We do not condone racism. And if you think that we should keep our mouths shut and stop talking about it, then please don’t come back to my website.
“I always thought Phoblographer was run by a white man,” is still a sentence that echos through my head. The world seems to be taking different stands right now on all that’s happening. Many of you will probably go out and document protests because you love documentary porn. You’ll do it for a self-serving reason and maybe not do a thing about the fact that not only African Americans are grievously mistreated, but that it’s been a systemic thing. It’s ingrained even in the photo industry. If you’re not sure how, I’d like you to take a few minutes to listen to me.
What We’ve Been Doing for Years
It seems that everyone is only now taking a stand on BLM and about equality. But we’ve been doing this for years. Folks come to us and label us as a tech website. However, we have an incredibly rich history of sharing artwork. For a while, our slogan was The Psychology of Creative Photography. It was only a few months ago that we changed it to adapt to new occurrences on the site. And more importantly, we pride ourselves on the fact that we’ve done tons of work in promoting various photographers. I’ll be the first to admit that many of them are white. And this isn’t by choices around race, it’s more about genuine adoration of the work that we choose to curate. But I’ll also pride the work of current and former staffers with all that they’ve done around promoting the work and voices of minority artists. We’ve been doing a lot of this recently in our Flipboard storyboards. And I implore you to take a look. But more specifically, here are four:
Heck, we’ve even done pieces on photographing folks with darker skin tones!
We’ve done a lot more than this, though. We’ve made many lists involving women, we’ve worked closely with our ally Nicole Struppert to syndicate pieces from her Women in Photography Website, we’ve hosted the words of ASMP NY Vice President and Feminist Alyssa Meadows, Reviews Editor Paul Ip has worked to promote Asian American photographers. The supporting work of Copy Editor Mark Beckenbach, Gear Editor Brett Day, and Feature Writer Dan Ginn have helped us to continue this mission. In our history, we’ve had some of the best diversity of any significant photography blog in America, and most importantly, this website is founded by a man of Indo-Caribbean origins. Like African Americans, my ancestors were enslaved, and my existence is the result of generations of my people being in the West Indies.
This is also why The Phoblographer is so incredibly thankful for allies like Fujifilm. They provide funding to us, and featured the work of photographers exploring various causes and issues around the world. If you aren’t familiar with the Visual Momentum Series, please explore it. We’re working on the last piece for it. A massive thank you and praise also goes to our allies at DUMBO Media Co. Thank you Alexandra Niki and Bob Dortch for making this all possible.
I’m not sure I could ever say the same for many of the other photo publications that have folded. Lots of the NYC based photography community mourn the loss of PDN–but I never saw a lot of what they did for the photo industry on behalf of inclusiveness. A website like Feature Shoot, on the other hand, should win accolades galore for it. As should the British Journal of Photography. I’m a paid subscriber of the latter, and I praise the work that they do.
My point here, though, is that we’re not just hopping on a bandwagon. As former SLRLounge Editor in Chief Kishore Sawh told me recently, it’s very evident that this has been a cause of ours for a long time now.
The problems of racism have been ingrained in the photo industry for years. It’s holistic. Go to many functions, events, trade shows, etc. and you’ll find lots of a particular shade to be prevalent. The experience isn’t inviting to the rest of us. And I sometimes have to say the same about other publishers. In the past two years, many photo publications folded because they just weren’t able to keep up. But those that have survived don’t have very much diversity while maintaining fairness, ethical pay, and treatment. And this is a problem: how can we spread the message of inclusiveness if the gatekeepers themselves don’t demonstrate it? We’re not the exploiting type that moves operations to Puerto Rico to avoid paying taxes the way that another publication did. But instead, the message is more on photography from folks of a specific shade. I’m not at all asking any publisher to claim that it may jeopardize their “quality” just to afford themselves inclusiveness. But instead, I think that they should actively search to elevate the messages of a more diverse populous. Diversity is what all of us need right now to survive. If we continually go after the same audience over and over again, we’ll exhaust them. We all need to change.
The Manufacturers and Companies
Here’s the big one. Why haven’t companies in the photo world come out to speak up against racism officially? Especially because there is a lack of trust in many ways from previous awards? Let alone the fact that if you look at the brand ambassadors of many companies, there isn’t a whole lot of inclusiveness or diversity. Why? At a time when the photo industry is looking so desperately to adapt and to make sales pick up, why are we not shedding our previous racial ideals? And more importantly, why are we supporting companies that continue to have racial issues? One that I’ve spoken of many times on this website is B&H Photo. If you look into the history of their lawsuits, they’ve been sued for discrimination of many types more times than one should in the past decade with little more than a slap on the wrist, a brush under the rug until all calms down, and continuation with business as usual. If you don’t believe me, it’s not fake news. You’re an adult, intelligent person who is reading this article: let me Google that for you either way. There are good people at that company, but they’re often overshadowed by the work of the mafia-like mentality that runs the company. Trust me, I used to work there. I experienced first hand what it was like, and to this day I’m still hounded by members of the team who I was hired to replace when I was in my 20s. While I’ll praise B&H for firing an employee who publicly discriminated against BLM, there’s still lots that happens behind closed doors. And if history is any indicator, B&H Photo will either rehire him under the larger B&H Foto Umbrella under their Gradus Group or they’ll rehire him and bury him somewhere in the warehouse. Neither of these actions are acceptable; especially when one considers the vital role that black lives played in liberating and protecting Jews during World War II.
And why haven’t we held companies accountable? We’ve seen some changes at least with Nikon’s ideas changing, Sony creating the Alpha Female program for what seems to be more than a marketing ploy is a positive step. Leica creating awards for women is also a pretty nice step forward. We’ve mentioned Fujifilm already earlier in this article. But there’s not much overall. Where is Ricoh Pentax? Where is Zeiss? Where is Sigma? Where is Rokinon/Samyang? And Tamron? What about conservative old Canon? Or Olympus? Or Panasonic? I’ve known reps at all of these companies for many years who have all treated me like either a son, a brother, a colleague, and a friend for many years now. But it’s grand time that we stop having these conversations in private bars over glasses of alcohol and that we instead take this message to the masses. And considering our history, we’d be happy to help you amplify this.
I’d like to take a moment to turn my lens to the American Non-Profits that help photographers: specifically APA, ASMP, and PPA. Please don’t tell me that you’re doing your part by having minorities and different shades on your boards. That’s the equivalent of saying that someone isn’t a racist because they have attractions to different races–so too did our founding fathers and we all know the stories about them. As I’ve seen with many of these organizations and chapters, there isn’t even a whole lot of outreach to millennials or Gen Z. And if there is, it’s not effective, and you’re not listening while adapting. As former Vice Chairman of APA NY, I did much to provide more quality, such as getting our members access to Dental and Vision benefits, in addition to various discounts and partnerships. You know–things that photographers and especially those of us who stepped into this industry in the past few years needed. But I’d be telling you a complete lie if I didn’t relate to you that every day felt like a struggle against an organization that’s supposed to be ethically championing the rights and needs of its members. The one who deserves the most praise amongst all this is perhaps APA National President Tony Gale, who has been a holistically good guy from the start. But every time I’ve been to events from all three of these organizations, I’ve never felt them be inclusive. It’s easy for all of us to still feel like outsiders, no matter how much love and adoration you show us. The truth about the minority experience is that we often need to try a million times harder to be accepted or even recognized as a dot on the radar. And that’s why I believe this is the right time to join our brothers and sisters and say that Black Lives Matter. If you don’t listen to them, you may listen to us instead.
The Phoblographer will continue its mission of inclusiveness and diversity that it has championed for years. And if you don’t like it, that’s fine. But I can tell you this: we’ve created something truly unique on the web. We have loads of diversity in our interviews. We’ve reviewed more lenses, camera bags, straps, and photo accessories than any other major photography publication. We’ve got top-notch Google SEO and Flipboard reach.
You’ll be back eventually. I will not take pride in this as it’s too much of an inevitable truth. But instead, I will elevate and praise the work of the current staff and former staff who continue to make this website a daily visit for many.
Editor in Chief/Founder/Publisher/Son of an Immigrant