Get to Know: Journalist, Photographer, and founder of Black Women Photographers, Polly Irungu!
Our final curator for Black Art Matters is Polly Irungu! We've been admiring the work that Polly has been doing for her community of creatives and photographers from afar for a while now. In addition to being a photographer and a journalist, nine-to-five, she's the one woman show behind the entirety of Black Women Photographers, a database of professional and up and coming, well... Black Women Photographers. Phew! That's a lot of work.
Make sure you register for Polly's livestream interview taking place (tomorrow!) on Friday, February 26th at 7PM EST! It's the last hurrah of Black Art Matters 2021. You really don't want to miss this one, we'll be going live across all socials so stay tuned.
Without further ado, let's get to know Polly a little better!
Hey Polly, thanks for joining us today! Why don't we get started by giving a quick introduction of yourself?
Hi, I am Polly! I am a Kenyan-born, Kansas-raised multimedia journalist and the founder of Black Women Photographers, a global community and directory of Black Womxn Photographers.
Can you tell us about the Black Women Photographers community and it’s backstory?
Oh, man. I think it all started when I lived in Oregon. I was trying to navigate the world of journalism and photography in a predominantly white state and just felt such a void. I was the only Black woman photographer that I knew and so I was really longing for a community. But I was also looking for access to opportunities, resources, and work. I remember applying for every single photo internship and fellowship that you can think of with no avail. I was just feeling very alone and discouraged. There were so many times that I thought of giving up.
So, with all that said, even though I am still very young in my career, I built a community, a global community and directory, and I am just trying to make it easier for the next aspiring photographer. I know what I wish I had and if I can bring all of that to this incredibly talented community, then I know it will make a long lasting difference.
Photo by Laila Stevens // The Earth Within by Nitashia Johnson
What does the online/behind the scenes look like for Black Women Photographers?
Well, I like to think that there is a method to my madness, haha. As the sole founder, I am wearing all of the hats from outreach to admin to programming to curating to social media etc. you name it, I am doing it. And I am doing it all on top of my 9-5 in news. So, it is a lot. There is so much behind the scenes work that you all do not see. It is a lot of mundane and tedious work. But at the end of the day, the work has to be done. And it is work that matters. It is work that will make a difference in another Black woman’s life. And it is some of the most important work that I will ever do in my life. It is worth it at the end.
What personal projects are you currently working on?
Does drinking more water count? Just kidding :). This is something that I am hoping to do more of this year. My goal is to do at least one personal project per quarter. I just need to figure out how to carve out more time for myself to do this. So, hopefully soon, you will see some more work from me.
How do you recharge your creative and mental? What does self care look like for you?
Self care for me looks like saying no. Period. It looks like me being intentional with my time and energy. It looks like me giving myself grace as I try to balance all of the things. It looks like listening to my body when I am feeling the stress and anxiety taking a toll. The work will always be there. There will always be work to be done. But I cannot do this work if I am not taking care of myself first and foremost. I try to recharge by disconnecting from social and unplugging from the world as best as I can. I love to just relax and binge a new show and do absolutely nothing. That is my favorite type of self care.
Photos from Afropunk by Polly Irungu
Who/what is inspiring you right now/has inspired you in the past?
Not to be that person, but I am so incredibly inspired by all of the women in the community. Each person has their own wonderful story to tell. It has been such a joy to get to know them over the last year and witness their growth in real time.
Can you share some advice or insight you would give to up and coming creatives who look up to you?
Stay the course. I know we all have heard the phrase ‘trust the process’ time and time again, but really, really, trust it. Trust your journey. If you were to tell me that I would have worked with all these brands from NikonUSA to VSCO to Adobe and many more to having my work shown on Nasdaq’s tower and then working with them again to amplify other Black women photographers, I would have thought you were crazy. But over the last 10+ years, I have just been trusting myself and this journey.
I have been actively doing the work and now, all of the seeds that I planted are bearing fruit. Trust that what is for you, is truly for you. I think it is so easy to get discouraged but if you remember what your ‘why is’ - why you got started and why you are doing this work - you will be alright in the end.
Photos by Polly Irungu
Tell us about your favorite project you’ve ever worked on!
Black Women Photographers :) But I also loved working with SHAVONE. and Ashley Robinson of VSCO for their campaign. We spoke about here!
Tell us about most difficult project you’ve ever worked on?
Black Women Photographers
In what ways can we (the larger industry and creative community) support you and your work?
Ah, where to begin! I mean first and foremost, this is such a beautiful thing you all are doing here. You are giving the mic to young Black creatives who are making an impact. That is one great way. Something else that comes to mind is advocating for us in these spaces and rooms we do not have access to. I think that is when it really comes down to. We need the support of our industry, creatives, all year round. We need it when we are paying attention to it during moments like this and when we are not. We need really allyship, not performative. If you are able to refer us to opportunities, hire us, amplify our work and voice, etc., those are the ways that anyone reading this can support myself, my work, and others.