Like many people, I have been moved by recent images of Black people being murdered by White people in America, and I am not so ignorant as to think that racism is just an American problem. Pagespics supports the #blacklivesmatter campaign. I have used my White Privilege to roam the world with my camera freely, and am rarely questioned about what I am doing. It is questionable as to whether a Black person would have the same degree of freedom in many parts of the world, and perhaps this is why there are apparently so few Black Street Photographers. Alternatively, it may be that Black Street/ Documentary photographers are poorly represented (they are). This is my attempt at amplifying the issue of racism. Ironically, we are looking at a very well known street photo that was taken by a white guy.
Uncomfortable photo to look at? Winogrand took this photo in New York’s Central Park zoo. It was no random snapshot. To capture this photo Winogrand reportedly shoved his fellow photographer, Tod Papageorge out of the way.
The photo was taken in 1967, the same year interracial marriages were legalised in the US. Winogrand is not known for explaining his photos, nor the social context behind them. When we look at the image, the viewer is led to believe the pair in the photo are a couple (they were not). Whilst such relationships were becoming more common in the 1960’s, mixed-race couples would have often been subjected to significant white backlash1. One reason for this backlash is discussed by Ella-Marie West, who addresses the issue of multi-cultural relationships in the 50’s and 60’s, ‘The idea of sex between black men and white women repulsed whites, while casual and often exploitative sex between white men and black women was ignored or accepted because it was normalized during slavery when the white master did what he pleased with his property‘ (2017). Black author, Hilton Als points to the further significants of the monkey within the frame.
we see a white woman and a black man, apparently a couple, holding the product of their most unholy of unions: monkeys. In projecting what we will into this image—about miscegenation, our horror of difference, the forbidden nature of black men with white women—we see the beast that lies in us all.
(The Animals and Their Keepers, 2013)
How is it Winogrand instantly recognised the importance of this shot? In America there are still skewed views on interracial relationships2 and in the UK, we only need to look at how the press have dealt with the marriage of Harry and Megan Meghan to see that racism is alive and kicking3. Further to this, in the UK, black footballers are routinely subjected to Nazi salutes and monkey sounds coming from the stadium. The New York Times discusses the ‘toxically racist ape characterization‘, citing research that shows the link still has a grip within the American imagination (2018). It would appear that society has not moved far since 1967.
There appear to be very few Black Street photographers. When I searched for examples, the results came up with Black and White Photography, which is often the preferred medium for many Street Photographers. In the Street Photographers Community (SPC), there are no black members, and few people of colour. Magnum Photography, which is arguably the most famous collective of artists appear to have very few non-white members. Further to this, the current chairperson of Magnum, Martin Parr has been accused of racism following his role in editing a book in which a Black lady was juxtaposed alongside a gorilla in a cage.
When we cast the net wider, the argument for under-representation of Black photographers becomes stronger. The following information is taken from ‘The Impact of The White Male Gaze’, by Savannah Dodd & Andrew Jackson. I am quoting the paragraph verbatim, and recommend reading the whole article.
World Press Photo reports that of 5,202 professional photographers from more than 100 countries over a four-year period, over 80% are male: ‘more than one half participating photographers are Caucasian/White’ and ‘only 1% of participating photographers classify themselves as Black.’ That’s means only 52 Black photographers participated in World Press Photo between 2015 and 2018. If the percentage of female participation holds true across racial lines, which is unlikely due to the double marginalisation of women of colour, then that means that no more than 10 Black women participated over a four-year period.
The photo industry obviously has a long way to go. In the meantime you may wish to look at the work of two Black photographers who are members of Magnum; Ernest Cole and Eli Reed.
To be honest I felt hopelessly out of depth writing this article, and I hope there will not be accusations of racism in what I have written. If there are, then it was not intended. I have tried to support what I have written and recommend reading some of the articles referenced. Lastly, if you have a problem with the blacklivesmatter campaign, then please unfollow me. You are not welcome here. Peace all.
Take care and keep clicking, Chris
Dodd S., Jackson A (2020) The Impact of The White Male Gaze, https://www.fomu.be/trigger/articles/the-impact-of-the-white-male-gaze
Hilton A. (2013) http://www.columbia.edu/cu/najp/publications/articles/Als.pdf
Staples B. (2018) The Racist Trope That Won’t Die, The New York Times
West E. (2017) https://artsci.wustl.edu/before-loving