Written and photographed by Courtney Lowry

I am a fourth-year photography student from Baltimore, MD. My current project focuses on the identity of the black male by juxtaposing them with household objects to create irony and ask the viewer, “Is this what it’s like to be a black man?”

Both my writing and photography speak on the issues that matter most to me: racial and gender inequality in America. Growing up in Baltimore, I was exposed to the realities of present-day racism from the five o’clock news. However, my drive to express my views on the black experience wasn’t sparked until the death of Freddie Gray. It was in 2015 that I knew I would have to turn my anger into art. Since then, I’ve been creating photographs and writing poetry that speaks on what it means to be black.

The black community heavily influences my work because it is where I come from. I would never attempt to tell the story of someone from another community because I don’t know their truth. By doing so, I strip away their identity; so I stick to what I know — talking about black people. It’s necessary, of course, because the world is so divided; not just racially, but socially and economically amongst black individuals. We have this discourse in the black world called “Light Skin versus Dark Skin.” It’s almost like a war. If you have light skin, people assume you’re automatically treated better because you’re closer to looking “white” than the those with dark skin. But as someone with light skin, I don’t find that to be true. I get ratted on for being “too light” from the black community, yet the white community doesn’t accept me either. It’s tough, so even though the black community is supposed to be a safe space, there are some gaps.

My process starts with me asking myself, “What do I care about most right now?” Last year, it was women’s rights, the sanitary product tax and the unease that comes with talking about periods. This year, it’s shifted to analyzing the life of black men.

I plan everything in advance: I have a schedule of shoots and deadlines of when photos need to be edited and posted to Instagram or submitted to a professor. Nothing is spontaneous, everything is strategic. I even have to visualize my images before I take them, to know I’m going to stay on the right track. Photography is a scientific method. Everything has to be hypothesized and tested to know if it’s even worth doing.

People don’t take you seriously when your height has capped at five feet and you’re 22. I always have to prove myself. Just by my height alone, people think I’m still a child. Adding in that I’m a light-skinned black female from Baltimore is another battle in itself. I have notches against me but I use them to fuel my work and empower my voice. If no one listens, that’s fine. At least I’ve said something.