And then there is Tyler Mitchell, who photographed Beyoncé for Vogue in September 2018, and at age 23 became the first black photographer to shoot a US cover for the highly acclaimed fashion magazine that has been running for 126 years. As Mitchell told NPR, photography originally “was known as a rich man’s art, so it was mostly for white men who were able to afford all of the chemicals, the films, the cameras that went into it in the very early stages. It’s a historical thing that goes into why there just haven’t comparatively been as many black fashion photographers as white fashion photographers.”

When Menghistab first moved to New York to pursue freelance photography in 2011, he noticed he was often the only black person on set, sometimes in a room of over 20 people. “I think for black people in the photo industry, it’s really obvious which spaces we get commissioned and respected in and which ones we don’t. A lot of people just don’t think about it when it doesn’t affect them.”

But he credits social media with contributing to a rise in recognition of black photographers, from the relative ease and affordability with which photographers can now network and display their portfolios to a broad audience, to the social awareness that gets created when celebrities talk about their experiences with black photographers.

“Social media is really great because we’re finding and hiring each other. It’s allowed us to create networks to get us into rooms and put each other up for jobs that we hear about,” Menghistab says.

But in many cases, it’s still up to white photo editors to make the decision to diversify the roster of photographers they work with. “The Vogue piece was amazing, and created a lot of opportunities for Tyler. But when will Vogue have their next black photographer,” Ivory asks. “We might be entering spaces that didn’t represent us as much before, but how often are they booking us?”

Ivory, whose career took off after one of her images went viral on Instagram, says she isn’t shocked that familiar photo subjects like Campbell and Union are just starting to encounter black photographers, which prompts her to believe the fashion photography industry’s long neglect of black photographers is intentional. “When you think of the thousands of shoots they’ve been in, you wonder, how do you just bypass all of the great black photographers? It’s so easy to find us now that it feels intentional not choose us.”

So what explains the recent wins for photographers of color, like Addy, Varona, and Mitchell, shooting subjects like Campbell, Union, and Beyoncé? Menghistab has a theory.

“I think the reason you’re just now starting to see us book big jobs isn’t because there’s some sort of shift in white consciousness, but because other black and brown people are starting to get into positions where they can hire us,” he says.

Editor’s note: While Naomi Campbell’s Nov. 15 tweet indicated that her shoot for The Guardian marked her first time working with a black mainstream fashion photographer, she also was photographed the previous year by Jamel Shabazz (who is black) for the 2018 fashion issue of Essence. The headline and text of this story have been updated to reflect this.

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