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Black Women Photographers offers a new outlook for Black creatives

It’s been just a year since Black Women Photographers was founded, on July 7, 2020, and the organization has already done so much to help Black and non-binary photographers. The organization was founded by Polly Irungu in order to give Black women photographers like herself not only the platform and attention they deserve but also the appreciation and pay.

With 600 members from all around the world, big strides have been made to help the community. Just recently, BWP partnered with Nikon, receiving $40k in grants and $10k for gear. 

Polly Irungu, who just quit her job to do BWP full time, sat down with Kulture Hub, to discuss BWP’s inception, and what she hopes the future will look like.

How Polly Irungu’s love for photography developed

Originally from Nairobi, Kenya, Irungu moved to the states when she was four. Settling in Kansas, before moving to Oregon. The constant moves, and being in a new place made it hard for her to adjust, and that’s when her teachers in high school suggested she join the yearbook club, and that’s where it all started.

Polly Irungu
Headshot of Polly Irungu (Photo credit @Polly Irungu)

Falling in love with the camera, she soon learned about photojournalism, something she didn’t even know was a career option. Telling people’s stories through the photo was what she wanted to do, so she worked a job in high school to get equipment to foster her dream.

“I bought a camera and a laptop with my McDonald’s money and the rest really feels like history,” Irungu says.

The beginnings of Black Women Photographers 

During her time at the University of Oregon, where she pursued journalism, Irungu noticed how few Black photographers were actually in Oregon. But just because she didn’t see them, didn’t mean they didn’t exist.

She would come to find this out when she joined the National Association for Black Journalists (NABJ).

“I found that there’s actually hundreds and thousands of Black journalists across the country. And I had no idea because all I knew was, you know, what I saw around me, and I didn’t see any,” she says.

“And so for me, that sparked a fire. I found a tribe at that conference.”

Polly Irungu

After attending the conference, Irungu desired a sense of community, and that’s what she went after. The first steps were seeing if others wanted the same thing, and that’s when she reached out to Black women photographers on Twitter, asking if they were interested in creating a community. It seems simple, but that’s the power of social media.

“If you feel like you could do right by your community, then do right by your community. If there’s a space where you feel like that’s not out there, that’s not creative. You can go out and create it,” she says.

Black Women Photographers’ progress

Last year, during the pandemic, BWP created a COVID-19 relief fund for photographers who needed financial relief, raising over $14k for them, as well as an additional $10k for Nigerian photojournalists who were covering SARS.

On top of their recent Nikon financial grants, there’s also a $1,250 grant opportunity thanks to Flickr. Also, BWP has partnered with Capture One, an industry-standard software, which has donated over 100 licenses to the community, as well as offered free training and resources for BPW members.

With all the opportunities new emerging photographers are getting, Irungu gets to finally witness the fruits of her labor.

“That’s the whole reason why I started this organization, because I’m trying to make it easier for the next emerging Black woman photographer out there. Because why in the world, why should someone else have to go through the same uphill battle?”

The future of BWP and what Irungu hopes to see

Polly Irungu wants to keep the great work going, and wants Black photographers to continue getting the recognition and pay they deserve.

However, she also wants to see the support from allies continue. With Black Lives Matter protests erupting last year, allies joined together in support. Irungu hopes to see that continuing, not just in a moment of unrest, but constantly.

“I don’t want to see us settle for exposure or for whatever opportunity that may come during like Black History Month or whatever. I’m starting to see that momentum and a tide turning, and that’s great,” she says.

“But you never know how long it will last. I just hope that they’re still supporting, and beyond posting a black square or whatever they did at that time. I want them to continue showing up for Black creatives.”

Polly Irungu