Polly Irungu on the Incredible Rise of Black Women Photographers

Two years ago, Polly Irungu wasn’t your average 26 years old. Instead of going out to party or eating in a fancy restaurant, Irungu began a movement that would change the direction of her life. She founded Black Women Photographers, an organization that aims to uplift the demographic in various ways. We cover it all in this week’s episode of Inside The Photographer’s Mind.

Listen to our episode with Polly Irungu right here. Or watch it below!

Polly Irungu’s Journey Into Photography

“Photography found me,” recalls Irungu when asked how she started photography. After moving to Portland, she found herself in a state of depression. Struggling to find her path, she eventually agreed to photograph the student yearbook. From there, she became attached to the craft, found her calling, and began to see an improvement in her mental health.

It’s not the first time we’ve discussed mental health on Inside The Photographer’s Mind. Photography helps those who are struggling to move forward.

Polly Irungu on Starting Black Women Photographers

On the morning of her 26th birthday, Polly Irungu was helping to get funds to other photographers. While most people would go out for drinks and dinner on their birthday, she decided it was the best time to start a movement: Black Women Photographers.

The movement started with around 100 photographers. At the time of the podcast, it currently sits on over 1,000 members, showing rapid growth. Irungu says the movement has members from all around the world, something she never expected to happen.

When asked what her main goal is with the movement, she replied, “The main goal for me, and what the main goal has always been, is just to get black women photographers hired.”

She goes into further detail throughout the episode, so be sure to hit play and listen.

Polly Irungu on Her Photography Career

Irungu describes managing Black Women Photographers as a full-time job. With that, her photography career has naturally become impacted. She’s not shooting as much and hasn’t been on assignment since May of this year.

It seemed that throughout the interview, Irungu was still trying to understand what direction she wanted to go in with her photography. When asked about it, she said her feelings tell her to move towards documentary photography. Her heart is telling her to return to Kenya, document her family, and tell a story of her family history. “…the most important assignment you can give yourself is to document your family,” she told me.

On the Highlights of Black Women Photographers

So much has happened in the two years since Irungu set up her movement. I asked her to tell me some of the highlights so far, other than helping photographers get work.

She told me the grants she is able to give photographers are certainly a highlight. The movement is currently allocating around $50,000 in grants to photographers. That figure includes cash funding and photography gear. Irungu talks about how difficult it is to choose who to give the grants to. Those that miss out don’t always have bad work. It’s just someone else’s work speaks out more, thus being more worthy of funding.

It’s a nice problem to have because it means the quality of work is out there, and Black Women Photographers can help fund the work further.

Irungu also talks about the photo walks that began due to Black Women Photographers. Women in locations all around the world meet up, walk together, and create. Irungu is especially proud she’s been able to help build this community in the world.

Enjoy the Show

This is an excellent episode of Inside The Photographer’s Mind and one you’re sure to enjoy. So hit play on the audio or video player above! Also, don’t forget to subscribe via the platform you’re listening through and share it with others!

If you’re interested in learning more about Black Women Photographers, you can check out the website here.

Dan Ginn

Dan Ginn is a content writer and journalist. He brings with him five years' experience writing in the photographic niche. During that time he has worked with a range of leading brands, as well as a host of professional photographers within the industry.