On this year's International Women's Day, I wanted to share a session that I did a few weeks ago after being inspired by a simple question. I knew I wanted to touch on a subject that is often glossed over in the industry of photography. The professional hierarchy in which many photographers exist even today. It really isn't an intentional destination, but one of, "It is, what it is." This hidden truth of the male domination of the photography industry.
One of the most revered photographers in the world is Annie Leibovitz. Her cinematic productions seem to create their own unique genre, but for every Annie, there is a Rolston, Seliger, Heisler, Newton, and Avedon. Then for those photographers, you have the Kareem Blacks, the Matthew Jordan Smiths, and the legendary Gordon Parks, but I was left to ask myself, "WHO IS THE FEMALE GORDON PARKS?"
In the quest to answer this question, I knew that I would have to look really hard, because unfortunately, women have gotten buried, in general, in the photography industry. Even for women like Leibovitz, who was in her 20's when starting at Rolling Stone, a magazine that was barely five years old. Not the 50+ year old icon that it is today. She helped craft Rolling Stone, as well as any man that photographed for the magazine, if not more!
As I searched, I began to come across names like Vera Jackson, who was capturing the likes of Dorothy Dandridge and Jackie Robinson. I learned about Madame Toussaint who was a wonderful visual artist during the Harlem Renaissance. Even modern women like Carrie Mae Weems and Coreen Simpson came to life and I saw the work that they have captured.
As a matter of fact, there is a book that I am trying to find in person, called: Viewfinders: Black Women Photographers, by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe that has over 80 pioneers including Elizabeth "Tex" Williams who was the first woman AND black person to graduate from the US Army Photographic Division school. She became a historian of sorts for the Army to document other blacks and women who were joining the ranks.
As I did this shoot I couldn't help but think of the need for women then, to not only "look" sexy, but also play the part of a "lady" while doing the work of men. As I styled this session, I had my model photographer looking the part as well, as she effortlessly walked around in heels, while remaining fashionable. Women photographers are often judged not only by what they capture, but by their age, their looks, and even their physical appearance. While men do not receive the same level and degree of scrutiny as women for the same things.
So on this day, I want to give a shout out to all the women in photography, but especially the pioneering black women who have had to overcome family challenges, peer judgement, systematic roadblocks, not being recognized by camera manufacturers as leading photographers. Many of these women are single mothers, have full time jobs, are full time students, and still find a way to fit a client in on the weekends, or in some cases, on their lunch breaks. These women were never weak, but were stronger than belief. The continue to persevere, the continue to WORK.
Photographer (Model): Natalie Simmons
Model: Samantha Caldwell
Styling: Leighton DaCosta
Photographer: Leighton DaCosta
Lead Assistant: Geno Porter
Location: Charleston, SC