Sistagraphy exhibit highlights work of African-American women photographers

Jena Jones remembers the first time she was bitten by the “shutterbug.”

She was on an elementary school field trip when she saw the iconic work of photographers Gordon Parks, the first black staff photographer for “Life” magazine; and Moneta Sleet Jr.,    known for his gripping civil rights era images and his Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Coretta Scott King and her youngest daughter, Bernice, at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral.

“I was mesmerized by each and every image,” said Jones, executive director of Sistagraphy, an Atlanta-based collective of African-American women photographers. “I was in awe. They had to pull me out of that exhibit. I didn’t know what this was, but I knew I wanted to do it.”

And she did. Jones’ work is included in “A Different Eye: Sistagraphy Celebrates 20 Years of Photography,” an exhibit at the Hammonds House Museum. The exhibit of 100 images runs through Dec. 20.

The retrospective includes the work of about 36 other photographers that document various facets of life - from the 1960s until today - depicting urban life, architecture, portraits and product shots.

Jones said the collective was formed two decades ago by a handful of black female photographers who wanted to find a way to support each other, hone their skills and share their expertise.

People “think all you have to do is pick up a camera and point in the general direction, click it and it does all the work for you,” she said. “They don’t understand all the work that goes into creating a good image like knowledge of light and environment, composition and the creativity involved.”

Sistagraphy’s exhibit is an example of the significant interest in photography in Atlanta.

The High Museum of Art, for instance, is exhibiting the “The Bunnen Collection of Photography” through Feb. 2. The exhibition contains about 120 prints that includes works by regional, national and international photographers.

Also, Spelman College recently presented the nationally-touring photo exhibition, “Posing Beauty in African American Culture”, featuring more than 75 photographs by leading and amateur photographers.

Although there were earlier successful black women photographers, their visibility was much lower than their male counterparts. Jobs and exhibit space was not as readily available as that for male photographers.

While on assignments,Jones and others would often get looks of surprise from people. “Wow, you’re the first black woman photographer I’ve ever seen,” she said of the comments.

“The challenge is getting recognition.” said Jones. She said stylists and photo editors often want to go with photographers with whom they’re comfortable or someone who has already built a reputation “and a lot times those people don’t look like us.”

It started with a small exhibit by nine women and later morphed into the larger collective, whose name “Sistagraphy” was coined by Atlanta photographer Susan Ross, who is known for her work chronicling black Atlanta life.

There are more than 50 women in the collective. They include hobbyists, professionals and those just starting to pursue that interest. They range in age from their 20s to 60s.

Founder shelia turner, who prefers lower case, is a professional photographer who splits her time between Atlanta and Charlotte where she is an adjunct photography professor at the Art Institute of Charlotte. She remembers pulling together eight other women in 1993 with a clear goal of showing the diversity in the field of photographer. “Although we all look alike, we don’t photograph the same things.” she said.

turner, for instance, did a lot of early work for music labels and celebrity-oriented jobs. She later drifted into documentary and narrative studies and community projects.

The women also wanted to show their work publicly. “I didn’t think enough of us were exhibiting our work,” she said. “I thought I had something to say and in my work was a message.”

The collective was “a safe space for us to definitely talk about things that were easy and not so easy,” she said. “It brought a few of us to a higher level.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

Things to do around Atlanta: Jazz, Boo at the Zoo and Zaved Akhtar
Things to do around Atlanta: Jazz, Boo at the Zoo and Zaved Akhtar

“Boo at the Zoo,” which kicks off this weekend, will provide fun for the whole family at Zoo Atlanta. There’s also jazz at the Velvet Note and the sounds of India with Javed Akhtar. If you want something more educational, check out the interactive exhibit in downtown Atlanta on the global refugee crisis by Doctors Without Borders...
Atlanta Opera’s ‘West Side Story’ still relevant 60 years later
Atlanta Opera’s ‘West Side Story’ still relevant 60 years later

Musicals come and go, but the story of the Sharks vs. the Jets, of Tony and Maria who fall in love against the odds, can still seem as moving today as when it premiered more than 60 years ago. When the Atlanta Opera opens its 2018-19 season with a new production of the classic musical at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on Nov. 3, the...
Robert DeNiro visits Atlanta for Nobu groundbreaking at Phipps Plaza
Robert DeNiro visits Atlanta for Nobu groundbreaking at Phipps Plaza

After several minutes of comprehensive details and thanks from local city officials and Simon mall executives, Robert DeNiro trotted to the podium in his casual black ensemble and sneakers, grinned and said, “It’s gonna be great!” An hour later, seated to the side of the groundbreaking area for the 10,000-square-foot Nobu Hotel and...
7 of the spookiest places to celebrate Halloween in America
7 of the spookiest places to celebrate Halloween in America

Bone-chilling buildings, eerie trails and even stranger worlds are guaranteed situations for horrifying fun this fall. Across the nation, major cities and whistle-stop towns take All Hallows' Eve to astronomical extremes to give the masses iconic, horror movie-like scares and amusement.  424 Market St. San Diego, California 92101 Once ranked as...
Where will your family’s diaries and scrapbooks end up? Make a plan now
Where will your family’s diaries and scrapbooks end up? Make a plan now

Many of the state’s archives and libraries celebrate October as Georgia Archives Month. Among the institutions that collect and preserve historical documents, books and other artifacts are the Georgia Archives, National Archives at Atlanta, larger universities, as well as public and private regional colleges and many local historical societies...
More Stories