We will take one trillion photos this year. DSLRs will hang from the necks of professionals and novices alike, a gateway drug to more lenses, more accessories. Our camera phones will continue to convince us a masterpiece is a filter away. Image making has become a part of our daily lives.
“Everybody has an eye, but some people think that it’s as simple as clicking and taking a picture. It takes more,” says Danielle Ramsay, a commercial photographer running her own business in New York. Across the country, young Black photographers are serving their time, finger glued to the shutter button, waiting for something to click. “A photographer needs to believe: I’m dope and I’m going to make sure when I say I’m dope, my work reflects that. That’s the first step. A total spiritual shift,” says contemporary artist JD Malone.
There’s a misconception that good work sells itself. That’s not how photography works. The playing field is crowded, and success requires one to be a consummate salesman with a healthy dose of relentlessness. Competition aside, Black image-makers face specific challenges.
There are hierarchies. “When I’m in a room and there are five photographers, they are going to go to the white male first, then go to the Black male next. I’m somewhere at the bottom of the list,” says Danielle. “I always have my camera on me and I’ll still shoot. Just to show them my skills.” There’s loaded language. In the art world, JD says, “For some reason when agencies look at [Black artists’] portfolios the main thing they say is, ‘you need to diversify your portfolio.’ Diversify for what? I can produce the same quality of work with any subject.”