Image 1 by Jessica Bethel

Jessica Bethel Q&A

Jessica Bethel talks photography with TheBlkGaze.

The Black Gaze means seeing and feeling the very experience through the lens/eyes of the Black diaspora. Our gaze matters because we’ve been silenced for centuries in every aspect, medium, and intricate part of history across the globe. History is nothing without us, we are the blueprint.

How does this relate to your photography practice?

Since I discovering photography in High School, I generally was dubbed the token Black woman that was a photographer. As I discovered which direction I wanted to take my practice, I set an intention to solely showcase the Black narrative and empowering Black images. It’s imperative to show such representation because of Black art suppression.

What do you want to say or address with your photography?

I want to speak joy
I want to speak peace
I want to show our raw stories
I just want to document pivotal points in the Black experience

Image 2 by Jessica Bethel

What influences and inspires you? How is this reflected in your work?

I would say my experiences, my culture, various shows that bring nostalgia, reading, and travelling all influence and inspire me in different ways. In my creative process, this is really reflected and certain photos I shoot may not really resonate with viewers as much, but it brings me back to a certain point in my life.

I just want to document pivotal points in the Black experience

Who are your favourite Black photographers from the past? Why?

Roy DeCarava – favorite photographer of all time for me. Roy shoots with intention and joy. His photos have a raw yet freeing sensation when viewing his images.

Lorna Simpson – when I first came across her work, it was nothing I’ve ever seen from a photographer. She bends the rules, she experiments, and creates compelling images that touch specific experiences as a Black woman.

Carrie Mae Weems – What a legend. Something about her photos just captivates me. She was one of the first Black Woman photographers I came across. Her work has a special feel which guides you to think a bit deeper. Carrie’s style is undeniably striking and very special.

Dawoud Bey – timeless photos. The Birmingham Project is one of the first series I discovered and it was heart wrenching yet kept me in awe. He shows the Black experience and continues to push boundaries

Image 3 by Jessica Bethel

Please describe the highs and lows of your experience as a Black photographer?

The lows would be the discovering what I want to tell and how I would like to be known as which I struggle with constantly.

Breaking barriers and blocking out that negative self talk are also lows that I deal with as a Black Woman. In a medium where men dominate , you honestly have to put up a barrier just to protect yourself. Sometimes in white spaces, you don’t feel like your work is worthy or relatable, so you question should I water down my work for the sake of exposure or being hired.

My highs are being recognised by my community and colleagues. I’ve been afforded opportunities to showcase my work in various spaces and working with some phenomenal creatives.

Image 4 by Jessica Bethel

What work are you producing and what more would you like to do?

Right now, I’m in a huge transition period. I’m in a planning phase for my next projects and shoots so be on the lookout for that. I am doing a bit more educational opportunities within photography, utilising my art history background to inform others about the history of photography specifically Black history. I would like to do a bit more writing and add more to the educational art opportunities.

About Jessica Bethel

Jessica Bethel is a South Florida native, currently based in Los Angeles. First and foremost, Jessica is film photographer and enthusiast who specialises in portraiture and fine art. Jessica loves creating meaningful work centred around Black and Brown people.

In her spare time, Jessica is a social media manager, yoga teacher, book club owner (Literature Noir), and wellness advocate.

You can find more of Jessica’s work on her website and Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Take part in The Q&A

The Q&A is an ongoing discussion open to Black photographers of all ages, genders and genres.