Being true to myself (the lack of diversity in conceptual photography)

Note: There will be a post about my Project 104 and other exciting photo news really soon, but I just had to get this off my chest first.

There is a lack of diversity in conceptual art photography. Everyday on Flickr (and other sites), I see wonderful photos, but they are often featuring the same type of people: thin, young and white.

I shouldn’t be surprised, of course. We still live in a society where if you are not young, skinny and white with straight hair (long, especially if you’re a woman)- you are considered an “other” and generally aren’t represented. And that sucks, because I’m not any of those things.

I was never what you would call skinny or even thin and I couldn’t “pass” if I tried.  The fact is that I’m a curvy black (African-American, brown, Caribbean-American…so many title options, yada) girl with natural hair.  Most of the “long” hair you see in my photos are wigs and I’ve also gotten rather clever with posing so I look my best. It took me a long time to shoot full-body photos because I was afraid of being judged. And even longer to start taking taking self-portraits.

Now that I’m beginning to submit work to galleries, contests, etc – I wonder how my work would be received/sell in the mostly lily-white Pacific Northwest (no offense, I love you PNW, but you are…) and the rest of the art market. At first I avoided including my self-portraits and I briefly (very very briefly) considered hiding my race* in certain photos to make the prints more “acceptable”. But why hide who I am to fit what the majority wants? My appearance is one of the many things that makes me unique, different and stand out from the incredibly saturated crowd. If someone doesn’t want to buy my prints because of my race, size, hair – then that’s their problem.

So, I’m putting it out there to the world: I want to see more diversity in conceptual photography (hell, art in general) – racial, body type, gender, sexuality, etc. Let this be a challenge to you – self portrait artists, photographers, etc. Consider using more diverse models or make yourself visible. And to the folks on Flickr: I love this community, but there are so few self portrait artists of color or different body types. Or who shoot with diverse models. The few artists I’ve found and loved, I’ve favorited immediately and continue to follow.

Now this doesn’t mean you should turn away a thin model or a white model – I’m open to working with all types of people. I just wish more photographers, artists, etc would consider portraying many different types of folks.

Let’s represent everyone on this big blue marble, kay?

Here are a few Flickrites you should check out:

Nizaad

Davey Morr

Mya (Soumaya Jayaraman)

T.K. Harpene (Fred Byrd)

Ottilie Simpson

Gurbir Grewal

 

*shooting from behind, wearing gloves, wigs, makeup, etc – anything to conceal most of my appearance.
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About dream24seven

Designer by day, photographer whenever I have the time.

9 comments

  1. mya

    Someone told me once in a portfolio review (or something similar) that my photographs are too Indian and I should consider being more diverse because after all, i am trying to show my work here in the United States. Maybe it makes sense from selling art point of view because of our audience here in the Pacific Northwest. But, I have since then made a decision that it doesn’t matter to me who buys my prints. I am Indian. My pictures will have Indian women and a lot of my stories will be about Indian women because that is who I am.

    I love this article!

    • I love that they thought that by having prints of Indian women, your portfolio wasn’t diverse. Seems pretty diverse to me and you know they wouldn’t make a similar comment to a white artist if their portfolio was full of all white models. Art is supposed to be representation of how the artist views the world – it’s not fair for others to ask us to homogenize our work to fit in with the rest.

  2. Very interesting post – Of course, I think you should go with what you are and what you think.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Great post. & I’m glad you’re doing you, not hiding. “young, skinny and white with straight hair (long, especially if you’re a woman)” – I’ve often thought this about a certain popular clothing pattern company that sends out emails. They have the occasional (light-skinned) woman of color but otherwise it’s exactly as you say here. It’s almost like a parody. And of course when it comes to sewing, putting fashion only on very thin and young lady-figures hardly helps MOST of the population who may want to sew. Tangential rant, I know, but it’s what I was reminded of in reading here.

    • Totally not tangential. I’m sick of only seeing one body type too. I’m not a small girl and it took forever for me to find a Flickr photographer who was or photographed girls with substance. And don’t get me started on sewing patterns/clothing designers – half of them just size up with no rhyme or reason or just think larger, average sized women want to look horrible. I want to see more full-figured, apple shaped, pear shaped ladies in photos. We come in all shapes, dammit!

  4. Adam Gonzalez

    Jamila,

    You share some interesting points here. I must confess I normally don’t vist blogs of this nature, heck I don’t visit blogs at all normally but I had a class assignment to post to a blog dealing with diversity. I read your post and thought this would be a great one to respond to. I would agree that all shapes and color of women should be viewed as beautiful. You have a right to take photos of anyone who let’s you and being that you are good at it I encourage you be as diversified as possible in your pictures. The only way to gain more acceptance Amongst others is to continually stand up for what you believe. If you want to see more diversity then all your work must be this way. By setting the example now, you can pave the way for future generations who have the same aspirations as you. When it’s all said and done, you want to be proud of the work you’ve done not what you should or could have done. I took a look at some of the links you gave and I actually liked Mya’s photos. Just because it’s different that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Keep your head up and trudge through the stereotypes. You will be happier this way. Good luck.

    Adam

  5. Actually, I’m here because your photos stood out. I read a lot of blogs, and when your work popped up on Photography Blogger I came straight over to see more – because yes, so much of what I see features the same sort of people (I’m white, but not young, thin, or pretty), but also because your vision intrigued me. What I saw was a little bit eerie, a little bit dreamy, and thought-provoking. I look forward to following your blog.

  6. I’m taking up your call. I’ve noticed that exact same issue.

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