Pictures can paint a thousand words, and can be a wonderful form of self expression. Because of talented photographers, we are able to look back on important events in history and feel transported to those important moments. Thousands of Black photographers have helped shape history through the moments they have captured, and many talented Black photographers today continue that important legacy. Here is a list of important historical Black photographers, as well as Black photographers gaining popularity in the 21st century for their talent and impactful photos.
Photographers from the 19th-20th Century
James Van Der Zee, born in 1886 in Massachusetts, launched his own studio after moving to Harlem with his wife in 1916. He was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance, photographing iconic Black creatives like Joe Louis, Florence Mills, Marcus Garvey, and more. Because of his work, he was the most successful photographer of his community and helped to document an important time for Black culture.
Ernest Withers was trained artistically by the Army School of Photographer in WWII, and created between 1-5 million photographs throughout his career. He helped document key moments of American life after WWII, the segregation present in his city of Memphis, and the Civil Rights Movement.
Gordon Parks was an incredibly talented man, born in 1912 in a small town in Kansas. He was an activist, writer, filmmaker, piano player, Hollywood consultant, and self-taught photographer. He loved to capture new people he met living life in the cities of America, and was able to beautifully portray these moments through his work. Much of his photography was often created to highlight the impacts of racism in America, and his work has become a powerful tool to express life during American segregation in the mid-20th century.
Photographers from the 21st Century
Devin Allen, born and raised in Baltimore, is an activist and photographer most known for his photograph that was featured as the cover of Time magazine, capturing the protests that took place in Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s death. He hopes to spread “hope and love through art”, and spends much of his time volunteering to help young Baltimore children express themselves through photography.
Dana Scruggs is an extremely talented young artist who has made history through her breathtaking photography of famous politicians, athletes, models, and musicians across America. She is the first Black woman to shoot an athlete for ESPN, the first Black person to photograph a Rolling Stone cover, and is set to create more achievements through her activism and beautiful work.
Texas Isaiah, a trans Black Indigenous American photographer, is a gifted photographer and passionate activist for many different marginalized communities. He is the first trans photographer to shoot a cover image for Vogue magazine, and enjoys capturing intimate and up-close portraits of BIPOC and people from the LGBTQ+ community.