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Since its infancy, photography has remained one of the leading art forms that has the power to move hearts and minds with just a still image. Its also been one of the main tools to help tell the story of the Black experience throughout the years, highlighting the good and bad. The one crucial aspect that stands out is that it has been Black photographers behind the lens telling those critical stories.
Cassius Life sat down with four amazing Black photographers, Joe Chea, Andrew Fennell, Chuck Marcus, and Jerome Shaw, who continue to use the craft to tell Black stories and capture Black subjects properly. They spoke about what inspired them to pick up a camera, and all of them had different reasons.
Kicking things off, Chea, a Ghanaian American photographer from the South Bronx, fell into the craft almost by chance. “As a kid with a lot of energy, my school thought it would be best to put me in a creative arts program,” he revealed to Cassius Life. That would eventually lead to him picking up a camera, and the rest is history. Chea now has his own studio, aptly named Come Uptown Studios, where he creates melanated visual magic and uses it as a way of “bridging community and creativity.”
Fennell who proudly describes himself as a “New York-born, New York-raised, New York-based photographer, videographer, and creative director,” started taking photos because he “was getting all these terrible photos as I was designing artwork. So, I said, “Hey, I could do it myself.” Like Chea, Fennell also has his own creative space in Brooklyn, NY, Studio3KBK, letting his creatives’ juices flow while giving other budding photogs a place to bring their ideas to life.
Shaw, a Harlem native, now a bicoastal photographer/creative director, saw photography as an opportunity to become an entrepreneur. “In 2008, the market crash happened, I was laid off. I took part of my severance to buy a camera. And ever since, I decided to do photography full-time,” he said. Shaw hasn’t worked for anyone since and has expanded beyond photography. On top of photographing campaigns, Shaw also has a successful photobooth company called Visibooth and a broadcast and media production company called Park and Lex Productions.
As for Marcus, a Harlem, New York native, now based in Atlanta, his inspiration hit close to home. He came into the craft after being inspired by his dad, who he described to us as a “street photographer documenting the city of New York, just catching people and catching their life in times with things,” and is one of his “biggest inspirations.” Since embarking on his journey in photography, creating his company, ChuckMarcus Photography, a digital and print brand, in 2012, he has worked with adidas, Nike, Kith NYC, Footlocker, New Balance, and Red Bull, to name a few.
While these four gentlemen have been successful in their own right, they each have their issues with the photography industry, especially how Black photographers are treated. When asked about what needs to be changed, Shaw gets to the money stating, “Pay rate. We deserve to be paid as much as our counterparts and everyone else.” Fennell feels the people at the top doing the “gatekeeping” need to change in order “to give black photographers, black creatives, a chance to work.” Marcus simply feels “They should hire black photographers to photograph black people.”
All points you would be hard-pressed to argue against.
But for the million-dollar question as to why Black photographers matter? Each of them collectively agrees that Black photographers possess the innate ability to tell our stories properly. ” We give a different insight and a different vibe and feel to our images,” Shaw tells Cassius Life.
“Black stories, black culture, and black perspectives matter,” Chea begins. “It’s very difficult to get an accurate depiction of what life is like or what things are like in a specific community when the only picture that you see is coming from an outside gaze.” Fennell and Marcus echo similar sentiments adding, “There’s certain nuances, there’s certain cultural inherent aspects and things that black photographers can bring to shoots that other photographers can’t.” Marcus adds, “Black photographers are important because no one can tell our story like us.”
The proof is in their work, and in their words, you can peep the entire interview about and always remember Black Photographers Matter.