I recently received an email from photographer Albert Chong about the work he has on the Covering Photography site. Chong is Jamaican by birth, and has lived in the United States since 1977, most recently in Colorado.
With his permission, I reprint this excerpt from his email concerning several book covers using his images:
“Please note that the common factor in these three [book covers] and
with my work being selected is race and that all three authors are
African American with African American themes. This also conversely
implies that my work has never been on a book cover by authors other
than African American women with one exception the Familial Gaze by
Marianne Hirsch. Anyway my point here is that race is a factor in some
of these decisions.”
Chong’s point is worth consideration. As a photographer of African and Chinese descent whose work deals primarily with racial identity and family, he finds he is considered primarily for book covers concerning those specific topics.
For those unfamiliar with Chong’s photography, examples may be found through Google without much difficulty, but a good place to start would be his own website:
In the biographical statement on his site, Chong describes his work, in part, as “…[dealing] directly with personal mysticism, spirituality, race, identity and numerous other topics as well as celebrating the beauty of images and objects…These works range from playful juxtapositions and formal still lifes to works that represent and reanimate his family history.”
(This is also an excerpt, and readers are encouraged to visit the site for the complete text).
Is Chong being pigeonholed? Is this a case of publication profiling? Covering Photography encourages you the reader to consider this question by visiting his not only his page on our site, but the pages of other photographers of African ancestry:
It should be noted here that 7 photographers out of a total of 330 is a very small percentage. Undoubtedly, there are many more covers featuring the work of notable black and other minority photographers out there; these, however, are what we have come across so far.
Perhaps most conspicuous in its absence is the work of Roy Decarava, certainly one of the more important and influential post WWII American photographers (‘The Sweet Flypaper of Life’ does not quite fit the parameters of Covering Photography, since it is an intentional collaborative effort between two artists; Decarava and the poet Langston Hughes).
Also among the missing:
Pat Ward Williams
Perhaps our readers can make some suggestions to fill the gaps.