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10 Female 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."

Queen.

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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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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