Holding Space for Photography: Meet Jessica Bethel, Flipboard’s Photographer in Residence for Summer 2022

Mia Quagliarello / June 23, 2022

Jessica Bethel is a fine art and portrait photographer, the co-lead of the L.A. chapter of Black Women Photographers, and Flipboard’s latest photographer in residence. This summer, she will be curating about photography from her Flipboard profile, advising us on our photography topic, and connecting with other shutterbugs in the Flipboard community. She’ll also be selecting her favorite photos from around the Web and flipping them into the “Photo of the Day” magazine. Get to know her through this Q&A, and give her a follow while you’re at it!

What was your path to photography?

I began my journey back in high school. I was encouraged by my photography teacher, Mr. Roney, and my classmate at the time (my current mentor), Stephanie Brown, to take photography seriously. When I began my college career, I was set on becoming a marine biologist, but honestly, photography and art kept calling me. It just felt right, and I knew I could make a difference with my work like my inspirations, Roy DeCarava and Lorna Simpson. Also, as a Black woman, I felt the lack of representation in photography, especially at the collegiate level.

Show us your favorite shot you’ve taken and tell us the story behind it, including any tips about your technique. 

Photo by Jessica Bethel

This photo was taken as part of a series I was working on. I reached out to one of my close friends to document his journey as a Black gay man. He’s originally from Ohio, so we wanted to shoot in an area that reminded him of that state, with its wide-open space and rural feel. 

At the time, I was based in my hometown of Delray Beach, Florida, so we went out west where the farms are and part of the Everglades runs. We found a nice nursery to shoot in with tons of beautiful flowers and different plants. The suit he was wearing was hand-painted by him and we felt that this area really gave vibrancy and spoke to him as a Black gay male. I shot this on my Mamiya C330 on Kodak Portra 400. I chose this medium because I knew it would give the softness this series needed. 

My tip is: when creating special projects, connect with your subject. Make them feel comfortable. As photographers, we document meaningful work and we should hold space for everyone we shoot. For the majority of my images, I’ve connected with each person individually and sometimes I’ve grown a friendship with them outside of photography.

What’s in your camera bag? 

This is a great question! You can find my whole kit in my “In my bag” storyboard

You are also the co-lead of the L.A. chapter of Black Women Photographers (BWP). Why is this group important to you?

As Black women, we are marginalized, especially in a male-dominated industry. I always felt looked over, especially when I was in undergrad studying photography. I was always the only Black woman in every class, even the only Black person. BWP is dismantling these industry standards and rules to help Black women break into the industry. 

Polly Irungu (founder of BWP) has created a safe space for Black women, provided countless opportunities and resources, and partnered with many organizations and brands that would normally overlook us. She advocates for us and empowers us to fight for our worth. This group has a special place in my heart, because I’ve met and collaborated with so many beautiful women through it. This organization is changing lives and I’m happy to be a part of the change.

If it’s possible to generalize, what do Black women photographers bring to photography that maybe other groups don’t?

Community. I’ve joined several different photography-based organizations and sometimes community isn’t prioritized. BWP has prioritized community and that’s why it’s like no other group. No competition amongst one another; we’re all making room at the table for each other.

Who are some Black women photographers that more people should know?

Nailah Howze (@cloudnai), Valley (@valleyinfilm), Kennedi Carter (@internetbby), Amari Dixon (@amaridixon), Zaria Love (@zarialove), Anisa Williams (@martianglitter), and Jade Lilly (@shootmejade). They’re all listed in this storyboard too. 

When it comes to curating photography, what is your approach in “Photo of the Day”?

I’m selecting images that may match a certain tone and texture for that week, images that correlate with each other (moody, edgy, whimsical, or vibrant). The texture of a photo is a big factor for me, especially in my own personal photography, so you will see many photos simply focused on texture. What does texture look like? Is it grainy or is the skin detailed? If I want to switch it up a different week, I might be searching for images that are more vibrant and have more character. For example, I’m curating images that are film-based and that challenge the mold within film photography and are more experimental.

Then I look at how it may make me feel, I always ask myself what are my intentions behind choosing this photo? Is it challenging me, or does it evoke a nostalgic memory? These are some of the questions I ask myself when curating the Photos of the Day magazine.

Recently, I was intentional about curating primarily film images that were pushing boundaries in terms of lighting, experimentation, and how it made me feel from an audience standpoint. Every photo chosen challenged me to think about how I, as a photographer, can push outside my comfort zone in different ways, especially with film photography.

What about the curation from your own profile?

Expect variety and the history of photography with an emphasis on Black and Brown photographers, photo book recommendations, wellness for photographers, and more. I want to share everything I love about photography — not just shooting, but holding space and community for other photographers.

What advice would you give to other photographers when it comes to using Flipboard?

Share what you’re passionate about and create with intention. Also: experiment and have fun!

Once again, you can follow Jessica Bethel on Flipboard at @4eyedgirl. And don’t forget to check out Flipboard’s photography topic for trending stories about the industry and photographers curating about their craft. 

— Mia Q., head of creator community and newsletters, is reading Photography News