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How to Dismantle Racism in the Photography Industry

We’re here to provide you with ideas, insights, perspectives & strategies you can implement to effect change and dismantle racism from the inside out.

Hi! We’re Saori and DeVante, wife and husband wedding photographers at Spirit of Revelry based out of Houston, TX. There are behaviors, tendencies, and attitudes we’ve seen in the photography industry that have been perpetuating prejudice and racism, and we’re on a mission to shed light on them. It is not the responsibility of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) to educate anyone, but we have personally taken it upon ourselves to help bridge the gap. 

We’re here to provide you with ideas, insights, perspectives, and strategies you can implement to effect change and dismantle this deeply rooted virus from the inside out. Cause we can tell you one thing… it’s gonna take more than a few posts on social media to #amplifymelanatedvoices. So if you’d like to be part of the solution, keep on reading.

1. Go beyond Instagram Activism

It’s not enough to simply post a black square on your feed or mute your account. Doing so doesn’t mean you get to absolve yourself of any other responsibility to end systemic racism. If you are a content creator of any kind, with any type of platform, regardless of your follower count, you are absolutely obligated to speak on these issues. It’s not about politics, nor is it about bipartisanship. This is about human rights. Black people need you to use your platform, because silence is violence. You must do more outside of social media and take action on another level.

Ways to support outside of social media

There are many additional ways you can support the cause, such as checking your own bias. A non-racist person often says that “they don’t see color.” However, an anti-racist person sees and acknowledges that racial inequalities exist. They see the pain of the oppressed. They take action. So, we ask you to speak up and actively fight against it. Donate. Vote. Call government officials and demand change. Educate your friends and family with antiracist resources. Read. Learn. Support black-owned businesses.

We highly encourage that you take the initiative to educate yourself, to unlearn centuries of racial bias. It is not okay to put that burden on BIPOC and expect them to educate you. This is going to be part of your own personal development process. Your journey to become anti-racist begins and ends with you. One of the best ways to learn about black culture is to dive in. Befriend more black people. Listen to more black music. Learn black history the way we were all forced to learn “white” history in grade school. 

2. Cancel plantation weddings

It’s imperative that the industry as a whole stops featuring events or weddings that take place at old slave plantations. It’s sickening and ignorant. Plantation weddings are officially CANCELED.  It doesn’t matter how “elegant” or “charming” the property owners claim it is. The grotesquely horrifying events that endured for centuries are a part of history and can never be forgotten or ignored.

How can people celebrate their “fairytale wedding” at a place where our great-grandmothers were raped and exploited? Where our great-grandfathers were publicly tortured and lynched? How can business owners STILL capitalize on our deep pain and trauma? There is no way to justify this. We should demand that giant wedding platforms stop featuring venues, weddings, and events that were held at these places. It’s a slap in the face to our history and multi-generational oppression.

3. Hold people accountable to inclusivity (including yourself)

The next thing you can do is to call out other fellow photographers and creatives in your area to promote more diversity. Even if you live in a province in Canada where the population is predominantly white, it doesn’t matter. Social media gives us all a reach that is unlike any other we’ve had in history. Challenge your network of creatives, even if it makes them uncomfortable. We need more representation of BIPOC. The lack of inclusivity in many feeds is discouraging and disappointing. So please, make it a point to promote and showcase more black and brown love. 

It’s time to show the world how beautiful, non-threatening, and non-violent our black and brown brothers and sisters are. The media has portrayed us as dangerous, thugs, criminals, and obscene members of society for too long. Let’s start glamorizing and romanticizing these black and brown love stories! We are in the business of humans, after all. Please make a real effort to photograph and portray black and brown humans the same way you glamorize blonde, fair-skinned couples.

4. Diversify your styled shoots

One of the ways you can do this is by planning a styled shoot (which we all love to do anyway). Make sure you feature not only black and brown couples, but black and brown vendors, too. I guarantee it’s going to encourage more people of color to work with you and help them feel safe and welcome.

We have received hundreds of questions about how to actually reach and work with more BIPOC without offending them or being insensitive. Many photographers have confessed to us that they don’t personally have many black or brown friends, or that they’ve never even been hired by people of color. Here are 3 ideas to circumvent this issue. Also, please get out there and make more friends!

Collab with black + brown vendors

The first thing we’d suggest is to find local BIPOC wedding vendors to network with and ask them to collaborate with you. In addition to photographing their work (as is customary with styled shoots), go the extra mile and offer them a chance to stand in front of your camera. Yeah, that’s right. It can be for them and their significant others, or even their business partners/staff.

Create a genuine relationship and realize that they’d probably be thrilled for a chance to get dolled up. Let them know you’d like to include them on your preferred vendor list and refer them to your wedding clients. Ask them if they’d be okay with this, and be prepared to be met with gratitude. 

Bonus tip: Think of all the vendors you can promote and network with! DJ’s, videographers, caterers, florists, planners, hair and makeup artists, etc. Black and brown business owners deserve all the support they can get. 

Find models on IG + FB

When it comes to finding models or couples from minority groups, you have many ways to reach them. For starters, you can search instagram hashtags for models (even bloggers) in your area. You can search #YOURCITYmodels (e.g., #houstonmodels #newyorkmodels #sanfranciscobloggers) and reach out to the people you want to work with directly. There are also Facebook groups you can look up that are dedicated to models and photographers in your area.

Offer to pay models

Additionally, you can offer to pay! If you’re going to start benefiting and making money off of the appearance of underrepresented groups, then the least you could do is compensate them for their time. Trust us, they don’t want to be your token model. As Henry Tieu mentioned in this incredible post PEOPLE AREN’T PROPS.

We recommend that you also check out this article with incredible insight from Cassie Lopez that teaches 5 ways to be a more inclusive photographer

5. Call out feature accounts and wedding platforms

The next thing we need to do is call out giant feature accounts that have an enormous network of brides and vendors that are trying to connect and find each other. There is a complete lack of representation on these platforms. BIPOC on both sides of this industry need their support, so there NEEDS to be more inclusivity. We can scroll through their entire feeds and count on one hand how many people of color these blogs and websites feature. That’s not okay. White-washed love is not the end all, be all. (This applies to non-feature accounts as well, just normal photographer accounts who don’t have hundreds of THOUSANDS of followers).

Regardless of who YOU are, we ALL have to come together to promote more diversity and exemplify it in our areas. I promise it won’t take anything away from your own talent or creativity or your market. We are not your competition; we are part of your community.

6. Show more black + brown love

To our publisher friends in the industry who want to feature and promote more BIPOC, be intentional and transparent about what kinds of submissions you’re seeking. Own up to your past failures and take responsibility for the ways you failed to represent communities and love stories of color. Publicly commit and pledge to make a permanent change. This is not a trend, so please do not treat it as such.

The most important attitude to show is EXCITEMENT about seeing more black and brown love! Use joyful, compassionate, and encouraging speech in regards to this topic. Show anticipation and ADMIRATION by using loving, happy, and excited adjectives to describe every BIPOC couple you see. 

7. Employ more black + brown experts

Additionally, your “diversification” efforts should not end on your Instagram feed. In order to truly consider yourself inclusive, you must work from the inside out to practice what you preach. Bring on BIPOC strategists and experts in your field. Expand and outsource to more black and brown professionals. Do the work behind the scenes and take action on a socio-political level. Take your action to another level entirely.

8. Take initiative to educate yourself

This is deeply emotional for us. Do not exploit our experience. Stop using your black and brown friends as resources to educate you and teach you how to do better. Take the initiative to set yourself on that journey. And share anything and everything that you find helpful on your anti-racist journey on your feeds and with your friends. 

The ripple effect creating change

Thank you so much for reading, becoming informed, and supporting the cause to dismantle racism. Your willingness to help is where it all begins. We encourage you to share this post with your industry friends and be a part of the ripple effect that creates change in our industry. We’ve seen so many people asking and pleading, wondering what they can do to change up their business model to be more inclusive, so we hope this helps. 

Feel free to reach out to us if you have any additional questions. Remember that you don’t just get to post a square or mute your account and call it a day – this is just the tip of the iceberg. Help everyone around you grow, and get out of your comfort zone. These are just baby steps that lead us in the direction of truly dismantling systemic racism. 

Thank you.

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