA.

What I'm really getting at here is that this is a claim with no story to back it up. Give the audience soemthing to latch onto so it doesn't go off track or get put into the "reaching" category of opinion pieces. Your last paragraph centers on these women relying on others to create a platform for exposure when they in fact should be grinding and building that platform. Nobody is going to pull up the oppressed (if you want to make that claim) they have to push through the barrier themselves.

Currently living in the Capital of Civil Rights and shooting the Edmund Pettus Bridge today; just a fun fact on where my stance is.

Welp, it's a good thing I and a few of us are as you said 'should be grinding and building platforms', are doing just that :)

"they have to push through the barrier themselves"....

I think they are......and this article is just another step in that long journey.

thank you Elan :D

All the best with your endeavours Dana.

There definitely could have been more to this piece. While I’m sure there is merit to this article, there wasn’t anything written to give it merit. Where’s the story? How about some examples of what’s going on that makes this a problem. What sort of things are you or other black female photographers doing to help the situation aside from writing an incomplete piece on the topic? I was really interested to read some actual news here after days of mostly reposts from other creators youtube videos. I think you have a great topic that can be expanded upon. I hope you do.

thank you Justin ! Solid critique I can appreciate..
and things to keep in mind and expand upon soon !!!

Awesome article and an important conversation that needs to happen. Would love to see more black women represented in all aspects of the industry!

Thank you kindly Joe :)
Discussions like these are fabulous to have. When people come into them with an open mind !

Why look for issues that really are non issues? I was always under the impression that one is judged by her or his talent not the color of her or his skin.

That would be great if that is how things really were.. I have personally been denied two photo jobs(that I know of) due to my skin color and was blatantly told that was why.

So not everyone thinks like you ! Please keep that in mind.

and how do you know it was because you were black ? did they tell you that ? maybe your stuff didn't measure up to what they were looking for ?

They blantantly told me that was the reason. and I am not the only black photographer who has been blantantly told that reason is why.

It does not happen often, but it does happen.

Not looking for sympathy, I am happy they showed their true colors. Saved me the a headache. but I do want change !!! :)

Discussions help make change !

you're in Norway. Apparently your laws are different because in the United States, denying you solely because of your race is illegal and even bigots wouldn't dare admit it to your face as the reason.

Ann, sadly, both of those instances happened in the U.S.A.
Texas in fact, where I am from !
Go figure. lol

Thank you for telling me things I have experienced did not ACTUALLY happen to me and is ‘hearsay’ .. pffttt.

Howdy! Did someone ask for the meaning of a word?

lol 😂

'Tis never ignorance to learn a new word!

By who and under what circumstances? This is when you should be naming names. Discussions help, but naming names and letting everyone know who the culprits are does far more. Look at Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis C.K., to name a few recent examples.

what if a number of qualified minority photographers are marketing themselves equally, but still only white men get hired? Would it be an issue then?

Is that the case? What if we change the categories to good looking vs homely or tall vs short? You can usually get the answer you want if you ask the right question.

Sexism, racism, and politics are real things some people have to worry about deal with. You don't have a profile photo, but I'd take a wild guess you're a white guy, with very little to zero compassion.

It's one thing to just say "I'm not getting hired b/c I'm black, b/c I'm gay, b/c I'm Latino, b/c I'm woman" and your work sucks.

But it's an entire different thing if qualified, talented and experienced Black men/women, Latino, Asian, Gay, are going after those jobs.. yet 90% of the people hired are white guys.

90%+ of Hollywood cinematographers are men. Do you think that's b/c women don't want to be cinematographers, aren't talented enough?? Or maybe, believe it or not, sexism is actually a thing. Women can make it.. but they have to put up with many things and work harder. It shouldn't be like that.

Now I know the extreme answer someone like you will say is "Well, just give out jobs to women b/c they are women, or minorities b/c they're minorities regardless if they are qualified or not". No one is saying that nor is that the answer.

This is a complex issue, and making someone of privilege who has never had to experience any setbacks due to sex or race understand is a biggest challenge.

As soon as I read "white guy, with very little to zero compassion" I stopped reading. Go fornicate with yourself!

you stopped reading b/c I called you out on what you are. And you're too much of a coward to admit it, face that fact and realize you're wrong. That actually takes humility and compassion. Two quality you obviously lack.

That's why this problem will continue to exist. You have no problem going off telling women, or minorities that the problem they face are none sense, but when someone calls you out on your issue, you hide like a child. Or only respond with ridiculous, childish short answers. You cannot properly articulate a well mannered response.

Congratulations. I almost never vote anyone down.


I save it for jerks. Do you not see that calling me white and lacking compassion completely discards MY argument in favor of implying something based on my presumed skin color? How is that different from what you are claiming is done to non-whites? Worse, by insulting me, you kept me from considering your arguments which may have been valid but it doesn't matter now.
If we were talking face to face, I doubt you would have said that but, had you done so, my response would have been the same but less politely worded.

You reply with this ridiculous and condensing answer:

"Is that the case? What if we change the categories to good looking vs homely or tall vs short? You can usually get the answer you want if you ask the right question."

Explain how you saying that shows ANY amount of compassion?? but yet, you want to be treated with respect? That reply alone shows you lack of compassion and being able to relate to problems some people face.

"Worse, by insulting me, you kept me from considering your arguments which may have been valid", everything I said it is valid. You chose to discredit it w/ your juvenile response in the beginning.
You want to act all tough and bravado now, but the fact is you can't respond to what I said because you have no valid argument to make other than your ego/pride getting hurt and showing how sensitive you are.

"Go fornicate with yourself!" and "If we were talking face to face, I doubt you would have said that but, had you done so, my response would have been the same but less politely worded." is your response. Look at your level of maturity in your response. Profanity is how you solve problems? That's you're way of showing compassion??

you also said: "Do you not see that calling me white..." IF I was wrong and you're not white, then that's 100% my mistake, and I'll own up to it. My apologies if you're a minority, gay, or transgender.

My initial comment is valid. People like to claim bias based on race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, but the fact is there are all kinds of criteria upon which bias exists. For someone to decide, as in this case, bias is based on being black and female is narrow minded. It could just as easily have been because the decision maker(s) thought she was too tall or too short or too homely or too beautiful or any number of reasons. You disagree? Fine. But you dismissed me. And, yes, I would have empathy, but not compassion, for any of those reasons. Empathy, because everyone is subject to such biases. Not compassion because those of us who are able have to suck it up and get on with our lives. My compassion is reserved for those, unable to do so. You can't possibly know the biases I've faced because they probably don't apply to you and I suck it up and get on with my life rather than calling attention to it and demanding compassion and reparation!

Juvenile response? Yes. I get just as sick of being dismissed because of my race and sex as anyone else does. ANYONE!

I didn't respond because I didn't read it.

I am in fact white but that's not who I am. I feel sorry for anyone who limits themselves by defining themselves by the color of their skin or sex or religion or sexual orientation or whatever.

No, it's not VALID. Did you NOT read what I wrote, let me highlight what I wrote:

"what if a number of qualified (((((((QUALIFIED))))))))) (((((((QUALIFIED))))))))) (((((((QUALIFIED)))))))))(((((((QUALIFIED))))))))) minority photographers are marketing themselves equally ((((((((MARKETING THEMSELVES EQUALLY)))))))((((((((MARKETING THEMSELVES EQUALLY)))))))((((((((MARKETING THEMSELVES EQUALLY)))))))((((((((MARKETING THEMSELVES EQUALLY))))))), but still only white men get hired? Would it be an issue then?

"I am in fact white but that's not who I am", sorry to tell you, yes that is who you are. And there's NOTHING wrong with it and nothing to be ashamed of. The FACT is, neither of US can remotely relate to what it is like being a woman in an industry dominated by men. I HAVE NO CLUE what it's like to be a black woman photographer, or an Asian woman photographer. And to dismiss any issues they bring is lacking compassion and being ignorant.

but the fact remains, a majority of jobs go to white men. Why is that?? because they are more qualified? because they market themselves better? That's why I asked the question above... IF women/minorities are equally qualified, and marketing themselves exactly the same, BUT YET, a majority of the jobs are still going to white men? Wouldn't that signal that there's any issue?

You're spinning that, and bringing up ridiculous things like "good looking vs homely or tall vs short?"

It's one thing if someone's work sucks, they have a horrible work ethic and they don't marketing themselves and then complain "I'm not getting hired b/c I'm Latino//black/Asian/Woman/Gay/ Etc." That's a complainer and an entitled looser. You're by default, putting anyone who brings discrimination/sexism into that category, and not remotely acknowledging that there can be a real issue at hand.

This is a complex issue and I'm not even going to pretend I have the answer for it. But making list of talented photographers, can only help IMO

In your scenario, it would depend on other, not quantifiable variables. But lets say, for arguments sake, all things are, in fact, equal. Yes, it would be an issue but one best addressed by the individuals involved. That, of course, is my opinion based on having the same thing happen to me based on other criteria.

You don't get to define me. That IS the definition of racism.

You think it's ridiculous to suggest people get unfair treatment due to height or attractiveness? In the world of photography? Are you kidding me???

A perfect example of what I'm talking about, and addresses your next paragraph is the music industry, again...closely related to photography. It is absolutely not good enough to be a great singer. You have to be personable, good looking, etc.. in order to make it. That, my friend, is life!

I agree (finally!) and have nothing against making a list of talented photographers, regardless the categorization. I just hate to see it be reduced to a question of what is or isn't fair. Life is never fair. I am absolutely certain my life is easier being white and male. I'm also absolutely certain my life is more difficult for reasons which, again, I won't bother anyone else with.

"You think it's ridiculous to suggest people get unfair treatment due to height or attractiveness? In the world of photography? Are you kidding me???"

"attractiveness" can be directly related to race & sex. You're just choosing to see it as something else, or want to call it something else.

"You don't get to define me. That IS the definition of racism." I hate to tell you, IF you walk into a room, and you're a white guy, EVERYONE will see you as a white guy. If you're a black women, EVERYONE will see you as a black woman. That's life.

"I am in fact white but that's not who I am." Who are you then? Please explain?

It's clear you default to giving women or minorities NO credit at all on "other, not quantifiable variables". It MUST be those "variables" first... then not being qualified, and LASTLY, maybe, just maybe it's about race/sex? is that your point of view?

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