Photographer Lynsey Weatherspoon on Queerness, Blackness, and Safety

Photographer Lynsey Weatherspoon on Queerness, Blackness, and Safety

Lynsey Weatherspoon opens up about finding safety in a creative community and forging a path forward in the photography industry.

In 1970, the United States celebrated the first-ever Black History Month. It’s meant to both celebrate the culture and contributions of African-Americans and remind people of the massive amount of work that still needs accomplishing. Today, there’s still a lot of work to be done. We may have come a long way, we may have taken big steps, and we may have amplified Black voices louder than ever. But, the fact remains, race is still an issue.

Black Lives Matter March
Thousands of people attend the Black Lives Matter March in London, UK. Image via Vincenzo Lullo.

As poet Amanda Gorman puts it, “Quiet isn’t always peace.” And so, we’re here. We continue to not only celebrate the courageous steps of those who have come before, but the work we accomplish today. We continue the difficult conversations of inequality, be it through protest or art. And, perhaps most important, we continue to learn.

Meeting Lynsey Weatherspoon

Lynsey Weatherspoon is a freelance commercial and editorial photographer. Before becoming the highly-accomplished person she is today, she was a young creative who was taught to take photos by her mother. Now, after four years in this field, she’s seen a lot, heard a lot, and experienced a lot. Her work has been published in print and online in various publications including USA Today, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, to name a few. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama, Weatherspoon captures images that don’t just tell the story, but images that make the audience want to know that story.

Black Lives Matter Women's MarchBlack Lives Matter Women's March
A Black Lives Matter Women’s March at Times Square in New York. Image via Julian Leshay.

“Whatever I pointed the camera at, it would turn into my own version of what the world looks like,” she shares. For her, photography has always been something enjoyable, but her younger self never thought of making a career out of it. “I wanted to be a news anchor for a high-ranking television station, and that’s what I went to school to do,” she says, adding that photography became “an extension of my imagination.”

Read on as Lynsey Weatherspoon talks about safety and the impact of having a community that gets you.

On Queerness, Safety, and Blackness: Lynsey Weatherspoon

Photographer Lynsey WeatherspoonPhotographer Lynsey Weatherspoon
Photographer Lynsey Weatherspoon. Image courtesy of Lynsey Weatherspoon.

Shutterstock: For a long time, this creative field has been known to be male-dominated. Can you share what it’s like to move through it as a queer-identifying person?

Lynsey Weatherspoon: As I become more aware of the intersectionality of my Blackness and queerness, the lines become blurred because I’m navigating new territory in this field. I have to be aware of all facets of my inner and outer life in order to understand why people like myself need to be visible in photography. If gender identity comes up, it’s mostly out of respect for pronouns, which I think is important in all conversations going forward.

SSTK: Is your Blackness a major factor in opportunities and work settings as much as being queer?

LW: Great question. I’ve seen an increase in job inquiries lately, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of me being a Black, queer woman in the American south. The descriptors are really important ways that I identify myself because of my location and the constant reminder of its unsightly history.

It doesn’t affect me as much as past experiences, yet I’ve been told by a white male photographer that I was hired for a job because I was Black. It’s a reminder that there are folks who will always think and say things like that to throw you off.

The March for JusticeThe March for Justice
A boy on a bike shows off while waiting for protesters on foot to catch up during the March for Justice, a weekly protest against police brutality, in Washington, D.C. Image via Allison C Bailey.

SSTK: “…yet, I’ve been told by a white male photographer that I was hired for a job because I was Black.” How did this make you feel? Does it happen often?

LW: I was honestly shocked, but not surprised. I felt a bit angry, but got over it immediately to avoid the statement taking me out of my mindset of work when it was said to me. The overt racism doesn’t happen often, but I experience moments that include noticeable microaggressions quite often.

SSTK: In our chat, you mentioned that being queer is something you “have to keep in the back of your mind,” so you can remain safe in your body and mind. Can you go deeper as to what this means and why it’s important for you?

LW: I’m aware that whenever I walk out the door, I am who I am. And, there are times when each aspect of my identity becomes a danger to myself and my LGBTQIA+ community. It’s easy to say that I’ll be safe, but it’s not true. My queer can make me a target, even if I do walk freely in the world. I’ll keep living my life as is, and refrain from feeling afraid, but I won’t forget those who spoke their truth and didn’t survive.

Black Women's MarchBlack Women's March
A woman wears a mask at a Black Women’s March in New York City. Image via Julian Leshay.

SSTK: If you don’t mind me asking, has it ever compromised your safety in any way?

LW: Thankfully, it hasn’t compromised my safety. But, I’m aware that it could in any capacity.

SSTK: Being in the photography field for a few good years now, what’s it like to be part of this Black, queer, creative community?

LW: It’s a great feeling to have a community that’s making heads turn with our conversations and our art. It’s a balance of safety and understanding to be accepted among my peers, and the overall creative community. I’m excited to see so many of us having our breakout moments, and finally being able to articulate what’s been in front of us for so long.

SSTK: Any advice you’d give to young BIPOC photographers who are still starting out?

LW: Reach out to those that you feel will support you in your goals, whether that’s learning how to use your camera or building your first portfolio. There’s so many of us that wish we had access to photographers who have similar identities. There’s no better time than now to find your mentor and someone who’s willing to help you along the way.

The Bushwick CollectiveThe Bushwick Collective
The outdoor art gallery known as the Bushwick Collective has the most diverse collection of street art in Brooklyn. Image via Leonard Zhukovsky.

SSTK: I think I’ll wrap this up by going back to something you said earlier: “I have to be aware of all facets of my inner and outer life in order to understand why people like myself need to be visible in photography.” I really love this and I’m glad that you mentioned self-awareness. How has working as a full-time photographer changed you?

LW: It’s ever-changing because of the nature of work that I’m dedicating my life to. Being full-time gives others the chance to know that having a career in this field is very possible.

Cover image via Vincenzo Lullo.

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