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Authority Collective is uplifting and highlighting non-binary creatives

Authority Collective is a visual media community of over 200 women, non-binary, and gender-expansive people of color. The collective has come together in response to both, the lack of representation and appropriation in media culture.

Founded by a team of nine female and non-binary photographers, the collective seeks to do more than gather BIPOC creatives and editors into a comprehensive list.

It seeks to reclaim authority over their narrative. 

The mediated culture

As the lens-based creative content returns to commercial markets, the demand for diversity and representation increases. And so does efforts to shine a light on historically underrepresented communities out of the outskirts of mainstream media.

However, as these narratives are becoming increasingly sought after, issues of appropriation of stories by members outside these communities arise.

authority collective
Photo by Makeda Sanford, a finalist on the Lit List 2020

How to balance this issues for mediated culture to continue to expand in the most effective and efficient way?

The Authority Collective’s mission

The Authority Collective believes that ally-ship in visual media industries is more than merely recognizing privilege and voicing support. It’s about harnessing that privilege to elevate underrepresented storytellers with direct action and funding.

Authority Collective

The community provides members with a wealth of resources, ranging from job opportunities to mentorship.

It also makes information available to industry members outside the community. They provide guides on diversifying hiring practices and databases that list female/non-binary creatives of color.

These resources are developed, not as mere tools, but in efforts towards shifting the mentality surrounding diversifying the visual media industry. 

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The Authority Collectives current Board of Directors, image courtesy of Authority Collective

How did Authority Collective begin?

The Authority collective was founded by nine women and non-binary creatives.

After a symposium hosted by the Las Fotos Project in 2017, the photographer’s associated wanted databases of BIPOC women and non-binary photographers. They felt frustrated by the limitations of becoming just another name on a data set.

And, not only does that leave the crucial work of diversifying up to hiring managers that are often predisposed to enact the bare minimum voice of allied support, it does little to uplift these creatives from within the community itself. 

I’d be on assignment for a magazine shooting a five-star restaurant, and I’d have all of this camera equipment on me, and inevitably, somebody would treat me like I was the help and push a wine glass into my hand or ask me to go get them something

Oriana Koren for Artsy

Yet, the lack of representation in visual media industries is a pervasive issue. And, unfortunately, it is has gone largely unacknowledged. Partially owing to the absence of these kinds of networks of support preceding the Authority Collective.

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Image by Elaine Cromie, one of the founding members of the Authority Collective. Image courtesy of the New York Times.

Efforts to diversify the industry

Tara Pixley, one of the Authority Collective’s founding members, readily recounts years that she worked as the only Black woman in the photo departments. She remembers being regularly mistreated and assuming she was the only one.

On the other hand, Ms. Ramses, one of the first black women to work under the title “director of photography,” states: “I literally know every Black woman photojournalist in the United States, and I can count them on both hands”

Thus, The Authority Collective also addresses the fact that diversifying visual media isn’t as simple as hiring more people of color.

The misrepresentation and exploitative voyeurism of visual media reflects a larger, industry-wide issue in its relationship to marginalized communities. 

Photo by Nadiya Nacorda, a finalist on the Lit List 2020

But, photo companies and visual media agencies continue to highlight the work of white cis-gendered men. And, the success of those photographers often comes at the expense of perpetuating harmful narratives about communities they are not a part of.

In response, the Authority Collective is embarking on a mission to uplift communities of BIPOC female and non-binary creatives. This, by taking direct action against the platform of larger industry names. 

Our communities have been either erased completely or misrepresented or underrepresented. It’s no longer acceptable that media outlets continue to push forward those dangerous narratives. You almost have to have a photo of starving or dying or war-torn Black or brown bodies to win.

Tara Pixley for the New York Times

The Lit List and what it does

Not to mention, the Authority Collective teamed up with Diversify. Together they created The Lit List, featuring 30 photographers “of marginalized identities.” The Lit List also celebrates diversity in storytelling.

Photo by Khadija M Farah, finalist on the Lit List 2020

The list is partially followed in the traditional process of industry of visual media creators. Plus, it hosted an open call for anyone to apply online.

Jurors were encouraged to be considerate of the circumstances surrounding each photographers’ career. Among them were senior photo editor Siobhan Bohnacker from The New Yorker, and photo editor Sara Urbaez from Wired, and others.

Hence, this meant the candidates were judged on potential rather than demonstrations of attained success. This is a process that could have been stunted by any number of factors. For example, a lack of monetary support or the inaccessibility of formal training. 

Photo by Giancarlo Valentine, finalist on the Lit List 2020

The Authority Collective and women

In another form, the Authority Collective also participates in what is referred to as an “intervention,” in which participants trace where different organizations get their financial support.

And, in one of their larger-scale efforts, the Authority Collective joined with Natives Photograph and Women Photograph. This was to stage an intervention in March of 2018.

Furthermore, the subject of their intervention was The Magenta Foundation. This is a Canadian charitable arts publishing house that was receiving funding from TD Bank, an associate in the Dakota Access Pipeline project.

Protestors at the Dakota Access Pipeline, image courtesy of Medium

And, following the interventions, the adoption of this practice inspired photographers to examine their own biases.

Inclusive guides

Another initiative led by the Authority Collective was The Photographer’s Guide to Inclusive Photography.

The project was published recently, as a guide that reflects the Authority Collective’s commitment to serving as a resource to everyone in the visual media industry.

The guide was created in partnership with leading visual asset management company PhotoShelter. It includes historical context on issues related to photographing race, gender, and the global south.

Plus, it addresses how photographers can engage mindfully with communities that are not their own. Most importantly, it teaches what kinds of questions they can ask themselves in order to increase intentionality. 

Photo by Isabel Okoro, finalist on the Lit List 2020

People understand now that their audiences have changed, and are craving media that reflect their life experiences. If you’ve always looked to your prestigious college or workshop’s alumni network to find fresh new talent, and those networks are financially or otherwise inaccessible to people of color, then you need to find new ways to source talent. That’s where we come in.

Andrea wise, co-founder of diversify photo, for Artsy

Not only is the collective actively engaged in the process of diversifying, but it’s also entirely volunteer-based. Every member of the board working full time as a visual media content creator outside their efforts towards the collective. 

Hence, in an ever-evolving industry, the Authority Collective is spearheading actionable diversifying practices. They’re more than a reflection of our future visual media industry. They are manifesting it for us now.