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Interview with Celebrity Photographer of Portraits of Black Women Changing Our World

By JULENE ALLEN


Photographer Lauri Lyons has not only broken barriers as the first black woman to shoot the cover of Fortune Magazine, but she may be embarking on a venture to intercept the way black women are being portrayed throughout media, in introducing the exhibit INSPIRATION: Portraits of Black Women Changing Our World. The proposed exhibit according to its Kickstarter campaign plans to launch a domestic and international tour which would  depict the personal lives and history of 30 prominent black women leaders today. The actual  showing will display museum quality photos and bios on these women and plans to solicit to museums, galleries, universities, and public institutions. An educational teaching guide will be available for classroom instructors and online learning. The project follows the March 2012 release of the coffee book under the same title which is accompanied by the authors Crystal McCrary and Nathan Hale Williams.


INSPIRATION: Portraits of Black Women Changing Our World is a spin off of the former book I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women who Changed America, originally published in 1989 by Pulitzer prize winning photographer, Brian Lanker which also contributed an exhibit and nationwide tour. The compelling series was shaped around influential black women who were game-changers in their day, like Rosa Parks, Gwendolyn Brooks and Shirley Chisholm. In a time when some could have perceived that very few black women had held significant roles, Lanker was able to compile a list of 75 compelling candidates in the arts, politics, entertainment and academia field.

A 21st century version of the project comes in key timing to counter some of the stereotypes regarding black women disseminated throughout television and media. One being a myriad of the Housewives series streaming the television-airwaves ( as the project addresses), and the venomous messages being dispersed by a cast made of predominantly black women. INSPIRATION remedies the antic by championing inspirational warrior women, enriched with exemplary talents who are key players in their fields, contrary to some of the portrayals composed throughout reality TV.

Just like the elder exhibit, it encompasses several categories of professional black women, which are either widely recognized or obscured from public mediums, though just as significant. Former United States Ambassador to the Bahamas Nicole Avant, and prominent ophthalmologist Dr. Patricia Bath appears to be on that short list of exclusive and hidden, yet their contributions have not been widely recognized, especially amongst the greater public. INSPIRATION furthers examine these subjects and even poses something intimate and telling regarding celebrity women such as Venus Williams, Mary J. Blige and Laila Ali.


This level of intimacy with prominent women figures makes their life and work tangible and realistic for public viewers, which appears to be the objective for INSPIRATIONS, considering its name or even as Lauri Lyons discloses a humbling encounter with the legendary singer Patti LaBelle. Patti made Lauri feel like an important guest in her home and treated her with the same comforts of any family member.

Her home feels like a real person’s home, you can tell she decorated it. It wasn't like an interior designer or it looked like a gallery. It has a very warm feeling. It’s very feminine,...lots of colors, lots of like portraits of friends and family... It was beautifully done. It was very tangible. It was like going to your favorite aunts house...She was an amazing host. And she had all this food set out for us. There was like catfish and collard greens and all this soul food...

This level of closeness with these thirty prominent women is intended to reach the the public disparate than any manner before, while introducing new figureheads to the world. It also urges a traveling exhibit  that would extend its masterpiece to a global audience which is quite different than Lanker’s 1990’s version. His tour at the time was relegated to the states, though remarkably pondered.

Yet noting these women on an international scale or promoting a worldwide sense of literacy on the subjects appears to be the purpose of the Kickstarter campaign, which is why the project aims to strike the globe with the exhibit. Lyons’ upbringing by  a military family who were also immigrants from Jamaica may have broaden her scope of cultural literacy and how ideas are being diffused from one culture to another, even though they may be on different continents. She discusses her travels as well as these culture-to-culture influences. African American culture appeared to be trending and impacting other nations.

Our culture spreads so quickly around the world...I remember being in West Africa, and this was 10 yrs ago. and I would see all these buildings painted with pictures of Tupac, Wu Tang...all this hip-hop imagery everywhere and I would see pictures of Brandy...you don’t realize how much people are paying attention...and when you go to places in Europe, especially like in France and Belgium…People who are not necessarily able to make strong careers for themselves in the United States, once they go abroad, they’re thriving”

Lyons even discloses how important it is for people to have access to this sort of cross-cultural education regardless of their place of address. Even the basis of her travel magazine NOMADS, which she is Editor-in-Chief, strives to expose people to different parts of the world by transporting cultural experiences through a digital platform.

“Travel is a huge education...I want everyone to be able to travel and to see the world and see how they fit into the world and how that reflects upon them and to kind of be able to see for themselves what are the realities of the world, what are some of the stereotypes and myths that were said and that gets perpetuated, and if people can’t actually afford to go places I want them to at least through NOMADS to be able to get a sense of what's going on in the world, a first person point of view culturally to get beyond all those stereotypes, so I think of it as a form of of cultural literacy or cultural intelligence…”

Yet the INSPIRATION project is highly dependent on the support of the public to launch its tour. Hopefully it garners the interest of women, especially for those who are affected by stereotypes. A tool such as this could pose something significant for black women, and uphold a new standard. A ceaseless complacency, without intervention could be attributed to a lack of awareness of how black American women is being perceived locally and abroad. Whatever the case, the public has to take a genuine interest in appropriating this historical deed to women in order to take INSPIRATION to the next level. Now that may be much of the battle. However, Lyons feels that the project is in everyone’s best interest and above all, women would be enthralled.

“I think this is the type of exhibition that I would want women to go out and see, to support, to bring other people to go see...I think there is something here for all of us... It’s what the title say, it’s inspiration. I really want people to feel like they've gone in  and their personal flame have been lit more,  and whatever it is that they would like to accomplish, big or small, that they really go out and do it and if that means carving a new path, then to do that as well. Because a lot of these women had to do that to get to where they are...”


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Julene Allen Julene Allen Author

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