As the Global South is continuously focused on, in terms of visual and creative novelty, the representation and empowerment of women and non-binary photographers of African descent as documentors of diverse aspects of creativity, identity and culture, is becoming more crucial.
Photography has historically excluded Black women photographers. In fact, women photographers, and Black African women photographers particularly, are mostly absent from early histories of the medium, even though there is a long history of the documentation of women in the colonial period including racialised and sexualised depictions of women.
In an article in photography platform Fstoppers, titled "Is Photography Overrun by White Males?", author Alex Cook states, "When photographs disproportionately carry the collective consciousness and culture of a specific group, they in turn disproportionately bias their consumers toward that group's ideas on anything from sexuality to social habits. Culture feeds into art feeds into culture. Culture feeds into advertising feeds into culture. Culture feeds into journalism feeds into culture."
And World Press Photo Foundation's global report, "The State of News Photography" (published in December 2018) states that; 69% of women photographers said that they faced discrimination in the workplace. When asked about obstacles to success, they cited sexism (54%), industry stereotypes (53%), and lack of opportunities for women (49%).
However, in recent years there has been an emergence and a growing number of initiatives, networks or databases, platforms and programmes created to highlight, up-skill and celebrate the work of Black women and non-binary photographers.
Some of these newly emerged platforms which are making it easier to seek out women photographers or are assisting photographers to be industry-ready are African Women in Photography, Lampost Luminaries and Black Women Photographers. These are just a few of potentially many others emerging in Africa and the Diaspora.
African Women in Photography which emerged in June 2020 and launched earlier this year is founded by Ugandan, Kenya-based documentary and portrait photographer Sarah Waiswa. AWP is an organisation and community dedicated to elevating and celebrating the work of women and non-binary photographers from Africa. Their goal is to help create opportunities for members of their community to learn through mentorship and educational programs, to work by connecting them to various funding and employment opportunities.
Lampost Luminaries is a South African fellowship programme for womxn photographers and videographers created by Lampost creative agency. The fellowship was launched in 2020 with its first cohort of four womxn of colour photographers. The fellowship is a 10-month, full-time, up-skill programme with three months on-the-job training, five months skills development and two months internship at Lampost Productions.
And Black Women Photographers founded by Polly Irungu, who is a multimedia journalist, digital editor, and self-taught photographer based in NYC. Black Women Photographers was launched in July 2020 (shortly after the Black Lives Matter global protests) and aims to disrupt the notion that it is difficult to discover and commission Black creatives.
These abovementioned platforms and others increase the exposure to and of women and non-binary photographers to improve hiring processes and increase opportunities for women and non-binary photographers.
It is evident how these platforms and organizations are assisting the shift towards inclusivity and growth in the photography industry. However, further change will occur when industry leaders and gatekeepers, particularly the advertising industry, also recognizes the value in hiring the many skilled women photographers, especially Black women and non-binary photographers. Galleries ought to see the value in including their work in exhibitions and hopefully their work is continuously recognized for opportunities and awards.
The inclusion of women photographers will allow authentic reflection and representation of wider experiences and more accurate depictions of the communities which they reflect.
Written by Phendu Kuta
2018. The State of News Photography 2018. [ebook] World Press Photo Foundation. Available at: <https://www.worldpressphoto.org/programs/explore/research/the-state-of-news-photography-2018/28643> [Accessed 2 February 2021].
Cook, A., 2021. 2017. [online] Fstoppers. Available at: <https://fstoppers.com/originals/photography-overrun-white-males-160839> [Accessed 2 February 2021].