Having an inclusive portfolio has always been important, but it’s not until recently that it has been on people’s minds.
In our political climate & due to our day-to-day experiences in general, we are changing. People are starting to pay even more attention to what they’re buying. We’re becoming more conscious of the media, food, and product we’re consuming. This has never been truer for me, personally, who finds it essential that I put my money where my mouth is. I can’t give up meat or cheese, but I can choose to consume other things as ethically as possible.
What’s my point?
I, like tons of other consumers, am searching for myself in everything. Vain? Maybe. There’s a deeper point to it though.
When searching for a photographer, when supporting television shows, and even when buying local, I gravitate towards people, places, and things that represent my community. I want to give my money to queer people. I want to give my money back to the black community. I want to support television shows and movies by women who have been busting their asses to be recognized. I want to buy my bras from places like Aerie that make it a point to show differently abled people in their ads! I know I can’t be the only one.
But how does one do this? I’ve learned this isn’t the answer people want to hear, but it’s the truth. You have to put in work. The only thing people dislike more than not feeling represented is feeling duped.
Show what you want to photograph.
You can’t shoot it if you can’t show it. Simply put, people don’t know how to trust you. There’s an underlying fear of rejection as well as being afraid people won’t know how to photograph us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been photographed in a bizarre way or edited strangely by someone biting off more than they can chew. I now only hire people with people who look like me in their portfolio. Don’t know how to get those clients? Reach out. You’re never too good to reach out to a marginalized person in your life and offer something for free that benefits both of you. If you’re doing it for the right reason, such as the ability to be a safe space for people who need it, no one that matters will think twice.
Don’t know anyone in the communities you’re trying to reach out to? Go deeper. Try harder. Network, be a vocal and supportive ally. I’ve gotten clients from striking up conversations with strangers. The worst someone can do is say no.
Remember, it doesn’t happen over night.
I get countless e-mails, texts, etc. from people telling me they want to have a portfolio that features less “skinny, white blondes”, but you have to be able to do the work. There’s also nothing wrong with that being your entire porfolio as long as you accept that it’s going to be harder for you to break into certain demographics. Photograph with intent, love loudly and proudly, and be prepared to put in the work.
This summer, I was looking for someone to photograph my fiance and I for our anniversary in Colorado. I searched hashtags, I scoured google, and I could not find one single person who had anyone who looked like Ean and I in their portfolio. I don’t just mean someone who has a plus size, bald black woman and a plus size, curly-headed Jewish man. I couldn’t find anyone who photographed people (and did it well) who were larger. I had to scroll for ages to find black clients. I finally stumbled upon Dan Hand who had a couple who actually looked shockingly similar to us. (Please don’t e-mail me telling me my fiance can’t grow a beard. WE KNOW. I definitely mean in shape, style, etc.)
We hired him immediately.
Last, don’t be afraid to put out model calls.
This will depend on who you talk to. Some people will see right through it (if your intentions are less than pure) and won’t want to feel tokenized or put on display. Some people will love helping someone who wants to be helped. When you have these model calls, do all of us a favor and do not post in groups with words like
“I have my first lesbian/gay/non-binary/poly/black couple. How do I pose them?”
It’s no different than photographing anyone else. Pose/guide people based on what light and positioning is the most flattering. Show these people interacting lovingly.