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5 African American Photographers That Capture the Essence of The Black Experience

Photography has become a very mainstream art form that has really begun to deeply explore Black subjects in recent years. Despite the recent interest on platforms, Black Photographers have been around for a long time documenting everyday life with a fine art perspective. Here are 5 great Photographers that display and elevate Black beauty.

Roy DeCarava

(December 9, 1919 – October 27, 2009) Often coined as as a founder in the field of black and white fine art photography, DeCarava had a career that expanded 6 decades that started with him focusing on Black livelihood and jazz musicians in Harlem. He encouraged other fine art photographers in addition to publishing numerous art books including The Sweet Flypaper of Life with Langston Hughes.

Arnette, 1953


Bill and Son, 1963


George Morrow, 1956


David, 1964

Gordon Parks

(November 30, 1912 – March 7, 2006) With Photography being one of his many artistic endeavors (he directed 3 of the Shaft films), Parks is viewed as a heavy hitter in the general field of photographer. In addition to taking glam shots for major publications ironically Parks also specialized in documenting poverty, the civil rights movement, and the African American experience in spite of adversity.

American Gothic, 1942


Doll Test, Harlem, New York, 1947



Leonard Jackson, known as Red. Harlem, 1948


Untitled, New York, 1963

Untitled, Watts, California, 1967

Deborah Willis

(born February 5, 1948-) Dr. Deborah Willis not only elevates the Black experience with her work but also through education. Her achievements in curtation, historical research, fellowship awards as well as her serving as the Chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at Tisch School of the Arts of New York University are just testaments to her success as a profound figure in photography.

Hank Pending, 2008. (digital c-print)


Carrie at Euro Salon


A Toast to Harlem, 2012

Hortense's Shoes with Mirror

Carrie Mae Weems

(born April 20, 1953-) One of the most eclectic artists of the modern era, Carrie Mae Weems is another multidisciplinary artist on this list. Although Weems is known for her photography mostly she has ventured into installation video, digital images, fabric, and much more. Her work deal with the nuance of the Black home as seen in The Kitchen Table Series, as well as self identity and the struggles that come with it when battling racism and sexism.

The Kitchen Table Series, 1990





'Mirror, Mirror' (from the Ain't Jokin' series), 1987


Deana Lawson

(born 1979) Lawson’s photography has been the focus of a lot of mainstream coverage lately. She recently did an editorial shoot of Rihanna for Garage magazine in addition to shooting the cover of Blood Orange’s album Freetown Sound in 2016. Despite all the great publicity for these projects her most astounding work is simply her portraits in the homes of everyday people who are sometimes strangers she met on the street. Her work is a show of intimacy in all its forms, and the power held by her subjects is intoxicating.

Rihanna for Garage Magazine, 2018


Signs, 2016



Eternity, 2017

Uncle Mack, 2016

Baby Sleep, 2009

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