How Does Skin Type Factor into a Photographer’s Vision?
Throughout my 10 year experience as a professional photographer, I have occasionally considered the issue of race as it pertains to my portfolio. Today, many commercial photographers feel some type of pressure, directly or indirectly, to ‘even out’ their portfolio in terms of skin color. Sometimes this is in an attempt to represent a broader range of skin types in a single image (for example, many colleges and corporations try to represent themselves as multi-national and therefore want to show that diversity in their promotional pictures), or by attempting to have an overall balance between lighter and darker skin tones throughout their bodies of work. For myself, race and skin color has played little or no role in my interaction with clients and colleagues. No client has ever seen my portfolio and told me, “I see you’re a black photographer, so we don’t feel comfortable hiring you.” No one has said, “You’re a black photographer, so why do you have pictures of white people?” However, I have been asked why I had more pictures of light-skinned people than photos of people with darker skin. The implication there being that my artistic vision should include more people with darker skin. My response was that I simply take and post the pictures that move me, regardless of the model’s skin color. However, I did spend the last few years adding a wide range of skin tones to my portfolio to keep from pigeon-holing myself into one category or another. And I ended up needing to ask myself a difficult and complicated question: Did I feel more validated for having different races (particularly white models), or was I simply trying to improve my portfolio’s diversity for its own sake? While I’ve never thought of myself as having a racial bias, I can see that some people will draw conclusions about a photographer by the type of models he or she chooses to use. There may even be some feeling that his or her skill level depends on the variety of skin types in his or her portfolio. So the question then became, will I change the way I practice photography to appeal to this type of thinking, or not?
It’s my professional opinion that the artistic quality of any given photograph is not impacted by the race or skin tone of the person in the image. I have always created my portraits based on my own unique style and abilities, and that’s what I want people to look at when they make the decision of whether or not to hire me. I want that choice to come down to a matter of my talent, professionalism, and skill, not my own skin color or the skin color of my subjects. As an artist, my goal is to inspire the mind of the viewer by presenting an image that’s empowering, rather than degrading; an image that’s full of love and care, rather than hatred. We live in a world that’s constantly pulling us downward with negative messages and influences, leading to a more negative world. As a Christian, I choose to follow love rather than hate. If my fellow artists and I desire to create any lasting change in this world, our art must be fueled by love.