There’s no question about it: We’re living in unprecedented times, and change is (finally) happening on all fronts — locally, nationally, and globally. This season, Unbothered and Target are proud to partner on a platform to keep that momentum going by sharing the stories of Black women who are reclaiming joy, defying stereotypes, and proving that summer is definitively not canceled.
Feelings about summer right now are complicated — and rightly so. It’s a season that’s typically marked by carefree joy and ease, but for Black women around the world, this time is layered with grief from seeing the community struck hardest by the pandemic, deep-rooted anger at gross social injustices done at the hands of those who are meant to protect and serve, and utter frustration following decades of fighting to be heard. During this period of uncertainty, Black photographers across the U.S. are turning to their art to not only document the current state of affairs, but also to capture what summer looks like to them, and in doing so, ultimately — and unapologetically — express how they’re feeling in the moment.
For some, that means turning the lens on themselves, resulting in a series of stunning self-portraitures that reveal self-reflection, peace, and growth amid chaos. For others, it means taking photos of the family and friends with whom they’ve been in isolation as a way to celebrate the strength, power, and beauty of being a Black woman. Ahead, scroll through to see how five creatives have funneled their feelings into beautiful pieces of work.
Da'Shaunae Marisa is a photographer based in Cleveland, OH, who photographed herself and her friend Ariona.
How I’m coping lately: “This pandemic allowed me to give all of my attention to my mother before she passed away from cancer in May. I was able to stay home and laugh, cook, and watch films with her. The death of a loved one is a heavy feeling to face, but instead of falling into depression, I’m choosing to look at this experience with understanding and acceptance. I’ve been taking this time to establish self-care routines — yoga, rollerblading, walks, drawing — that keep my mind and body uplifted.”
I’m keeping my summer traditions alive by…: “Planning to get outside as much as I can. Summers are typically busy, filled with lots of photo shoots and nights out with friends. This summer, I plan to find a new trail to bike, attend a drive-in theater, and build a new bike, which has been a childhood goal of mine.”
My personal style is…: ”A mix of my mother’s style — classy, feminine, with neutral tones — and my unique style, which is relaxed and dorky but cute. I feel like myself when I wear a pair of funky socks and a loose T-shirt, and I like to wear a lot of gold jewelry — gold makes me feel like a queen.
My creative process: “Creating is such a stress reliever for me as an artist. Photography is my true passion, so I’m taking any chance I get to document the world around me. I photograph moments that inspire my soul. The people I choose to photograph are the ones I feel I connect with the most, like a mother walking with her son might remind me of my childhood or reading someone’s personal experience on their face will inspire me to take a portrait.”
What I hope we learn from this experience: “That everyone learns and appreciates themselves. I hope people figure out and focus on what is truly important in their lives. I believe the creations that come after will be more authentic to one’s self.”
I'm reclaiming joy by...: "Surrounding myself with the people that make me happy and truly matter in my life. I'm choosing to do what's essential for my health and happiness, like foraging herbs to connect with nature and listening to uplifting music. I'm reminding myself every day that I'm here to do great things, so it brings me joy to be able to create and inspire others."
What my photos capture: “That it’s okay to feel beautiful, it’s okay to love yourself, it’s okay to have fun and treat yourself, and it’s okay to cut out toxic people. We all deserve to be happy, so don’t feel bad to do what you want for yourself. That’s how I felt while taking my self-portraits: to be 100% myself at all times. I also wanted to capture Ariona, who is my sister from another mother and mister — we have done a bunch of fun projects together so I loved including her in the creative mix. Outside of photography, she has been a great support for me during this crazy time and I am so appreciative to have her in my life.”
Flo Ngala is a photographer based in New York City who — with her sister's help — photographed herself.
How I’m coping lately: “With action. Doing my part and doing my job not only as a photographer, but also, first and foremost, as a Black woman. Being able to march and protest as well as share images of what NYC is feeling right now is how I’m coping. Being able to use my platform to share my thoughts and opinions is coping. Speaking up is coping.”
I’m keeping my summer traditions alive by…: “Staying in touch with online communities. My summers are usually very social — I love being outside, surrounded by people — but I feel thankful for the community that’s been created digitally to allow us to listen, learn, and grow. It’s become especially crucial for those conversations to take place, and we’re seeing that no amount of social distancing can keep the Black community from coming together.”
My personal style is…: “Quirky, bright, fly, chill. During quarantine, I’ve been wearing elevated home looks for store runs or walks. Head wraps are something that keeps me feeling like myself — they’re colorful, patterned, and super pretty.”
My creative process: “I was always confident with using visuals to express myself creatively, but this time has allowed me to be more verbally creative. More time spent thinking and being introspective has given me a different grasp on my thoughts that I didn’t know I was capable of tapping into before.”
What I hope we learn from this experience: “I hope we’ll all take away a sense of empathy and compassion. We’re all members of this world, and no one picked their color or where they were born — a lot of it is beyond our control. As far as creating, I feel like this has woken up all of us. If you’re a creative, you have a voice. Use it to speak up, and that fact will compel people to create differently.”
I'm reclaiming joy by...: "Being myself."
What my photos capture: “Myself (with my sister’s help). I have continued to capture myself in the past because I matter. Black women representing themselves matters. I want to convey that happiness and joy that starts within you and your own skin. We’re seeing why it’s so important to take control of our own narratives and images.”
How I’m coping lately: “I’ve been hanging out with my family way more than I usually do. Times are hard, but I’ve never felt so close to my family. It's needed now, especially with the protests. Being able to take breaks from activism and finding solace in my loved ones has kept me grounded.”
I’m keeping my summer traditions alive by…: “Sprucing up the backyard with garden lights, a hammock, and an umbrella. I even bought a kiddie pool for my god sisters. During summers, my family and I usually host cookouts, go swimming, or go to the beach, which we can’t do now.”
My personal style is…: “Soft and femme. There are some days that I’ll force myself to wear something nice, just so I can feel a sense of normalcy in my life.”
My creative process: “I’m usually constantly working and sacrificing so much because I have to, especially in an industry that’s very white and very male. I have to work twice as hard to even be noticed by photo editors. My life coming to a pause could be seen as a blessing in disguise — I’ve come to the realization that my productivity is not a reflection of my being. I want to be more intentional about the work I put out into the world. I’ve been doing a lot more self-portraits as well as photos of my family — social isolation has forced me to see the beauty in myself and in the people around me.”
What I hope we learn from this experience: “I’m hoping we’ll create with passion and value, as though whatever we’re making might be the last thing we create. I’m hoping we all find healing, having gone through something as traumatic as a pandemic. Lastly, I’m hoping we’ll hold onto the love we saw shining during a dark time and spread it.”
I'm reclaiming joy by...: "Imagemaking and storytelling. Sometimes the most revolutionary thing you can do is to use your imagination. It’s what helps me maintain hope."
What my photos capture: “My family in our backyard: my mother, my sister, and my two god sisters. There is so much power in seeing yourself represented. I want to communicate the beauty I see in my family, myself, and in Black women as a whole.”
How I’m coping lately: “In the first couple of months of isolation I took the time to learn new languages, watch foreign films, re-read favorite books, and make my new apartment feel homey. I feel blessed to have that pause on life, but just when I thought I was at peace, these heartbreaking videos emerged. Not only is the Black community dealing with the pandemic, but we’re dying from brutal acts of racism every day. How can we cope with that?”
I’m keeping my summer traditions alive by…: “Listening to friends’ live DJ sets and enjoying summer nights. My summers usually have a lot more beach days, road trips, day parties, and traveling. I always equate summer to freedom.”
My personal style is…: “Whatever mood I am in in the moment. I'm so eclectic.”
My creative process: “I draw inspiration from being around my sisters, cooking dinners, open conversations, style — everything. My creative work is dedicated to Black women. Creating art through this pandemic has been a beautiful experience to me: I’ve enjoyed learning more about myself. I love being free to create what I want, and not what I’m told. I’ve done a ton of self-portrait series during lockdown. Will I share them? Probably not, because I’m realizing sometimes my art is just for me.”
What I hope we learn from this experience: “I hope we all remember to just pause at times, to create more freely, to share the stories we want to tell, and have that reflected in our art.”
I'm reclaiming joy by...: "Consistently nurturing my relationship with God, doing things that keep me happy like dancing and cooking, and trying to manage my time on social media."
What my photos capture: “Myself. I want to convey that there are no limits. I’ve been working on myself for the last three months, and this shoot is a reflection of that.”
Makeda Sandford is a photographer based in Brooklyn, NY, who photographed herself and her roommate KB.
How I’m coping lately: “Right now, I’m not doing much coping, sadly. We’re all fed up with the police state and our lives not being valued. My responsibility is always to stand with my community, and it’s hard to stop scrolling since I’m not out protesting. I’ve found moments of peace in reading revolutionary Black poets and taking a small moment to unplug and meditate.”
I’m keeping my summer traditions alive by…: “Creating daily. My summers are usually a good mix of traveling, exploring the city, and relaxing outdoors. It’s the peak time for photography content creation! That’s not much of a possibility this year, so I’m trying to keep my daydreaming and my creative process going indoors.”
My personal style is…: “Very simple but rich. In photography, I love warm tones and honesty in portraiture. I document myself and surroundings with these things in mind, illuminating the beauty in the mundane and what makes me unique in my identity, story, and geography.”
My creative process: “I’m adapting by using this time for personal development and putting myself first — something a lot of Black women don’t have the capacity to always prioritize. I’m writing again, and going back to my roots of self-portraiture and internet moodboarding. I’ve learned that love can be felt from the comfort of our homes and there’s a lot of inspiration in connecting with friends.”
What I hope we learn from this experience: “To appreciate the exciting opportunity to be alive, to have health, and to be able to sit in the sun and feel freedom.”
I'm reclaiming joy by...: "Taking things day by day, appreciating the small pleasures in life — baking sweets, binging shows, reading works by powerful poets — and reminding myself that what matters most is to stay present."
What my photos capture: “The stillness and beauty of our lived-in spaces, our sleepy faces, and messy hair as it is in its unique form. Summer can still be what we want it to be — we just have to maneuver around our collective experience, but there is blessing and privilege in that. I photographed myself and my roommate KB, a multifaceted creative who has used her time for inner growth and sharpening skills.”
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