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These 3 Black women photographers have a new perspective on Image City


“Image city,” the “photo capital of the world” – all variations on nicknames for Rochester, New York, and a testament to how Eastman Kodak Company has made a mark on the city’s culture. But what legacy will the city leave for the photographers who call this place home? For local Black women photographers, a lack of resources and support has left them coming up short when it comes to opportunities to grow in their careers.

That’s why three of them are making major moves to change that.

Cocoa Rae David, Jackie McGriff, and Erica Jae are set to launch a Rochester chapter of the international Black Women Photographers (BWP) organization this month. The parent group was founded in 2020 to provide “a home for Black women to receive proper recognition, and most importantly, get hired,” according to its website. David and McGriff were two of the earliest members of the group and quickly found it filled a vacuum in their professional lives.

“Being able to come together with other Black women photographers, there’s a whole different level to what that means,” said McGriff. From being able to confide in one another to celebrating successes together, she has found immense value in having a space dedicated to the shared experience of being a Black woman in the field.

David hopes to counteract the misogynoir and patriarchy prevalent in the industry.

“I’ve run into so many white male photographers who worked with Kodak and they’ll talk down to you. But then it’s like, (I’m) an educated woman, ‘I know what I’m talking about,’ ” she said.

This culture of exclusion isn’t just interpersonal — it’s systemic. Last year, McGriff drew attention on social media when she pointed out the glaring lack of diversity among the Rochester International Jazz Festival’s team of official photographers. In contrast with the demographics of not only the festival’s host city but the originators of the genre itself, the festival’s photography team was completely white.

It was, as McGriff put it, not a good look. “The message you’re sending is no one Black or Brown is qualified to take photos,” she said.

Her call out caught the attention of Rochester native and musician Danielle Ponder, who brought McGriff on as an official photographer for her 2022 performance. But to McGriff, there’s still much more work to be done.

Musician Danielle Ponder performs at the 2022 Rochester International Jazz Festival. - PHOTO BY JACKIE MCGRIFF
  • Musician Danielle Ponder performs at the 2022 Rochester International Jazz Festival.

She, David and Jae are excited to take matters into their own hands and carve a new landscape for local Black women photographers. Their first Rochester BWP event will include icebreakers, opportunities for deeper discussion, and snacks. In the future, they plan to include skill sharing, supporting one another’s exhibitions, and curated intellectual conversations about their craft.

“We’re excited to be an organization that is creating space for other photographers to thrive in their areas of expertise,” said David.

The meetup will take place this Saturday, August 19 at David’s studio at 215 Tremont Street, Suite 237, from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m., and is open to all Black women, femme and non-binary photographers of all levels. The event is free but registration is required.

Irene Kannyo is a freelance contributor to CITY Magazine. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].