Women behind the lens in general are at a daunting disadvantage and must work ten times harder than men for recognition in the photography world. Black women photographers struggle even more. In this show at Heaven Gallery, ten Black women and non-binary artists get to strut their stuff to great result. Gracie Hammond and Tonal Simmons have curated a very stylistically diverse group of images into a cohesive show that takes us deep into the lives of Black women.
Tye Moores was told all her life that she was “too dark to wear bright colors.” She states on her website that “This stigma of darker skin being inferior stems from internal and external racism with the African American community.” Her answer has been to create dazzling images of very dark-skinned women in vibrant clothes and makeup that could easily grace the pages of any high-end fashion magazine. Moores’ compositional eye is extraordinary, and her sense of color draws the viewer to the photographs from across the room. Not surprisingly, her work has been noticed and she has won awards and accolades including a profile on the Obama Foundation website and inclusion in an international book called “Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora.”
Well-known Chicago portrait photographer Kambua Chema, who was born in Kenya, shows several handsome portraits of men in both black-and-white and color, the most striking of which is a horizontal portrait of a Black male emerging from a bright rose turtleneck sweater. Kristina Nsuangani shows portraits of Black men and women while Emanie Antonette presents a series of small polaroids on a pedestal that tell a story in brief glimpses that use the immediacy of the medium perfectly. Ivana Jarmon gives us two love stories, one gay and one straight, in three prints each, and Genesis “Geno” Falls explores facial decoration in black-and-white images. han, who prefers a lower-case h, shows several small video-still prints of friends, with the video frames running along the bottom edge, and Phia Lynne, aka “blunt kisses, tell my horse,” uses expired film to create interesting effects. India Martin’s fascinating image is of people at a Chicago beach, printed on silk, which sways overhead.
The image that defines the show, though, is by Olivia Bernard, who is an accomplished commercial photographer. In the image, regally framed in gold, is an extreme closeup of a woman, hair wrapped, large shiny earrings, a beringed hand over her eyes. The photograph glows with all it means to be a Black woman—angst, love, frustration, beauty, strength, weariness and pride. This collection of images, and its collective of makers are today’s definers and hopefully tomorrow’s photography legends.
“Our Black Experience: A Celebration of Black Women Photographers” at Heaven Gallery, 1550 North Milwaukee, 2nd Floor, on view through January 28.