Photographer Interviews


Johanne Rahaman on the Importance of Allies for Women of Color

September 29, 2017

By Conor Risch

In an industry where women are underrepresented, women photographers and editors are often teaming up to help support their fellow women, and to bring attention to the work of women of color. Photographer Johanne Rahaman, who is working on a long-term project documenting black communities in Florida, says that women photographers have been “the force” behind her project coming to “anyone’s attention.”

“The people who have created opportunities for me and have given it a lot of visibility have always been women,” she tells PDN. Since 2014, Rahaman has traveled to rural and inner city black communities throughout Florida, creating “Black Florida,” a photographic archive of people’s everyday lives, which she publishes at www.blackflorida.org. Images from Rahaman’s project have been published in The Oxford American, and featured by The New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog, by websites such as Hyperallergic and Jezebel, and by local news outlets in Florida. Her work is also included in the new book, Mfon: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora (learn more about the project in the article “How a Book about Black Women Photographers was Created, Funded and Published“).

© Johanne Rahaman

At home in Coconut Grove, Miami’s first black neighborhood . © Johanne Rahaman

The first person to reach out to Rahaman was multimedia producer Zara Katz, Rahaman says. Katz works as photo and video editor for the Economic Hardship Reporting Project (EHRP), a non-profit that commissions stories about inequality in America. Katz commissioned a story for EHRP from Rahaman, and “even though she has her own projects going on, she is constantly pushing and pushing to get more visibility for what I’m doing,” Rahaman says.

Other women photographers Rahaman credits with helping her include Laylah Amatullah Barryan, Poloumi Basu, Miriamma Kambon and Maggie Steber. Steber offered to mentor Rahaman and to reach out to different media outlets on the behalf of Rahaman and her project.

Rahaman, a Trinidadian who lives in Miami, is a self-taught photographer who works on her project while holding down a full-time office job. Her project is almost entirely self-funded. Rahaman says she would focus on photography full time “in a heartbeat…but when I look at the industry, how it’s populated by mostly white males, it’s definitely not very encouraging.”

Rahaman believes the industry needs “a lot more people who see the importance of work by women of color, because I see their struggle and it’s my struggle. I can definitely say that we need more allies like the Maggie Stebers and Zara Katzs reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to help you and I’m going to push you a little further, and I’m going to keep pushing you into the spotlight.”

At press time, Rahaman was working at a three-month residency at the Eileen S. Kaminsky Family Foundation, a non-profit arts organization, and working on a solo exhibition at The Deering Estate, an art center in Miami, which is scheduled to open in January 2018. She was also working to add more communities to the Black Florida archive.

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