Once upon a time I decided I wanted to be something in this life. I wanted to contribute to the world and help improve the lives of people around me and people in my community. When I thought about who I wanted to be, a photographer did not come up. It wasn’t even a little tadpole thought in the back of my mind and not because I was unaware that people photographed other people. I was unaware of any kind of acceptable lifestyle for a young black woman outside of the typical good money doctor/lawyer career trope.
All I knew was that I wanted to be someone authentic. I was creative, full of positive energy, thoroughly pleased with my life no matter how bad it really was, but I didn’t know what career path would be for me. Black women were breaking barriers no one had caught wind of so I had to grow and continue to grow and inspire myself. Sometimes there wasn’t anyone to inspire me outside of my older family members like my grandmother, who went back to college at 52.
This brings me to my current concern. Why am I not good enough? Why is another black woman not good enough? Every single one of us has heard Cole’s Classroom or some other successful male/white/npoc character preach how your photos don’t have to be the best—you know, the thing you love to do—but the other aspects of business have to chase perfection. So what do I have to do to prove that people in my community will benefit from seeing someone like me, working with companies like you? And by companies, I mean you—Nikon, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic—so we're clear.
I understand I’m not the only black woman photographing all kinds of people in their skivvies in shadowy light, but outside of my circle, who am I to look to as a role model? What resource will inspire my heart and fuel my soul to be the best photographer I can be? In the words of a great black woman photographer, “Nobody starts a business “the right way”. Nobody jumps off the cliff with all the I’s dotted and t’s crossed. If we are lucky, we grabbed a parachute that prolly isn’t big enough and we hope we don’t die if we don’t fly. It’s not fearlessness. It’s fear of waking up the same as you went to bed.” (Raquita Henderson) Unfortunately so many black women don’t turn on the fearlessness in business because of that “right way” even though no one has given us a beaten path. No one has faced our collective struggles and inspires us, encourages us, and motivates us to go after our dreams like us.
So while we applaud our fellow photographers for achieving success and carving their mark on the world, maybe lift up a black woman photographer or two that have hands wrapped around their carving tools, too.