Industry News

Black Lives Matter: Making Room at the Table

June 8, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

© Keith Cephus

An image from a Black Lives Matter rally in Virginia Beach on June 6th, taken by Keith Cephus.

To say the last couple of weeks have been tough would be a vast understatement. As I write this, it’s been a little over a week since the Black Lives Matter protests began and in that time, we at Rangefinder decided to hunker down, talk to people in the industry, absorb and listen.

First and foremost, we want it to be known that Rangefinder 100 percent supports and stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We are also making changes internally so that we can better reflect the more realistic landscape that is the wedding and portrait photography industry, and be more inclusive of the tremendous talent that already exists but is not always recognized.

There is an undeniable lack of diversity in this industry, and while Rangefinder has aimed to expand its own universe and feature more photographers of color based primarily on the quality of the work, there is so much room for improvement. We can do better. We will do better. We will work on being more diverse in our coverage but more importantly, we will strive to be more inclusive and support black photographers by implementing action that results in change—and not just say the words.

When D.C.-based wedding photographer Kirth Bobb sent me an email this weekend, he told me he woke up to a few messages from his peers about the sudden features of black photographers and their work on a few prominent wedding platforms. “In good faith, we all see these gestures as well-intentioned acts to the current climate of our world,” he wrote. “However, we also find these gestures to be extremely problematic. We want to help by facilitating a conversation about how we can begin to turn the page on the status quo.”

I pondered his remarks. It made me think about the fact that there’s such great talent out there yet at times it’s hard to find the work and it’s not coming to us organically. “Are we sending the message, unknowingly, that we don’t want to feature black photographers’ work and support their businesses?” I asked Kirth.

“In terms of RF and other mainstream publications not being able to find black photographers’ work to publish, I 100 percent believe that to be true. But I can also tell you that in black spaces, we simply see these publications as representing an aesthetic that doesn’t reflect our realities. The conclusion we drew is that the places and spaces that were more frequently represented on wedding photography platforms weren’t the places and spaces where we typically work. Ask yourself: ‘Is the aesthetic itself non-inclusive?’ A lot of photographers of color want to know why it never occurred to you that these platforms never quite reflected the world they proclaim to represent.”

So how do we change that? At Rangefinder, we are working on many changes, including putting together an editorial advisory board to include photographers and other industry leaders of color. We are also opening up our 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography nominee process to include a much more diverse list of nominator names that include black wedding brands and photographers. We additionally plan on putting together a webinar that address these issues and more. We want to know you and feature you and work with you.

In the past few days, I’ve seen a bunch of lists come out, including that of BRIDES’ 100+ black wedding professionals whose talented work, they say, “should have been shared a long time ago.” Lists that help find and appreciate the work are fine but we need more than that. There’s also support from labs and other photo vendor services who vow to make meaningful change. That’s a great start, and we at Rangefinder vow the same. Now let’s work to make it stick.

Last week, I listened to Engage’s webinar, “A Conversation on Race Relations in the Wedding & Event industry.” After almost two hours of listening to the panelists—most of them wedding planners and Engage organizers—speak about how many of them feel unsupported in the industry, one wedding planner summed it up best: “We don’t want your seat at the table, we just want you to move over and make room for us.”

—Jacqueline Tobin, Editor-in-Chief, Rangefinder