Editorial Contribution by Sally Writes
Photography has been both a blessing and a curse in the struggle to represent America’s black history. Scientific American note that for every portrait of Frederick Douglas, used as a symbolic weapon against regressive forces, there were a dozen botched attempts by photographers simply unable, or unwilling, to ensure that black faces were represented in history. Today, technology ensures that photography can – photo-shop aside – be used as a force to keep record and ensure that stories are documented every step of the way. For photographers looking to make their mark on history, black history presents heroic figures who paved the way for today’s generation.
Learning from Gordon Parks
Perhaps the most influential photographer and record keeper of black culture in the USA, Gordon Parks is remembered for his iconic photos of poor Americans in the 1940s and his projects for various national syndicated magazines. What Gordon Parks also did to revolutionize black photography was bring professionalism to the scene. According to National Geographic, his photography not only worked on a personal basis, but as the foundation of his company, too. Today, opening a photography business is not only a fantastic way to derive value from your skills, but it helps to disseminate your art and bring photography, and awareness of black issues, to a far wider audience. If photography is your passion, learning what’s needed to turn it into a business could be a great move for you, particularly if you have a strong message to convey.
A modern activism
In many ways developing the work of Gordon Parks, Eli Reed is highlighted by LHSA as a fearless photographer who documented the history of racial change and tumult throughout the crest of his career. Hired by huge photographer agencies, Eli Reed redefined what it meant to be a black photographer in the USA, and became noted for his defining portraits of black icons such as Tupac Shakur. For Reed, photography helped to bridge the gap of the black narrative and detail the disconnect between the halls of power and the reality for the average black American.
A modern age
Today, young visionaries carry the creative torch still. Time magazine bring particular attention to John Edmonds, a Washington, D.C. born photographer who has settled in Brooklyn. Edmonds’ work has brought a particularly unique light to the modern black American story, specifically concerning African-Americans. Using techniques and imagery that lauds back to Africa while still maintaining a focus on the lives of youth in America today, Edmonds, like Reed, provides a bridge. This is while maintaining a clear window into the everyday life of black Americans, particularly young Americans, existing and living in the cities of the country today. Invaluable in connecting the very human stories of the black narrative in America to the bigger issues across the country and indeed the world, the work of John Edmonds will likely form the basis for the next generation.
Photography is a historical tool, and it tells the stories that big news outlets sometimes don’t pick up. That, more often than not, is the story of many millions of black Americans. Through the black heroes who have spent their life detailing this story, the next generation can be inspired.