December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

“Our Black Experience”: A historical exhibition of black women photographers

3 min read

Sentimental Moon © Kelli Scates (@kscatesstudios)

Last February, a group of female artists – all members of the global Black Women Photographers community – gathered in Los Angeles for a studio get-together hosted by Amari Dixon and Jessica Bethel. During this session, Kelli Scates photographed Jerry standing under the glow of gel-like lighting. In the portrait they took together, model Jerry looks as if he were bathed in starlight – as infinite as the cosmos. At the time, the artist wrote, “Black men, I see you and I love you in all your glory.”

Scate’s portrait of Jerry, titled “Sentimental Moon,” is on view alongside work by twenty other photographers and members of the Black Women Photographers community as part of Our Black Experience, an exhibition curated by Dixon and Bethel. Black Women Photographers was founded in 2020 by photographer Polly Irungu; This exhibition marks a historical milestone. The work selected breaks boundaries and spans genres such as portraiture, fine art, documentary and beyond, but each of these photographers has come together under one roof for an exhibition.

“The overarching theme was to showcase each artist’s Black Experience,” says Bethel. “It could look like families, friendships, everyday life and our black culture. After curating the work, we looked for these common themes and started to link them together. In the end, the individual black experience of the artists connects us all.”

After Skid Row © Lauren Todd (@lautodd_)

Lauren Todd’s photo After Skid Row left Bethel breathless. Granni, the woman in the portrait, is a former Vogue model and motorcyclist. She rides bareback. At the time of this picture, Granni had recently moved into an apartment after living on Skid Row for ten years. “Skid Row in Los Angeles is where the homeless live and it’s very difficult to get out of it or even stay alive,” Bethel said. In Todd’s picture, a portrait of resilience and strength, Granni looks at herself in the mirror. It’s lit by the soft pink glow of a nearby lamp.

The stories on the walls of this exhibition are as personal as they are universal, they document specific places and times. On Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles, Alexis Hunley celebrates the legacy of black families, watching babies in strollers and little kids on skateboards; There she met Amanda and Quincy as they awaited the arrival of their first child. In Harlem, New York, Kate Sterlin discovers a mother carrying her child. Early on a cool fall day, Amber Clemons watches the sun rise over East Chicago.

I asked Bethel and Dixon if they had ever seen an exhibition like this when they were aspiring photographers themselves. “Honestly, I never saw that when I started my career or growing up,” Bethel replied. “I’ve never seen the kind of representation and community Polly has [Irungu] created with Black Women photographers. It honestly would have meant the world to see such a display.

“I was generally the only black woman, sometimes the only black person, in a photographic environment, particularly academically. This is an incentive to keep creating spaces and works that represent us.”

For Dixon, seeing Scate’s portrait of Jerry, taken more than nine months ago during the Black Women Photographers’ Gathering in Los Angeles, was a highlight of many. “It’s been wonderful to see the community come full circle,” she told me. The print for Sentimental Moon was sold on opening night. “Celebrating and giving each other flowers was the main purpose,” Bethel said.

You can see Our Black Experience: Stories from Black Femme, Queer, Non-Binary, and Transgender Photographers at The Perfect Exposure Gallery in Los Angeles until December 3. Exhibiting artists include Alexis Hunley, Amari Dixon, Amber Clemons, Anisa Williams, Debra Orols, Gabrielle Hudspeth, Hanna Leka, Jessica Bethel, Kate Sterlin, Kayla Oaddams, Kelli Scates, Lauren Todd, Melissa Johnson, Nathalie Gordon, Nia Symone, Oluchi Enemanna, Phylicia JL Munn, Taizja Marie Tate, Valley, Zaria Love and Zoe Law. The exhibition will travel to other cities around the world in the new year.

Untitled (The Family) © Alexis Hunley (@byalexishunley)A sunrise in East Chicago © Amber Clemons (@acstaycool)Sunday morning © Kate Sterlin (@kate_sterlin)Zyaire © Debra Orols (@debraorols)Cradle © Jessica Bethel (@4eyedcameragirl)Vulnerable © Nia Symone (@niasymonephotos)Wisdom of the Maasai © Amari Dixon (@amarimdixon)Artist & The Muse © Kayla Oaddams (@kayla.optics)Hope for Flowers © Oluchi Enemanna (@oluchienemanna)Model Jerry Howard with his portrait © Kelli Scates (@kscatesstudios)

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