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 in and around Atlanta for Monday, July 23
Things to do in and around Atlanta for Monday, July 23

Greetings, Yet Another Atlanta Monday. If you think you’re getting us down, what with your sky-high humidity and your long work week looming, guess again. There are plenty of things going on in and around town today that are guaranteed to elevate our spirits and maybe even stimulate our collective brain cells a bit. All we have to do is get off...
Happy 5th birthday, Prince George! Kate Middleton, Prince William share sweet photo of oldest son
Happy 5th birthday, Prince George! Kate Middleton, Prince William share sweet photo of oldest son

Someone looks very happy to be turning 5. Kensington Palace shared an adorable photo of a smiling Prince George, the oldest child of Britain's Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, on Saturday, one day before the pint-sized royal's birthday. "The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to share a new photograph of Prince George...
Concert review: Jason Aldean and friends pack SunTrust Park for homecoming show
Concert review: Jason Aldean and friends pack SunTrust Park for homecoming show

It involved an hour-plus “severe weather” delay (though it never actually, um, rained), but Jason Aldean got to check off the second stadium concert on his bucket list. He achieved the first in 2013 with an historic play at Sanford Stadium in Athens – the first-ever concert held at the home of the Georgia Bulldogs – and was...
“The Walking Dead” notes: extended season 9 trailer, first deaf character, Lincoln’s farewell
“The Walking Dead” notes: extended season 9 trailer, first deaf character, Lincoln’s farewell

At San Diego’s Comic-Con, “The Walking Dead” released an extended season 9 teaser promo video. The show returns October 7.  Time has moved forward. Alexandria is in re-build mode. Maggie’s baby is born. Rick is helping the Sanctuary get back on its feet. “Bless you Rick Grimes,” one of the...
Migos rapper Offset arrested in Jonesboro on gun, drug charges
Migos rapper Offset arrested in Jonesboro on gun, drug charges

Migos member Offset was arrested after a traffic stop in Jonesboro at approximately 3 p.m. Friday.  The rapper was pulled over in a 2014 Porche 911 Carerra after performing what Clayton County Police deemed an improper lane change at Upper Riverdale Road and Tara Boulevard. Upon approaching the vehicle, officers detected an odor of marijuana and...
More Stories