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Art

The New Collective Creating Space for Black Photographers to Gain Visibility

Daria Simone Harper
Jun 23, 2020 9:12PM

Braylen Dion, Aria, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Oftentimes, some of the most compelling and necessary work is born out of times of great adversity. In the wake of a sweeping global pandemic, racial violence, and uncertainty, artists around the world have banded together to produce compelling projects and initiatives that support Black artists, as well as larger social justice efforts. Responding to the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee, Tony McDade, and countless other Black people, a group of photographers formed a new collective aimed at dismantling white supremacy.

Earlier this month, photographers Micaiah Carter and Joshua Kissi—alongside Andre Wagner, Dani Kwateng, Florian Koenigsberger, and Anthony Coleman—co-founded See In Black, a collective of more than 80 Black photographers. The group hopes to uplift Black photographers who create work around Black visibility and shift the gaze that has historically documented Black people as “others.”

Quan Brinson, Untitled, n.d. Courtesy of the artist.

Ray Spears, Hands Up, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

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It all began through a conversation between Carter and Kissi, who are close friends. Carter said in a recent interview that the two photographers were interested in creating a tangible, long-term effort to support Black communities and Black artists, beyond the headlines in the news right now.

Carter, a Brooklyn-based photographer, told me that he and Kissi were inspired in part by Pictures for Elmhurst, the benefit print sale that raised over $1.3 million for Elmhurst Hospital Center at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were really inspired by how much money they were able to raise for that community,” Carter said. Though importantly, he added, “we wanted to have a place where different photographers can have a place where they can be seen.”

Originally from Victorville, California, Carter—now in his mid-twenties—is best known for his dreamy fashion editorials and covers for Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Time; he’s photographed stars like Pharrell and Megan Thee Stallion. Kissi, a Ghanaian-American photographer based in New York, is recognized for co-founding the creative agency Street Etiquette in 2008; he later partnered with Karen Okonkwo in 2018 to launch TONL, a company working to increase representation and diversity within stock photography.

Joshua Kissi, Black Mardi Gras, n.d. Courtesy of the artist.

Juan Veloz, Rise, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

See In Black’s first step is a curated benefit sale of prints by Black photographers, with proceeds going to various nonprofit organizations including Know Your Rights Camp, Youth Empowerment Project, National Black Justice Coalition, The Bail Project, and Black Futures Lab. See In Black partnered with these organizations based on the collective’s five pillars of Black advancement: civil rights, education/arts, intersectionality, community building, and criminal justice reform. Each print is $100, and purchases are limited to three prints per customer.

A quick scroll through the See In Black website shows an expansive range of images, both in color and in grayscale, depicting Black families, couples, and individuals. The sale, which runs through July 3rd, launched last Friday, on Juneteenth—the holiday commemorating the last remaining enslaved Black people in 1865, which gained widespread recognition and observance this year. Carter noted that his family, like many other Black families, has celebrated the holiday for generations.

Kennedi Carter, Untitled, n.d. Courtesy of the artist.

Melissa Alcena, Fonz, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.

“It’s a celebration of independence for Black people in America,” Carter said. “It hasn’t always been highlighted the way it was a few days ago. Especially now, with everything going on, people are feeling more adamant about celebrating in some capacity.”

Many of the images in the current collection evoke feelings of unity and support. One tender color photograph by artist Jon Henry shows a Black man and a Black woman, both dressed in white and resting in the grass; an expansive body of crisp water is situated in the background. The woman, who appears to be the man’s mother, holds his body in her lap, supporting him while he rests with his eyes closed. Another image, by artist Ray Spears, focuses on a bright blue door marked with the NYPD emblem. Against the door, a shadow shows a figure holding their arms above their head, making reference to “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” a phrase often chanted at protests against police brutality.

Jon Henry, Untitled 13, Groveland Park, IL, 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

Micaiah Carter, Baby Boy, n.d. Courtesy of the artist.

The See In Black collective is committed to creating lasting dialogue around the preservation of Black life, while also supporting Black photographers at various stages in their careers. “This is not just a performative moment for now, but for a lifetime,” Carter said. “Not just for my generation, but for the generations behind me to really have these tools and this support that is lacking for Black photographers.”

See In Black has received an incredibly positive response since the website launched last week; Carter said he felt “overwhelmed” by the initial responses from peers. The collective is currently accepting submissions for participation in future projects. Carter shared that they’re planning to expand into other forms of media—developing a book or exhibition is a goal moving forward, he said—and he remains hopeful about what they can accomplish in the future. For them, this is only the beginning.

Daria Simone Harper