Note from Michelle: When I saw the photos from this project, I was floored. I knew this was something that needed to be shared far and wide, so I asked Katie about writing up a little something for Tuesday Justice. I’m so glad she agreed. This is what it looks like to use your privilege and be an ally. Thank you, Katie! Check out more of her work here.
by Katie Hoffpauir
The journey to this project took a little over a year, and it began as something so utterly simple. I wanted to document natural hair: the curls, the fro, all of it. But what started out as me wanting to take photographs of just hair morphed into something completely different, and I am so thankful that it did.
One day this past May, over a year after the idea came to me, I was walking around our local Barnes and Noble. Now, on a normal bookstore trip, I leave with at least two new books and probably some kind of puzzle. On this particular trip, however, nothing was standing out to me. I walked the aisles for well over an hour and not one thing said, “buy me.” As I was getting ready to just give up, I passed one of the center tables and the only, I mean the only book that I saw, was Black Girl Magic. I tend to take signs literally, and I knew that I needed to really do this project. Only, at that moment, I knew it was turning into something else. I felt it in my bones, this urge to photograph black women. Not only for their beautiful hair, but for their inner beauty and their strength.
This feeling took me to Pinterest to research portrait styles and trends for photographing black women in particular. And do you know what I found? Not a whole lot. There were literally photographs of white women for every single scenario, but mostly only ad campaigns featuring black women, and not very diverse ads might I say. Immense sadness washed over me as I realized that young black girls growing up don’t see themselves portrayed in a positive light very often. We’ve seen a growth in representation, sure, but is it necessarily mostly positive? The black women portrayed in most movies or tv shows are loud, obnoxious, or out for revenge. Just turn on just about any Tyler Perry movie, and there’s a black woman out for blood (usually over a no good man). Or in any white movie, she’s the token black friend plugged in for the sake of variety. We must change the stereotype that women of color are only two-dimensional, and we must teach our young people to not only SEE but CELEBRATE color. So often, I hear white people say that their children are taught not to see color. But you guys, color should be seen! We have to show our children that there is no shame in color; that there is beauty and strength in our differences.
When I posted about needing models for this project, some asked if they could bring a friend. This simple question took me not only into documenting an individual’s beauty, but their friendships.
To say I was excited about this turn of events, doesn’t do the feelings I had justice. The morning of the first session, I was a little nervous to be photographing three women. But then when we met up, every anxiety faded away, and I knew exactly where I needed this project to go. It became a need to showcase not only photographs that were about strength, but photographs that showcased a sisterhood and love. It became so much more than what I envisioned a year earlier. Each portrait day, these women were stopped by others on the street, telling them how beautiful they were. And at the end of each session, there was a sense of joy and pride present that I can’t explain.
I have never in my life felt so invigorated while photographing anyone, and that week of sessions did more for my soul than anything I had ever done before. I made new friends, and I met some fierce and beautiful women of color. These women work in social work, they deliver babies, they teach children, they are mothers, sisters, daughters. They are bold, beautiful, educated, courageous, and kind. They embody love, loyalty, and wisdom. They are a wonderful force for good in this world and we need to celebrate their melanin. Because it is amazing.