Black Women Photographers: A Global Community Changing the Photo Industry

On the occasion of World Photography Day, we delve into the history of Black Women Photographers (BWP), a project launched in 2020 that aims to be a home for Black women striving to receive proper recognition and get hired from the industry. After two years since the inception, BWP has formed into a global community, directory, and hub of over 1,000 Black women and non-binary identifying photographers, with members from over 50 countries and more than 35 American states.

Through the words of its founder, Polly Irungu (a member of the jury of our first PhotoVogue’s Global Open Call and a dear friend of our community), we find out about how to join the community, the awards in collaboration with corporate partners, and the free educational opportunities provided by the organization.

To celebrate World Photography Day, today Black Women Photographers (BWP) will take over PhotoVogue’s Instagram account! Don’t miss it to learn more about the project and its incredible artists!

Let’s start from the beginning. What led you to start Black Women Photographers in 2020? And how do you feel now two years after the founding?

From my own experience, the world of photography it’s still very white and male dominated. As a photographer myself, it was very discouraging, defeating, and demoralizing at times because I didn’t know where to turn to for advice or for help. I didn’t know that photography was a career option for me because I didn’t see Black women photographers being celebrated mainstream. Coming from an immigrant, traditional Kenyian background, I wasn’t expected to pursue anything related to the arts. It’s the running joke of becoming a doctor, engineer, or lawyer; those are traditional and “real” careers, as my dad would’ve said, that I should’ve pursued. I didn’t really know that photography was a space for me to be in, as I didn’t see myself in the world of photography or really any art spaces for that reason. It’s not a very welcoming industry at first. It still feels like it’s a ‘cool kids’ club or a ‘cool mens’ club, I should say, but I think with the work that I’ve been doing, it’s obviously shattering that. It’s putting us, as Black women, to the forefront, as we have been shut out of the industry for so long. It’s only now that I’m starting to see contemporary artists, living legends like Carrie Mae Weems, Ming Smith, and Deborah Willis finally getting their proper followers. I feel that that is long overdue. For me and my work, being able to celebrate the emerging and seasoned photographers within the community of Black Women Photographers has been just so overwhelming. Sometimes I get so overcome just thinking about, “Wow, it’s only been two years.” The response has been so overwhelming. When I started in July 2020 there were just over 100 photographers in the directory and now there are over 1,000 spanning 45 countries.l Slowly but surely it will reach all corners of the world showing people that Black women photographers are in all these places as well. There’s obviously photographers from Lagos in Nigeria, but it’s surprising to find them in Switzerland, Belgium, and Germany. I never thought that there were Black women photographers in these spaces but they’re finding my work and this organization and seeing the impact it’s having. They want to be a part of it, and they want to show the world that they are capable of it. It also shows that they’ve been there, and they are doing great work. They’re now waiting for other people and the world to catch up with them and their work. It really has just been incredible.

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