10 Black Women Photographers Putting On For The Culture

Black women are über creative, y'all.

Human Interest

Black women are über creative, y'all. We perform geometric equations in detailed braiding patterns, we can engineer any device with the bare minimum tools, and we basically drive the pop culture of the entire world. Art, in all aspects of creativity—from painting, sculpting, and theater, to music, dance, and photography—although not new to the black community, is newly celebrated on a larger scale than previously recognized. And with photography leading the pack, thanks to pioneers such as Deborah Willis, Lorna Simpson, and Marilyn Nance, black women are now picking up their cameras at an all-time high.

We decided to list some of the most poppin' queens making the most noise as photographers. Here's our list of 10 female photographers putting on for the culture.

Tori Lens | @tori.lens

Courtesy of Tori Lens

Location: London, England

Favorite Camera: Nikon D3200 or Samsung S9+

Signature Style: "Vibrant, active, and smokey!"

"Me owning what I love and no longer apologizing for being a flipping powerhouse—despite being a bubbly, friendly, open-minded, black female with a shaved head and big African earrings—it all means that me just being, is making an impact."

Tori Lens is a first gen British-born Nigerian based on the other side of the pond in London. She is a clicking beast best known for her vibrant smoke bomb photoshoots and commitment to getting the right shot. "I'm always moving when I'm shooting, people always say that to me. And I love when my subjects do the same and are not afraid to take my unorthodox suggestions and run with it," she says. With a creative background that ranges from graffiti, painting, and sewing, Tori always knew she would have photography in her peripheral. "I must admit no matter my journey, I believe I would have always found photography because I am a visual creative and naturally curious. [I'm] always learning and growing. It was inevitable."

Photography by Tori Lens

Sierra Leone | @leoneandgray

Courtesy of Sierra Leone

Location: Atlanta/DMV

Favorite Camera: Full Frame D750

Signature Style: "Unposed. I want to always capture my subjects as they are in motion!"

"Shortly after giving birth to my daughter, I realized I didn't want to put her in daycare. And photography allowed me the freedom to capture her fleeting moments, stay at home with her, and secure the bag."

Sierra Leone is a self-taught, well-oiled photography machine based in the DMV and Atlanta areas. Encouraged by her mother to pursue the industry, she cites the times her mom would often capture her as a child. "While growing up, and even to this day, she is always capturing moments and while she used to preserve those moments through scrapbooking," she says with a smile, "I loved looking through her captures when I was younger. She has such an artistic eye when freezing time." Sierra then studied her craft and took to the internet to self-indulge in the basics. "I attended YouTube University, and I have been capturing beautiful humans for about 7 years now. I absolutely love what I do!"

She credits Marrica Evans, Cyndi Brown, Dayo, and her beautiful daughter, Tenzin—who she often uses as her subject—as photography inspirations.

Photography by Sierra Leone

Jen Missouri | @jenmissouri

Photo Credit: Quinten Swygert

Location: Little Rock, AR

Favorite Camera: Open to any camera with a 1.2 85mm prime lens

Signature Style: "I'm a natural light shooter, so my signature style is very clean and bright, with simplicity."

"I am looking to shift mindsets on the concept of photography. Photography is not only an art, but there's a science to it."

Jen Missouri is a highly sought-after newbie in the southern region of the U.S. She is best known for her attention to detail and passion for the perfect angle. "I practice shooting what I see through my lens when it comes to natural light, [so] I try to eliminate as much post-work as possible. I love how subjects are captured in its raw state," she says. "Filters should be an enhancer not the highlight of the story you're trying to tell."

Since taking that little photography elective on a whim during her last year of undergrad, Jen found her appetite for shooting, and hasn't been able to put down the camera since. She is also owner of the creative space @TheSpot, which is where you can find her taking photos for exclusive client events.

Photography by Jen Missouri

Kesha Lambert | @keshalambert

Photo Credit: Kanayo Adibe

Location: New Rochelle, NY

Favorite Camera: I am currently obsessed with the Nikon z7

Signature Style: "Movement, light, sultry and fun, risk-taking. I have a vivid imagination and I never hesitate to try to execute the thing that pops into mind. I don't overthink, I gently push the people I work with and just go for it."

"My cultural impact will be to create generational heirlooms; to dispel the negative stereotypes surrounding black marriage, black fatherhood, black motherhood and black love."

Kesha Lambert is a former lawyer turned dominant wedding photographer, hailing from New York. Her journey came about when one day, she just decided to go for it. "Circumstance and opportunity is why I pursued photography. It had been an interest since I was a little girl. I even started a small portrait business in my teens." I'm super impressed as she continues, "Adult me went on to become a lawyer, got married and start a family. Then one day, a proverbial door closed that caused a shift in my mindset and, as a result, Kesha Lambert Photography became a real thing."

Inspired by her three boys, Kesha has cemented her place in photography, as her photos may be some of your favorites on social media, without you even knowing. Keep a close eye on her journey, as she will certainly be making her mark on the game.

Photography by Kesha Lambert

Taylor Hayden | @taylormhayden

Courtesy of Taylor Hayden

Location: Houston, TX

Favorite Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV

Signature Style: "Simple, natural, and authentic."

"I believe that in order to bring forth a positive impact, the first step is to work on yourself. We all are here for specific reasons and we've inherited special gifts to share."

Photography may have started as a hobby for the Prairie View A&M grad, but she quickly made it her passion. "I never considered becoming a professional and making money from it," she starts. "I applied for tons of positions in the communications field and I was rejected every single time. Eventually, I became fed up and decided that I would be my own boss."

And a boss she is. You can find her close to her roots, shooting authentic images for her archives. "I find the most inspiration through other passionate people that are living their purpose and committed to the journey. It truly inspires me to keep moving forward and to also share my experiences, because you never know who you could potentially impact for the better."

Yass, sis.

Photography by Taylor Hayden

Linn Washington | @goldbarlinn

Photo Credit: Shani Perez

Location: NYC

Favorite Camera: Canon 5d Mark IV / Canon EF f 2.8L 70 to 200mm. A killer combination.

Signature Style: "Urban, bold, and clean. There is beauty in simplicity."

"It is important that we control a positive narrative of our images for future generations."

Linn is a retired law enforcement officer and prominent street photographer in the city that never sleeps. "I realized that I could do more for my community behind the lens by capturing joyful moments and crafting positive content, in lieu of using handcuffs to make an arrest."

Since then, Linn has tapped into her purpose by shooting the streets, versus shooting the streets. She credits Jeanne Moutoussamy and Lindey Adler as inspirations and, in her mission to show the beauty of melanin, she plans to be around for a long time. Currently, Linn is working on a documentary and photo book to support her friend who is battling stage 4 cancer. "I will master multiple genres of photography so that I may preserve history utilizing my artful eyes, and telling the stories of all the wonderful individuals I meet in an authentic way. I will then teach others how to do the same."

Photography by Linn Washington

Lola Akinmade Åkerström | @lolaakinmade

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Favorite Camera: Currently Nikon D750 FX

Signature Style: "I love vivid color and I love heavy dark contrast. Growing up in Nigeria, I was always surrounded by vibrant colors and lots of high contrast (dark skin against bright sky) so that is my style."

"For me, the perfect shot has nothing to do with technical settings, but everything to do with how many questions it can answer - where, why, what, when - and whether it can convey those emotions in a single shot."

Lola Akinmade is a pretty big deal; a highly decorated, award-winning, living legend and traveling photographer with published works in National Geographic and her own books—her latest being Due North: A Collection of Travel Observations, Reflections, and Snapshots Across Color, Cultures, and Continents. But even through her many accolades and accomplishments, she still feels that she has a long way to go.

"Goal lines keep getting moved because I am shooting within an industry that doesn't expect me—and someone that looks like me—to be working in it," she says. "These are some of the unspoken rules. It's why a white, male, rugged photographer who shoots the exact same scene I did, is celebrated, while this curvy black woman is met with a questioning of 'you took that?' instead. I want to normalize black women as professional travel photographers, and travel writers, on the mainstream level. I want to inspire those who shoot and write on the highest platforms."


Photography by Lola Akinmade Åkerström

Nikia Paden | @iridescentphotography.htx

Courtesy of Nikia Paden

Location: Houston, TX

Favorite Camera: Canon 5D Mark IV

Signature Style: "My work is filled with vibrant colors and the nonsense correlated with candid childhood. It is meant to cause major reminiscing and extract all the smiles."

"Simply taking pictures transformed the way I observed my environment. My eyes were continuously taking mental snapshots on how environments would look photographed."

Color and youth-capture is the essence of Nikia Paden. Her super creative spirit and eye is how she has managed to be one of the top child photographers in the country. "When someone sees my work, I want them to know that it all usually begins with a crazy idea that turns into a wild creative adventure that's usually full of imagination," she says with a laugh. "I have been told that my work is a breath of fresh air, and that it captures the whimsical and innocent nature of childhood, especially for our black children. So, I want to capture our melanated minis and showcase the joy that they exude. And maybe one day, all will see the magic and the undeniable necessity that is them."

Photography by Nikia Paden

Kahran Bethencourt | @creativesoulphoto

Courtesy of Creative Soul Photography

Location: Atlanta, GA

Favorite Camera: Canon 5D Mark III; 85MM 1.4 Lens

Signature Style: "I always define my signature style as 'extra'. To me, descendants of the African diaspora have always been (and always will be) trendsetters when it comes to fashion, music, and style so I want our work to reflect that - even if our subjects are kids."

"We want to empower kids of color around the world to be proud of their culture and embrace everything that makes them unique."

You have seen Kahran's photos a hundred times over, and you have no clue. She is ½ of the awesomely innovative husband/wife duo, Creative Soul Photography. And their impact on photography, is revolutionary. "My husband, Reg actually attended school for photography and I learned along with him while he was in college. We knew we wanted to start a business together, so it was the perfect opportunity for us to learn a new skill together."

And, man, have they learned.

Creative Soul's photos have been featured in Essence, Munaluchi Bride, MochaKid, on The Real, the OWN network, and more. "A perfect shot tells a story. Even if it's a studio portrait, I love when all of the elements (fashion, hairstyle, accessories, model, etc.) come together to form the story we're trying to tell."

Photography by Creative Soul Photography

Deanna G | @deannaxnicole

Courtesy of Deanna G

Location: Atlanta, GA

Favorite Camera: Canon 80D/50mm 1.8 Lens

Signature Style: "My signature style is not just one thing; I see it as very versatile. It fits the moment I would say. It is always pretty vibrant, even when it is intended to be 'dark'."

"When I first decided I wanted to take a creative career choice, there were not many women figures to look up to in my field. This is, or was, a male-dominated industry, and it is changing more every day. We are making our mark in this world, and shaking it up along the way."

A photographer since high school, Deanna always knew some sort of camera would be in her hands. "I have always intended to have a career in the film industry, whether that be as an editor, or director of photography," she says. "[But] photography helped me learn more about how I see things visually and opened doors that were not previously opened before."

Her recent "A Black Man's Mental Health" series has been making noise amongst other creatives. But whether a photographer, or a film director, Deanna is sure about one thing: "I want to be an inspiration to young women around the world. I want them to be able to know that they will make it in whatever creative pathway they choose, without the constant mental panic of 'how is this going to play out?'."

Photography by Deanna G

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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