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Racism in the Photography Industry

The last couple of weeks have shown us a lot about the state of the world. While photographers have shown us the power of photography in capturing worldwide protests against racism, especially through the eyes of black photographers, we have also seen that racism is alive and well in the photography industry.

racism in the photo industry

But it’s funny…when I look to Reddit at the time of this post, there’s not a single discussion of racism in the industry. Sure, there’s talk about protest photos…but nothing about industry practices…

I’ve been guilty of silence

When I started out as a photographer over 20 years ago, and I was shooting a lot of fashion work, I occasionally worked with black models. Some other photographers would make comments about how ‘difficult’ it is to work with darker skin tones and in the future I should just ‘not bother.’

I did not say anything at the time because, honestly, I thought nothing of it. I was just learning photography and I also found getting the right lighting with darker skin tones was a challenge…but I went out of my way to learn how to do it.

racism in the photo industry

And later on I realized how those comments by other photographers were casually racist. And that my silence was complicity.

When I started photographing weddings, and I photographed black or mixed race couples, I again encountered other photographers who would say, “Oh, it’s so hard to match the lighting with people of different skin tones. That’s why I don’t photograph those weddings.” or “Are you sure you want to put these photos in your portfolio? Is this the clientele you’re looking to have hire you? Black people usually hire black photographers.”

And in my naivete, again, I though nothing of it. I thought these photographers were just pointing out the, indeed, difficult task of matching up lighting on two drastically different skin tones. Or I thought they were trying to give me business advice and I shouldn’t bother marketing to black couples because they wouldn’t hire me.

And my silence was complicity again.

When my submissions to publications that included black models, black couples, or interracial couples came back denied, I thought it was merely a lack of skill on my part or that my photos just weren’t ‘on that level.’

And I never questioned it further. And my silence was complicity.

There were probably many other times where I was unwittingly complicit in or my implicit biases aided a system that actively hurts BIPOC.

I promise I will strive to do better.

racism in the photography industry

We need to hold our industry accountable.

Over the last week, I’ve seen a lot happen regarding racism in the photography industry.

I watched as the Shoot & Share group on Facebook exploded after the founder responded to nationwide protests with a message of “All Lives Matter.” Moderators (none of whom are BIPOC) actively silenced the conversation by deleting posts and comments as well as turning off comments on other posts.

Quickly, the Shoot & Share Photo Contest, the ‘largest free photo contest in the world’ as they like to call it, lost all of its sponsors. The moderators abandoned the group and the ‘conversation’ quickly turned. The majority of the visible posts were people ‘disqualifying’ themselves from the contest by publicly posting the images they submitted, stating they’d be leaving the group, while also posting their social media accounts in case anyone wants to follow them. These posts, along with rampant trolling from the other side, drowned out the discussion by black voices in the group of the actual problem.

Other photographers took it upon themselves to publicly call out and expose racism in the industry. And that, for the most part, is a good thing…

Unless you fail to look at yourself and what you may have done to contribute to the problem.

After The Hons / Hustle & Flow ‘called out’ other photographers as ‘racist’ for not immediately posting support for the Black Lives Matter movement, they found themselves the objects of scrutiny. A former assistant came forward with information showing a long history of racist, homophobic, and xenophobic behavior. Many others came forward sharing their own experiences to back up these stories, and the studio quickly deleted all of their social media accounts.

The short story here is, we must hold one another accountable, but we can’t do it in order to receive a pat on the back, and we must ABSOLUTELY consider our own actions that may actively or passively contribute to racism.

Dear white people, we have work to do.

It is not enough to simply not be racist. We must be actively anti-racist.

racism in the photography industry

If you just want things to go back to the way they were because you were comfortable, you’re part of the problem.

I’ve been guilty in the last two weeks of asking my black friends what I can do to help, instead of doing the work myself. I wasn’t sure what to do and I wanted to be told that what I was doing was ‘ok’.

It is not on black people to tell us what to do to be allies. We need to educate ourselves, actively listen to black voices, examine our own biases, and keep striving to move forward.

You’re not going to be perfect. You will probably make mistakes. I certainly have. You will stumble. The important thing is that you listen to black people if they tell you something you did was wrong, and correct your behavior. Be introspective!!!

There is no short term answer. This is going to be a long fight, and you better be ready to get uncomfortable.

Posting ’10 black photographers to follow on Instagram’ and doing nothing else is not going to solve the racism in the photography industry.

Following 10 black photographers on Instagram and doing nothing else is not going to solve racism in the photography industry.

Posting a black square to social media and doing nothing else is not going to solve racism.

We need to listen, donate, protest, petition, diversify, and amplify black voices. And we’re going to need to continue those efforts.

As the saying goes, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

How can you support anti-racism.

When you click here you will find a list of anti-racism resources. The information includes ways to educate yourself, support causes, donate, and much more. Take the time to work on yourself and help others.

racism in the photography industry

Your voice is welcome here!

I want to make it clear to black photographers (and to all photographers of color) that your voices are welcome on The Nerdy Photographer.

You will not be silenced here. I want amplify your voices. If there’s a topic you would like to see discussed on social media, the blog, or our podcast, message me or contact me via Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

I know the discussions may not be comfortable or easy. But we need to have them.

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The Nerdy Photographer
The Nerdy Photographer

With more than a quarter century as a professional photographer, The Nerdy Photographer's goal is to spread knowledge and laughter throughout the photo industry. Please follow along on social media and subscribe to the podcast.

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