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February 09, 2009


What if I have freckles? Does that make me a freckled photographer? LOL Oh well! Good post here that well-illustrates that adjectives are not always indicative in the way we think they are. Wedding, portrait, street, journalism, event, fine art, landscape, etc are all good ones. Black, white, female, male, Asian are not really good ones anymore.

Props back to Michael Johnston from TOP for pointing me here - consider your feed added! ;)

Oh, and FWIW, Obama is not black - he's mulatto (half white half black). ;)

I think your questions pretty much answer the question for me. Seems like a historical artifact.

What about a "black basketball player"? Well, that just tells me it's a basketball player that happens to be black. Any difference?

Amen. Although I'm overjoyed that the USA has elected a person of African heritage as our president, I don't think of Barack Obama as a black president. I think of him as our president, and therein lies the triumph! P.S. It's irrelevant to me, but if it matters to you, I'm a European-American. ;-)

As a "white" photographer? Well, I am just an amateur, at photography anyway - the sunburns in the summer tell me that I am quite pro at the being white part.

I was born in the 70s in the Netherlands. That means the only real racial strife I saw, and then only in the news, was Apartheid in South Africa. Throughout my entire life, about a quarter of my friends, classmates and coworkers have been off-white to some degree. That's probably true for my most of my age group. There is some grouping of people due to ethnic origin here, but in my personal experience most of that is the good-natured kind. Like you say, be proud of your heritage!

So I have no problem admitting I notice the color of your skin, the clothes you wear, the place you come from. I will guess at your background, I will ask you about it if I can. I love to know. But skin-tone seems to be only a minor part in the mental labeling I do.

To me, you're only a "Black Photographer" if you want to be one, and you tell me you are one. And maybe what it means to be one. You posed a tricky question here, mostly because merely asking it taints my way of thinking about you. I had to un-trick my brain and see how I thought about the other "Black Photographers" I know before you asked this question. If you do not ask to be one, then you are just a man. One with a very cool and powerful portrait picture on his blog, but still, just a man.

(Got pointed here by Mike Johnston)

Labels are destructive things.

"To identify oneself with a particular race, with a particular country or with certain ideologies yields security, satisfaction and flattering self-importance. This worship of the part, instead of the whole, cultivates antagonism, conflict and confusion." — Jiddu Krishnamurti, 4 June 1944.

Spot on. The pictures count — the operator behind the camera should remain invisible until the observer becomes interested in the history of the print and inquires as to the identity of the author.

I'm not a "photographer," other than in the sense that I often take pictures. It's a hobby, not a career.

With that said, right now I could probably describe myself as an European or white photographer. Reason being I live in Japan where I am decidedly in the minority, and I do take pictures from a different perspective on what I see than Japanese photographers would.

If I went back to my native Sweden, I'd of course immediately cease to be a European or white photographer and revert to being a plain un-prefixed nuisance to my environment.

Interesting question. I live in Japan and tend to separate photographers here as Japanese photographers---ok, not a "race" but a label none the less---when discussing photography with others.

I have never thought of myself as a white photographer though, as it never occurred to me that my race had anything to do with my photos, so wonder why I apply a label to photographers from Japan?

I think progress has been made and that is excellent. And probably both black and non-black photography helped get us to where we are. One hopes it's all just photography.

I have been in photography for most of my life. I cannot look at an image without knowing the shooter and tell anyone the gender or ethnicity of the maker of the image.

Taking the images and congregating them around a theme, or as in advertising adding copy to give context, we can then deliver what we think to what we see.

To me the highest form of art is when it transcends the artist and becomes a piece that stands on its own. Regardless of the gender, race, ethnicity, handicap, sexual or religious orientation of the creator.

It always seemed to me that stating that something was defined by something that was not of the artist's choice (race, gender for instance) was a lessening of expectations.

She's a great photographer is more to me than she's a great photographer... for a girl. Such a shame that identity politics would create such a segmented community.

This is a wonderful post sir. Your work looks like great photography to me.


I am a left-eyed photographer. That is, I put my left eye to the viewfinder.

That dissuaded me from buying the Nikon N80 because my nose would toggle the four-way controller inadvertently as I was shooting.

Does being black affect how you shoot? If not, then you are not a black photographer.

If the argument runs that being black affects how one sees the world to the extent that it dictates how and what you see, then I guess we all doomed to live in our boxes.

But don't tell William Burroughs or Bill Evans that because they were white and middle class. :)

Wow, when are you going to move on to the hard questions? I'm basically an integrationist and I know little about 1970s cultural black nationalism, but I want to ask: How many photographers who were not themselves black were taking empathetic pictures of black people in 1973? Pictures that neither condescended nor stereotyped? There may have been a need for "black photographers" in 1973. I hope that's no longer true.

Why did you ask for comment specifically from white photographers? Isn't part of the point that other "minorities" might have a different viewpoint from yours?

Labels can be confusing. If you are a black photographer can you be a portrait photographer? Or, are you then a black portrait photographer? Or, what if you specialize in fine art... Are you then a black art photographer? And there lies the conundrum. In reality, you are a photographer and if your work is worthy, nothing matters but the green.

I think of Tsuyoshi Ito, who runs a photo gallery and education center in Philadelphia called Project Basho (www.projectbasho.org), as a "Japanese photographer." Aside from being Japanese and a photographer, his work is inspired by early twentieth-century Japanese pictorialists, who were inspired by earlier Japanese traditions in the visual arts, so a designation like "Japanese photographer" can provide some context that enriches our experience of the work, if we happen to know something about it. If we don't know anything about the history of photography in Japan, I could see such a designation as limiting our experience of the work, reducing it to the stereotypes we may have of Japanese culture.

In other words, I think it's up to the viewer or critic or the self-designating photographer to use these terms meaningfully.

I still remember that very fine (very first?) issue. When I was a member of En Foco (a Puerto Rican photo collaborative) someone asked if they could submit. And I still remember some of the bemused (amused?) looks he got in response from the Annual panel...

Anyway, 30+ years later is the term still applicable, the publication still relevant? In the ideal world it sure wouldn't be, and we may, in fact, be a step or two closer. Or perhaps we just need to be a bit more inclusive in our minority perspective (a majority?) I recently co-launched an online gallery of sorts, and one of our first comments concerning the photographers featured was, "All men?" To which I replied, "To be remedied in the future for sure. Hopefully, along with the question you didn't ask- "All white?"

Great post!

I had to re-read your title. The key word is "still."

There was a time in this country where Blacks were not acknowledged or accepted in many (if any at all) segments of the society. I feel that because of an innate need for 'IDENTITY,' there was a groundswell for labels and organizations to be prefaced with 'Black' or 'African-American' or 'Jewish' or 'Latino', etc.

Do we 'STILL' need those labels? I think not. When I look at your photos, I judge them on the rules of photography (composition, lighting, artistry). When I look at you, in the context of your photography, I imagine what cultural and personal constructs you may have brought to the images. Then again, I do this with everyone.

At this point in history I don't see a real need for a "2009 Annual Black Photographers Awards Program" other than to niche folks.

"Guided by the Ancestors"

Great post. In my mind it's the work (photo) that should be judged, not who took it or what camera or what lens was used. Look at any newspaper or magazine: The person's name who took it may be there, but not the camera or lens or what he or she looks like.

You like a photo or not by the way it looks. A great photo taken by a child with a 30 yr old camera is still a great photo. A photographer is a photographer no matter what he or she looks like.

"Why did you ask for comment specifically from white photographers?"

This question was meant to be tongue-in-cheek and somewhat provocative. It's a way of asking how the shoe fits when it's on the other foot.

I also suspect that most photographers who are white don't normally think of themselves as "white photographers." In fact, if someone were to make a special point of referring to him/herself as such, there might be suspicions of a racist agenda.

It's different when you're a minority. Then the descriptor is generally understood to mean that you belong to a minority group. Does it describe much about your work? In some cases yes, but not always. That's why we have to be careful about applying labels or accepting them without question.

Thanks for your good sense.

Did you keep a journal in those days? If so, it would be interesting to hear about your thinking back then.

I am a white photographer, but living and studying in a black country (Ethiopia), my primary subject is black people; specifically black people in traditional envvironments and circumstances. I tend not to shoot Westernized Ethiopians, because it is boring and looks like it could be anywhere else; I explicitly avoid shooting whites in most circumstances, except when they are doing something that is somehow revealing to me about the circumstance involved. So, I am definitely taking photos of black people that construct meaning, but I'm white, they're in color, and Ethiopia is probably outside of the cultural sphere that 'black photographer' referred to anyways.

Honestly, I am not even sure what to call myself--'landscape and travel photographer' kind of implies that the 'exotic' isn't just the normal to those involved. I think one could be a 'photographer of black American/African life/people' in a meaningful way, but I am not sure how much meaning could be placed in black photographer.

Great post. I'm neither black nor American. I'm even struggling to became a photographer.

Let's put it this way... statistically there must be more left-eyed photographers (myself included) than African-"anything" (American, Brazilian, etc) and no-one has never discussed about it (although it's harder to use a camera if you are left-eyed).

Racism is so stupid that I could never understand how it once began. Unfortunately, it does exist.

When the media stops referring to our President as the first "African-American President" then I will no longer consider myself a "black photographer." And to the fellow who refered to Obama as "mulatto," does he realize how offensive that term is?

I had never heard of the term "Black Photographer" before reading your post, so I'm guessing that's a good thing. To be honest, I would never have thought to categorise your photography as "black" because of your race. Having seen your photos, they seem like any (talented) white, yellow, brown or blue photographer could have taken them.

I wonder if Photography has broken away from the stereotypes that still permeate music. I bet that if you ask people what music a black musician is most likely to play they'd respond "rap or jazz". Show them a 40-year old white musician with long hair and they'll say "rock"; show them the same guy, but black, and they'll say "reggae".

Since you asked what us "white photographers" think.... I guess that I am a photographer, and I'm not even suntanned at this time of year.

I think your post could generate months of interesting comments.

Let us suppose that someone published a book "The White Photographers Annual 2008". And further suppose that nothing in the book was actually offensive to non-whites. Neither overt signs of racism, nor any specific photo that offended a non white person. Nothing except the absence of "non-white" photographers (for whatever that might mean)

I would have no interest in having my photos added to that book, and I certainly think that my coloured friends and co-workers would be a little upset if they saw it on my desk or in my house.

Yet if the book was the "Irish Photographers Annual 2008" I would be proud to have photos in it, and I think that my American Friends or Co-workers would be delighted to see my pictures in it.

Nothing stands on it's own, everything exists in the framework of our past and our present.

I have not grown up with the same culture or history that you have, but neither have I grown up with the same culture and history as a Frenchman (more tanned, but still quite pale) nor the culture and history of a Dane (Downright pasty) - Have I more in common with them than I have with you? At least you and I could talk about photography.

By the way, nice website, great photos.

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