This Is Why We Need Black Photographers to Document the Protests

This Is Why We Need Black Photographers to Document the Protests

As long as the protests are being documented, what does it matter if the people taking the photographs that we see in our newspapers are white?

On June 2, five of the U.S.A.’s largest newspapers featured photographs of the protests on their front pages. The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal all featured dramatic imagery showing police in riot gear, children standing in front of murals, and tear gas. All of them were taken by male, non-black photographers. 

National Geographic’s Instagram feed showed a similar situation. A few days ago, there were around ten posts documenting the protests, of which one was taken by a person of color.

The first six posts on National Geographic's Instagram feed

The first six posts on National Geographic's Instagram feed, featuring photographes by Katie Orlinsky, John Stanmeyer, David Guttenfelder, Dina Litovsky, and Ismail Ferdous.

The protests mark what many hope will be a pivotal moment. Newspapers and agencies have their staffers, but, to paraphrase Vox photo editor Danielle A. Scruggs, if there was ever a time to hire black photographers to improve the reach and equality of representation of what’s happening on streets across the USA right now — this is it.

Photographs Shape Knowledge

The vast majority of Americans learn about the Civil Rights Movement through photographs, images published on major platforms that acquired a quiet power, shaping how events are perceived.  

If black representations of demands for social change do not become a true part of the record that determines our understanding, the archive will be incomplete. Social media might be full of images and clips that are in equal part alarming and inspiring, but this medium affords a degree of representation that is far less stable and far more ephemeral than mainstream publications. By contrast, the printed images acquire a currency of their own, revered by history books, helped along by the reinforcement of international competitions whose juries very often are predominantly not black, and celebrated on the walls of galleries and in the pages of coffee table books.

The Status Quo

Why are so few black people a part of the process of documenting the protest? Or, for that matter, part of how photographs are published in general? This is not a question of the chicken and the egg; there is a long-established status quo that is not overtly racist but has been shaped by an underlying, invisible system of discrimination that favors a certain type of person, whether it’s a simple fact of being able to afford a camera in the first place and then the time and space to learn a craft, to the guy handing out the internships being unconsciously more inclined to lean away from the woman with the black-sounding name at the top of her resume. A culture establishes itself, and it tends to like things the way it is.

Agencies and newsrooms tend to stick with a small selection of photographers, those who can be relied upon to throw themselves into any situation and document it objectively and without an agenda (to the extent that this is possible). This trust is essential to the quick delivery of images that could potentially guide public opinion, mold government policy, and create what will go on to become part of the historical record of critical events that shape a nation and beyond. It is for exactly these reasons that diversity is necessary and local representations are incorporated. It’s not that the view of the outsider, parachuting in heroically to capture daring images of violence and confrontation, is no longer valid; it’s that this view is incomplete. The existing crop of incredible photojournalists don’t need to be pushed aside; instead, space should be made for those who can tell the story from within.

With the democratization brought by the digital image, taking photographs is no longer the domain of a small, wealthy minority. By contrast, the systems that publish, venerate, and celebrate those photographs — thus granting them value — have yet to catch up. If there are few black photographers and photo editors with influential positions at publications and agencies today, it’s not because they’re not as talented or haven’t worked hard enough to achieve it; it’s because it’s not normal, and the current normal is a normality that resists change. Fortunately, the tens of thousands of people getting out in the streets are proof of the belief that a new and improved version of it can be achieved.

All of this matters because the telling of a story is not only about the story being told, but who is doing the telling. Who do we as a society, choose to empower to tell these stories, and why? There is an imbalance among the power structures that tell us who and what we are, and this could be the moment to redress it.

Finding Black Photographers

There are countless black photographers documenting the protests — and countless other things — but their work often remains unseen because they lack the visibility received by others. Here are some resources to help publications find images:

A large database of more than 300 black photographers documenting the protests has been compiled by Allison Davis ZauchaHaruka SakaguchiKate WarrenMaggie ShannonMichelle Groskopf, and Samantha Xu[The original version of this article mistakenly attributed this list to photographer Aaron Huey.]

Coinciding with this push for greater black visibility is a call for black female photographers to have their work published. A list of black female photographers is being compiled here by WomenPhotograph.

WomenPhotograph is also maintaining a database of major publications and the ratio of black and female photographers used in stories about the protests.

Time.com ran a photographic feature that used the work of Black photographers.

(National Geographic recently added photographs by Ruddy Roye to its Instagram feed.)

If you have more resources, please post them in the comments below.

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73 Comments

Jeroen F's picture

We need photographers to document the protest. It doesn't matter if the photographer is white, black, red or yellow. As long as he/she does the job. I'm getting sick of al this racisme that someone needs a certain skin color to do x or y.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Well said. Most Americans REALLY have a problem seeing this simple fact. Amazing. The fact that the term African American is used there will always be a problem.

Rhonald Rose's picture

This article is a very racist article. You forgot browns, yellow, pink and other colors :-)

John Fore III's picture

My issue isn't so much what color the photographer is but more of what is published from the publication from the photographer, for example I can find a ton of images of MLK used to show peaceful protesting but they are rarely shown with images of dogs and water hose attacks to beat back those peaceful protest.

Nitin Chandra's picture

Racist overtones in this article. This is exactly the kind of mindset that causes all the hatred and issues.

Michael Comeau's picture

Let me play Captain Obvious.

Why doesn't FStoppers publish protest photos from black photographers?

You have massive reach and could do some work in the diversity department yourself: https://fstoppers.com/authors

Xavier Rodriguez's picture

I think the article is definitely well-intentioned, but probably not approached in the best way possible. Considering the intended message of the article, it might have been a better idea for Fstoppers to give a black photographer/writer the opportunity to write this article. You know, so they can practice what they preach. In its current form, it does come off as a bit hypocritical. I don't believe it is racist in any way, just a little... lacking in self-awareness?

I hadn't noticed the lack of diversity in the Fstoppers writing staff in the past. I guess it's just something I never thought to look into considering I come here for articles on gear, trends, and techniques. I'm Hispanic and have applied a couple of times to be a contributor, but have never been picked up. I don't believe that is because Fstoppers is racist. (I'm not saying you said this, but others have definitely alluded to it or outright said it.) Either I'm not good enough, or I don't fit whatever they're looking for. An article like this, however, does open up the site for discussions that can result in some pretty strong opinions (as can be read throughout the comments). If Fstoppers plans on publishing articles like this (and therefore taking a stance on these issues) it might be time for them to increase the diversity of their staff and that might mean making a more conscious effort of doing it. If I'm going to ask others to build their homes using guidelines that I suggest/demand, I should make sure that my home is following those guidelines first.

I doubt the lack of diversity in the writing staff will change my overall opinion of the website, but it will make me much more aware whenever the site presents articles like this. To be fair to Fstoppers, whenever I read an article in a newspaper about a topic that relates to Hispanics, I never check to make sure the author is Hispanic. I care more about the quality of work from the author than their last name. Can it matter? Of course. Should it matter? I don't know. Now, if the New York Times wrote an article about the need for more Hispanic reporters, and the article is written by a white author, I can definitely see how that would raise some eyebrows.

I can't really criticize the author for writing an article that I think was done with the best of intentions, but as I mentioned earlier it may not have been the best approach. Maybe co-authoring with a black photographer would have been a good idea?

Michael Comeau's picture

I think the author's intentions are good, and I think he wants to have a positive impact.

Alex Kroke's picture

I am sure that is why you are taking the photos from Instagram without compensation. Great example! Give the girl some money!
The journalist shouldn't do it for the glory, little paid, and getting beaten up. I respect anyone that is willing to do it!

JP Park's picture

this is an utterly ignorant article! Assuming that only black photographers would be able to truly document and show the truth of these protests because they are black, is a complete assumption based on their race. If that'd be the case, then this article should be also written by a black author!

MC G's picture

In their attempt to appear anti-racist, they do something racist. MLK would turn in his grave..

Yin Ze's picture

Hi, no need. Since I first started photography and saw Bruce Davidson essay on Harlem it is the duty of the western man to document minority culture and history. Just as as they say wit the history books, "History is always written by the winners." The minority are not trusted with writing or documenting their own history. Same in my culture. I come from a very remote area and they still found us and document us like petri dish then fly back, earn mileage points, and then publish book with no benefit to our society.

Abraham Terason's picture

Without getting too far into the weeds, this is why it matters:
https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_singl...

David Pavlich's picture

No, we need OBJECTIVE photographers/journalists documenting what is going on.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I'm almost 70, been photographing for 50+ years, and never once have I ever thought about what is the ethnicity of the person taking the image. Am I supposed to?

Rhonald Rose's picture

No sir, it's just people have increasingly becoming manipulated and bought into racism (that being racist against one race for the sake of the other is okay mentality).

MC G's picture

Yes now it's a sort of 'purity test' to show how woke you are. Also white people are to be trodden upon thru out society.

Yin Ze's picture

I only trust my history to be documented by western.

S Richards's picture

This is one of the most ignorant and racist article I’ve read in quite a while.

Richard King's picture

Totally rediculious proposition

I'm a white male photographer, it's like saying I shouldn't shoot a gay wedding because I'm not gay, or a lesbian wedding because I'm not female (or lesbian), or an Asian wedding because I'm white, or a Cypriot wedding, because I'm British...

The bottom line is I'm hired because I'm talented, and my customers love the work I do. Not once have I thought, this is a black bride, or an Asian bride, and not once has a Black or Asian bride mentioned that I'm white

As soon as we get beyond race, and lables the better the world will be

Stop pidgenholing people.

Stuart Carver's picture

There needs to be more black photographers full stop.. it’s a creative subject that seems to be overrun by middle aged white men shooting pictures of a landscape or semi naked women (I’m 39, white and take a picture of a Landscape), take a look at the demographic of people who attend these trade shows, it’s definitely strange.

It’s always puzzled me why it doesn’t seem to be a hobby that black people get involved in as much, I follow a few black people on Instagram and honestly their photos are awesome.

David Love's picture

Not like we were told we would be in the photographer house by the Harry Potter selection hat, people are interested in what they are interested in. Ask Lebron James if he would rather be getting paid millions to dunk the ball in a game or be the lower paid middle aged white dude taking the pic behind the goal. I'm white and I would rather be Lebron, rich and dunking in the poster.

Stuart Carver's picture

It’s a fair point... John Stockton might be able to ‘assist’ (pun intended) in progressing your dreams of playing basketball without having to look like Lebron:)... jokes aside I do think there is less interest in this pastime from the black community and it’s a shame imo.

Yin Ze's picture

steve mcflurry came to my country and make off with pictures he sell to great profit. again we are exploited for financial gain when local photographers who do not photoshop make little money.

Lee Christiansen's picture

You do realise that there is no colour requirement to pick up a camera and learn the craft...

Stuart Carver's picture

You are correct Lee, I’m just discussing the demographic of photographers currently and it’s primarily a pastime/profession overrun with white males. I don’t know why that is but having the camera held by a wide range of people is surely a good thing, it is essentially the eye of the person holding it so it would be good to look through the eyes of people from differing cultures and walks of life.

Yin Ze's picture

Picking up a camera is one thing. Making a living off it is challenging especially in these times. I do know many prominent photographers working in my field who are independently wealthy and have been able to pick and choose projects which they can pursue without having to do the nitty-gritty stuff that many other photographers have to do to survive. Henri-Cartier Bresson father was textile manufacturer and rich. I know many photographer currently who were able to finance trips, hotels etc on big story and this is why photography is not equitable to all people.

Walter Kovacs's picture

Many of the *African American* and Hispanic photographers I follow are documenting the protests.

However, you have failed to establish what it is about the psychology of "black" photographers which will result in imagery which is substantively different to any non-black photographer.

Scott Wardwell's picture

He will be shooting mirrorless no doubt.

Scott Wardwell's picture

Wow Andy, how very "Woke" of you. Seems that your double-major has finally paid off.
I guess only a black photographer can capture an image of a black rioter torching an auto- parts store and do it justice.
In any case your bio tagline has me pondering what this whole thing really means.

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