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Self-taught photographer Russell Frederick making Black voices heard by changing the narrative




Russell Frederick, a Brooklyn raised photographer utilizes his love for photography to change the Black American narrative.

“The camera is a powerful tool and I saw why it was weaponized against us,” Frederick said while speaking to Folkus. 

Folkus is a series created with Getty images that features Black photographers while cultivating a community that focus on the Black community.

“I look at my role as a photographer as an educator and visual activist to realize and redefine the way the world sees us because our greatness has been suppressed. When I leave this earth, these images I’ve made will live on and be strong.” he continued to speak.

Frederick is a self-taught photographer who has been photographing for nearly twenty-five years and focuses on crafting stories that uplift, inspire and unite the Black life. 

He knew he had an ‘artistic purpose’ so when an instructor of International Center of Photography, Bernard Palais looked at his portfolio prior to him getting into the school stated, ‘You will be a great photographer. It will be a shame if you don’t pursue this seriously.’ He knew right then and there that photography was going to be his future. 

‘I want to learn and I want to work. I’m unpolished and raw, but my work ethic, my heart and determination can’t be measured.’ said Frederick.

Back then everyone thought of art as a hobby and not a career, so Frederick had a rough start but he was eager. One day he received a call from Eli Reed where he invited him to a slideshow at ICP. After the slideshow, Eli presented him with an opportunity with Magnum Photos where he got the job.

As a member of Kamoinge, the world’s longest-running nonprofit photography collective, Frederick made every effort to tell Black stories from the inside and create counter-narratives to mainstream media.

In 2004, Frederick debuted his work at his first solo exhibition at the Empire State Building where Reed came and suggested that he become a member of Kamoinge. That’s when he met many Black inspiring photographers including Anthony Barboza, Beuford Smith, Gerald Cyrus and Adger Cowans.

These artists could relate to him as a Black man and someone who wasn’t formally trained but had a voice, a point of view and was ready to learn. They were committed to the same mission as him which was to change the stories and image of Black people through photography.

He became a member of Kamoninge and learned that with a camera he could tell stories as he pleased. His goal was to tell stories, raise awareness, author and record Black history, impact lives, challenge people to think differently, make people feel good, have conversations, make books, honor people, fashion, art, culture, travel, uplift people, work for myself, create a legacy and most importantly have fun with photography and bring joy to those around him. 

As part of his collection today, he has compiled photographs of President Barack Obama, Academy Award-winning actress Regina King, Grammy award winning musicians D’angelo, Jill Scott and Lauryn Hill, Oscar Award winning actors Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee, and among others. 

Russell continues to be a member of the Kings Against Violence Initiative intervention program in Brooklyn, NY where he mentors young men.

His style consists of medium-format black-and-white where his work has been exhibited and collected into numerous museums.

To see more of Russell Fredrick’s work, go here