Photography and Representation: What You Need To Know

The inclusion of diverse stories in media representation is as multifaceted as the people it celebrates.

Photography showing graffiti that says Art = Change!
Photo by Peder Cho on Unsplash

Representation in photography and other media is about whose stories are included/excluded and the reasoning behind those choices; however, the conversation isn’t meant to end there. When trying to incite meaningful change regarding diverse perspectives, it’s important to recognize what true representation looks like, as well as reasons for its inclusion and power structures that work to reinforce exclusionary systems. It’s not enough to be “aware” when the ongoing process of change and representation don’t go hand in hand.

With the democratization of photography, what will make your career, what will make you stand out is really your unique voice and your unique vision.


Who Decides?

Ever present in artistic spheres is the need to set yourself apart while yearning for the acceptance of those you wish to be separate from. Regardless of skill level, this is true for many photographers — whether they strive to be included in order to boost their own careers, to elicit praise or to receive money. Endeavoring to be included within a canon of any kind is admirable, but as with many things, it is important to critically examine the systems surrounding it and those who participate in it.

Among photographers, around 65 percent belong to European and North American white identities, and only 15 percent of them are women. This lack of representation in those that make up the discipline is just a peek at what goes on behind-the-scenes at many galleries and conservatories around the world. There’s a “twisted world of gatekeepers” who make decisions around an art form drenched in subjectivity: photography. A lack of representation in those making decisions leads to persisting inequalities that result in homogeneous narratives that contribute to the dangers of a single story and are disingenuous to humanity. Despite the statistics, though, photographers who hold culturally fluid identities work tirelessly to create spaces where their hidden identities are not only celebrated but supported on all fronts.

Photography of an Asian woman enjoying bubbles in the city
Photo by Alex Alvarez on Unsplash

What does Support Look Like?

This support is largely in the form of classes, festivals and conferences aimed at developing up-and-coming artist’s abilities and knowledge of the art form. One such class is the Joop Swart Masterclass that was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in September of 2019. This masterclass sought to include as many culturally fluid photographers as possible to come together and participate in discussions, editing sessions and professional lectures that would help hone their artistic expression and challenge the way they see their own work. The committee that chose the 12 participants was diverse itself, comprised of people from Peru, Australia, India, Bangladesh, the United States, and the Netherlands.

Another form of support comes from the CEO/president of the Multicultural Association of Professional Photographers (MAPP) Shawn Lee. A culturally fluid and cross-cultural adult himself, Shawn created a conference called Rock That Photography Conference & Tradeshow that was held in July of 2019. This conference was different from others in that there wasn’t a competition to enter in order to participate, but its purpose was the same: to promote cultural awareness, cultural differences and to teach people the skills they would need in order to become a professional in the field of photography.

How Can You Provide Support?

Representation is important, but without backing multicultural artists and providing opportunities for them, the change will not come. We can do our parts by diversifying our social media feeds, supporting culturally fluid peoples in their artistic work and giving them a seat at the table.

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