It’s Black History Month, so let’s go back in time to focus on legendary black photographers.
History can not ignore the contribution black photographers have made to our industry. Of course, legendary black photographers will inspire today’s crop of black photographers. But their work should also inspire anyone that cares about the craft. Rather than showing the odd photo of the below selection, we’ve turned to YouTube. This way, we can show you in-depth content, allowing you to appreciate the effort put in by those that paved the way for today’s generation.
1. Coreen Simpson is a Legendary Black Photographer
Born in 1942, Coreen Simpson is a legendary black photographer from New York. Her career blew up in the 1980s when she started working for Unique New York magazine. Simpson was a fashion and portrait photographer, well known for a diverse group of subjects. Today, collections of her work exist in the Museum of Modern Art, the International Center of Photography, and the Bronx Museum of Art, to name a few.
2. Legendary Black Photographer Lorna Simpson
Lorna Simpson is a living legend. Simpson made her name as a contemporary portrait photographer. She focused heavily on African-American subjects. But rather than offer standard portraits, Simpson zoned in on specific details. Body shape, hair, and lips, are examples. Her works exist across many galleries worldwide, and she remains a source of education for new photographers.
3. Ernest Withers
Ernest Withers is best known for his work during the Civil Rights Movement. A crucial time in America, Withers was Martin Luther King’s personal photographer. Wither’s also photographed the infamous Emmett Till murder trial. Till was hung and murdered after being accused of offending a white woman. He was just 14 years old.
4. Eli Reed
Eli Reed is the first legendary black photographer to be employed full-time by Magnum Agency. The legendary photo agency hired Reed after seeing the work he created in Central America. Reed comes with some impressive accolades. He has the Leica Medal of Excellence, World Press Photo Award, and was a runner up in the Pulitzer Prize. His photo book, Black in America, remains one of the most influential photo books in the industry.
5. Deborah Willis
Deborah Willis is a highly influential member of the photo industry. Not only is she a legendary black photographer, but she’s also a curator. Her curations have featured in the Smithsonian Institution museums. A true professor of the game, Willis released a highly popular photo book Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present. Any student learning about the history of black photographers needs to spend time with Deborah Willis’s works.
6. Roy DeCarava
Roy DeCarava is best known for his fine art photography. He was part of the Harlem Renaissance, a time which saw African-American creatives blossom. DeCarava started as a painter, eventually turning to photography in the late 1940s. He received the Benin Creative Photography Award in 1972 for his contribution to the black community as a photographer. His work was regular featured in the Museum of Modern Art between 1950 and 1974.
7. John W. Mosley
John W. Mosley started way back in the 1930s. Starting as an event photographer, it’s said he would photograph up to four events a day! Mosley spent 30 years documenting African-American culture in his home town of Philadelphia. His work earnt him the title “cultural warrior” as he broke down negative stereotypes associated with African-Americans.
Your Favorite Legendary Black Photographers
We know there are more than six black photographers with legendary status. Some of you may be screaming “what about Gordon Parks or Florestine Perrault Collins!?” Well, they seemed too obvious. So, help us make this longer by sharing your favourites in the comments below.