Black photographers still shooting for an opportunity

Stephon Williams, a FAMU grad, is working as a photographer in Atlanta.
Photo Submitted by Stephon Williams.

On the day Vogue magazine revealed what was to be expected with its cult-classic September issue, not only was there buzz aplenty about the star who was to appear on the cover, but for the photographer who was tasked to shoot it.

Tyler Mitchell recently became the first black photographer to shoot a cover for Vogue magazine, a feat that has occurred 126 years into the magazine’s existence.

For Rolling Stone, it has taken 50 years since its creation to hire a black photographer to shoot a cover, with both companies taking up more than half of a human lifetime to take strides in advancing diversity.

These recent victories come at a time where diversity is becoming a main factor when determining an ideal job, and with the way other black photographers reacted to these breakthrough shoots, there doesn’t appear to be much of this within the photo-taking industry.

“It really sparked a conversation,” said Stephon Williams, a freelance photographer based in Atlanta. “It has inspired me to go harder.”

Williams, a graduate of Florida A&M University, said that one of the main reasons he began to take photos was because he enjoyed the feeling of it being a job without it actually being a job, a quality that inspires many black photographers to step into the game.

But what happens after they step in and the real world begins to show? 

Stephon Williams "Black Vogue" as seen on his Instagram Stephonx_
Photo Submitted by Stephon Williams.

“They seem unwilling to give big jobs to black photographers, especially up and coming ones,” said London-based photographer Roland McKenzie in her interview with Dazed magazine for their article, “Four Black Photographers on the Struggles of Making it.”

“We need to be 50 times better than other photographers to get noticed in the first place, and then when we reach those meetings we are frequently the only black voice in the room, which can make it difficult to be heard and understood,” McKenzie continued.

The lack of diversity within creative industries have been well documented and even studied, as Adobe recently published its findings from their 2018 study, “Creativity’s Diversity Disconnect.”

Within their study, Adobe surveyed 750 creative professionals and found that among the participants, 65 percent who identified as people of color cited “Lack of sponsorship from a senior-level advocate” as a primary hurdle to achievement compared to 53 percent of respondents who identified as white.

“I have highs and lows with bookings so in low seasons I make my own opportunities,” said Williams.

Though the numbers and the environment may appear somewhat discouraging, Williams always reminds himself as to why he became a photographer and how he aims to use his art.

“I want to capture the beauty in everyone,” Williams said, “I aim to recreate (an) image and add my own style to the image.”

The recent outcries for opportunities have yet to open the doors for more public success for black photographers.

Williams said he and others hope that including black photographers in the conversation will become the new industry norm.