BWP: The Worldwide Network of Black Women Photographers Reshaping the Field

PhenomenalMAG Staff  |  Prose & Photog

Black Women Photographers (BWP), a project started in 2020 that aspires to be a home for Black women aiming to gain recognition for their work and recruited by the industry, is something that deserves to be thought about and celebrated.

A global network, directory, and hub for over 1,000 Black women and non-binary identifying photographers, BWP was founded by Polly Irungu in 2020 and now has members from more than 50 countries and more than 35 US states. Here she speaks about the powerful network’s explosive growth and support.

What moved Irungu to create Black Women Photographers, and how does she feel two years in?

Two things motivated me to launch Black Women Photographers: One the one hand, I recall how difficult it was for me to find my way around the largely white and male-dominated field of photography. Second, I didn't want to create the wheel from scratch. I got in touch with Black women all across the world to hear about their experiences and find out if they thought more needed to be done to help us succeed in this field.

Because Black women photographers are underrepresented in the media, I was unaware that photography was a viable career option for me. We have been excluded from the industry for so long, but this is putting Black women in the spotlight.

It has been incredibly humbling for me and my work to be able to recognize both upcoming and seasoned photographers within the Black Women Photographers community.

That barely two years have passed is unfathomable.

There were only a little over 100 photographers in the directory when I launched BWP in July 2020; today, there are more than 1,000 photographers from more than 55 different nations.

Building and expanding a community that is reaching every corner of the globe, commemorating the first and second anniversaries with $50,000 grant funds in collaboration with Nikon Inc., assisting members in landing jobs with publications like The New York Times, NPR, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, and much more.

Building a community with an emphasis on impact and community looks like this.

How can artists join Black Women Photographers?

I purposefully made the process simple. I don't want BWP to gatekeep at all.

If a photographer who identifies as a Black woman or Black non-binary photographer wants to apply, they only need to visit blackwomenphotographers.com, click the "application" option at the top, and then fill out the form, which takes two minutes to complete. I ask three straightforward questions: How did you discover this neighborhood? What made you decide to join this group? How can you help the community, and how can they help you?

It's very significant to me. I always want the people who give back to the community — who are wanting to volunteer their time and who are willing to mentor each other, where we can all collectively grow as a united force and collective. Not only will photographers who want to join this platform receive great opportunities, that is already a given, but I also want the people who are willing to put their time and energy into the community.

Because I was raised in a Kenyan household, I genuinely think that it takes a village.

Therefore, I do want photographers to benefit from this community's educational chances, spotlight opportunities, and paid employment opportunities. But I also want people who have the capacity to give back to those who are helping them.

As you can see, there is already a tremendous amount of support for it. Those who think that community comes before competition are the ones who are entering our place.

The world of photography has long given off the impression that success is the result of competition. Additionally, there was only space at the top for X number of people.

We believe there is space for everyone in this community, so that is not the case. I want people to think that there is unquestionably enough money for all of us. You don't have to compete with the other photographer for the job; if that's what you want, both of you can obtain it.

If it's for you, it's for you is a saying I absolutely stand by. I adore how this group's members use Slack, for instance, to exchange employment or grant possibilities, and I believe that is only one illustration of the sense of community that I have fostered.

If a photographer sees a $5K, $10K, $25K, or other grant opportunity, they can share it with another photographer and feel that, while they were probably all applying themselves, sharing it won't prevent them from receiving the grant or winning money, but rather might help another photographer find a different opportunity.

This is why having a strong sense of community at the center is so crucial, and it's also why I've been able to foster one in such a short period of time.


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