Now open at Perfect Exposure, LA, Our Black Experience presents a diverse set of work by women and non-binary photographers
“If you look at all the images, it really speaks to what every person’s experience was,” says photographer and curator, Jessica Bethel, from her home in Los Angeles, California. “It may be vast in the type of work, but that just goes to show that we were looking at everybody’s experience as a Black woman.”
The experiences of Black women have, particularly of late, been at the centre of Bethel’s practice. Together with fellow curator Amari Dixon, she has spent the last year organising the first in-person exhibition from global community and directory, Black Women Photographers. The aptly named Our Black Experience presents the work of 21 Black women and non-binary image makers, and is now on show at Perfect Exposure, LA.
“We wanted to make it special for everybody,” Bethel says of the curation process, explaining how she and Dixon worked closely with each of the contributors, employing a collaborative and community-driven approach. “We went above and beyond because, at the end of the day, Black men and women don’t get this opportunity, especially in these types of spaces,” she adds.
The pairs’ open approach to their work led to the submission of images as varied as their creators’ experiences. Photographers at many different stages of their careers present images exploring themes of family, heritage, friendship, beauty, ageing, loss and hope. However, despite their differences, Bethel describes the images as still somewhat in sync – linked through the shared experience of Black womanhood.
Sadly, this experience has not always been an easy one. Dixon recalls often finding herself not just to be the only woman of colour, but the only woman in photographic spaces. “These shared stories of triggering moments, of frustration – being able to talk to someone about that and being able to share our experiences and then encourage each other – in the end, that was the biggest thing,” she says.
Both Dixon and Bethel highlight the importance of, and ongoing need for, the work done by Black Women Photographers, and by exhibitions such as Our Black Experience. In an industry and a city in which help can be scarce – “in LA it’s like crabs in a barrel, everyone wants to jump over each other”, says Dixon – a support network of shared experience is key. “These spaces are so needed,” Dixon says, “because everyone else has these spaces. Everybody else has these groups, places they can go to to get help, but we don’t. So, it’s very important that we help to elevate us all.”