StoriesArts & CultureCapturing Kindness: Black Women Photographers

Capturing Kindness: Black Women Photographers

Photo by Laila A. Stevens

Starbucks, Melanin Unscripted, and Vox Creative came together to create the uplifting short film “Capturing Kindness.” The short film pays homage to the significant influence that Black women photographers have had on the field of visual storytelling, while highlighting the beauty, resilience, and creativity of Black and non-binary women working in the visual arts industry. It achieves this by showcasing the work of various inspirational photographers from the Black Women Photographers (BWP) global collective, including Noèmie Tshinanga, Michal Petros, Eno Inyangete, Laila A. Stevens, and Vonecia Carswell.

The film, which was written and directed by Amarachi Nwosu, uses spoken word to convey an inspiring message. The end result serves as a timely reminder of the ability of art to effect change for the better, preserve history, and advance inclusivity and understanding.

We spoke with the film’s featured photographers, Laila A. Stevens, Michal Petros and Eno Inyangete about how their work contributes to the impact of Black women photographers, their approach to capturing everyday moments of kindness, joy, and empowerment, and how being a part of the Black Women Photographers global collective has influenced their work.

The film celebrates the powerful impact of Black women photographers on the world of visual storytelling. How do you see your work as a photographer contributing to this impact?

Laila: I see my work as a Black woman photographer contributing to the impact on the world of visual storytelling by focusing on themes of Black girlhood and genderqueer youth in the open space, connections to the natural world, and enclosed safe spaces. By holding this value of representation at my core, my work speaks to the pertinent subject matters at hand in our everyday communities.

Michal: Simply by creating, Black women are expanding the conception of what Black art is and providing a unique perspective by sharing our lens of the world. With BWP, it’s beautiful to have a community that is bonded by our shared experience and supportive of each photographer in their individual pursuits. My current impact as a photographer is best reflected in the BWP meetups I lead with Vonecia and my monthly blog posts documenting my photography journey – both of which I’ve managed since 2021. As I look to scale my impact, I’m excited to be working on my first photo project

Eno: As a photographer, there is great power in knowing that I am able to tell my own stories.I am drawn to the hidden; moments that often go unnoticed. In my constant pursuit of the quiet, I hope to provide peace and stillness through my work. 

Photo by Michal Petros, Eno Inyangete, Laila A. Stevens

In the film, you capture everyday moments of kindness, joy, and empowerment. How do you approach capturing these moments, and what do you hope viewers take away from your images?

Laila:  I approach capturing moments of kindness, joy, and empowerment through collaborating with the sitter in front of the camera. In conversation, you will find genuineness and extraordinary details about a person that will ultimately translate into a photograph. I hope viewers take away the feeling of connectivity from the intimate light of these images.

Michal: Each moment requires a unique approach based on the person, the emotions in the room and the environment. For portraits, I ensure the model is as comfortable as possible and hype them up throughout the shoot. For events or candids, I like to capture people when they’re in a happy moment, such as looking over a landscape or hugging a friend. In either case, a person’s comfort and confidence is what distinguishes a good image from a great image. When viewing my images, I hope viewers feel inspired, bright and excited to see the next shot. 

Eno: For me, the process of capturing these moments starts well before picking up the camera. Image-making is collaborative so it’s important to establish a connection even if time isn’t on your side. I hope viewers see my images as an honest, dignifying portrayal of Black people and humanity. 

Photo by Noèmie Tshinanga

The film showcases the work of several visionary photographers from the Black Women Photographers global collective. How has being part of this collective influenced your work and your perspective as a photographer? 

Laila: Being part of this collective has influenced my work for the better, largely in the visual aspects of technique, composition, and aesthetics. This collective has also contributed to my professional growth, cultivating space and time to workshop best practices, discuss portfolios, and the importance of not only industry relations but community care as a documentarian.

Michal: BWP has transformed my trajectory as a photographer. I started shooting on my iPhone while on a fellowship in Swaziland in February 2020. Aftering being quarantined in South Africa for three months, I finally accepted repatriation as my best option and decided to relocate to NYC with a very small network. Joining BWP in July 2020 connected me to new friends, resources to learn and incredible opportunities such as my first studio shoots, leading NYC photo meet ups and being part of Capturing Kindness.

Eno: BWP has been an invaluable resource for me in my photography journey. It’s been a space to not only find community but also build practical skills through the many workshops and free resources our founder, Polly Irungu has provided. BWP also serves as a powerful reminder that we are talented, multifaceted and deserve to be a part of this industry just like everybody else. 

Photo by Michal Petros, Laila A. Stevens

Past or present, who are the Black Women Photographers that have inspired you?

Laila: Black Women Photographers that have inspired me are LaToya Ruby Frazier, Carrie Mae Weems, Ming Smith, and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn. Through the use of both analog and digital photographic forms, all foster conversations surrounding the state of our society in a deeply introspective and intimate manner, which is profoundly respectful to me.

Michal: All the women featured in Capturing Kindness (Noemie, Eno, Laila, Vonecia), Polly Irungu (obviously!), Raven B. Varona, Sade Ndya, Bre Johnson and all the incredible photographers that join the NYC meetups. 

Eno: Bee Walker, Hannah Price, Carrie Mae Weems, Khadija Saye and Aïdah Muluneh. I have a long list but I’ll leave it there for now.

Photo by Vanessa Dos Santos

Thank you Laila, Michal and Eno. You can read more Interviews on MU stories or watch the short film here.

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