Addressing issues of equity and inclusion has been important to me since I began my formal education in photography. I have not always had the vocabulary to describe my concerns. I was a first-generation college student whose understanding of photography was primarily technical and I had yet to visit an art museum. Yet, I intrinsically knew there were discrepancies between the types of work that different individuals could make safely, how others received that work, and how the curriculum addressed particular histories and legacies.
Centering equity and inclusion in photography requires moving beyond acknowledging past faults and injustices. It requires attempting to address the past by creating a future in which we are all more responsible makers and consumers of images. While critical discussions around photography and its ethics often occur within the relatively inaccessible spaces of academia and fine art, images affect how all people relate to themselves, history, and others. This is why it is essential to encourage equity and understand how we all come to images with our own context(s) within the medium. For similar reasons, it is also essential to make sure there are inclusive spaces to share and discuss photography, which I spend a lot of time trying to cultivate and support. If we let it, photography can be a democratic tool for self-expression, starting conversations, and building empathy. While images can cause harm, they can also refute harm and create an opportunity for care and affirmation with responsible handling. Image makers and curators have both an opportunity and a responsibility to employ the best qualities of the medium.
Sydney Ellison is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work addresses themes of gaze and intersectionality primarily through collage and self-portraiture. Ellison is an art photography student at Pratt Institute and an editor of The Photographer’s Greenbook, a resource hub for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Advocacy within the lens-based art community.
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