5 Black women photographers to celebrate this Black History Month
Black History Month is acknowledged every year during October within the UK. It’s a month of highlighting the innumerable achievements of Black people in Britain and beyond. This year’s theme, Celebrating our Sisters, ’emphasises the vital role black women have played in shaping history, inspiring change, and building communities.’ (blackhistorymonth.org.uk). Following on from our previous listicle, here are five more Black women photographers who have made a lasting impact on the trajectory of photography and the visual arts.
Mmekutmfon ‘Mfon’ Essien
Nigerian born Mmekutmfon ‘Mfon’ Essien, (1966 –2001) came with her family to the United States when she was 2. She studied literature and art at Morgan State University in Baltimore, then moved to New York, where she worked as a lifestyle and fashion photographer from 1996. Her last work, produced after she underwent a radical mastectomy, was a series of nude self-portraits titled ”The Amazon’s New Clothes,” two of which were shown in the ”Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers,” exhibition which opened after her death in 2001 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Thérèse Sita-Bella (1933 – 2006) was a Cameroonian film director and photojournalist, one of the earliest women filmmakers in Africa. She directed the 30 min documentary ‘Tam Tam à Paris’, which depicted the Parisian 1969 tour of the National Dance Company of Cameroon.
Safi Faye (1943 –2023) was a Senegalese film director and ethnologist. She was the first Sub-Saharan African woman to direct feature films. As a PhD-educated ethnographer, and proponent of cinéma-vérité, she used film as an ethnographic tool to focus on the struggles of women in rural Africa. Her first film work in 1972 was the short La Passante and her last film was the feature length Mossane (1996).
Eslanda ‘Essie’ Robeson
Eslanda ‘Essie’ Robeson (1896-1965) was an American anthropologist, wife of activist Paul Robeson. Her 1945 book ‘African Journey’ documented the couple’s travels through Africa with her own photographs and represents an early anti-colonialist tract which would result in the couple’s blacklisting.
Brenda Patricia Agard
Photographer Brenda Patricia Agard (1961-2012) was one of many creative Black women active in the 80s in the UK. In 1985 she was part of ‘Mirror Reflecting Darkly’, a group show at the Brixton Art Gallery aiming to highlight the diversity of Black women and challenge stereotypes, and the Lubaina Himid – curated show The Thin Black Line at the Institute of Contemporary Art London, with her work ‘We will rock you’. She was also a member of ‘The Black Photographers Group’ whose objective was to insert photography by Black artists into cultural venues across Britain.
By Paula Vellet