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Black Image Center Helps LA’s Black Creatives Tell Their Own Stories

29 Feb 2024
What would the world look like if Black people were able to tell their own stories?

As Black creatives, this was a question that Maya June Mansour, a photographer and longtime model, and Kalena Yiaueki, a commercial producer, had dreamt about for years. They were tired of Black people’s images and stories being pushed out by people who didn’t look like them or truly understand them.

Their answer? In June 2020, Mansour and Yiaueki teamed up with four other Black visual storytellers to create the Black Image Center, a community photography space for Black photographers based in Los Angeles to do just that.

The collective started out as an online community that provided micro grants for L.A.-based Black artists who were struggling financially during the COVID pandemic. Then in late 2021, the non-profit hosted its first pop-up event, the Black Family Archive, in which they restored and reprinted attendees’ photos for free with the help of The Gates Preserve.

By May 2022, the Black Image Center opened a physical space in Culver City for Black visual artists to come together for free and low-cost photography services, workshops, film screenings, and to connect with other like-minded individuals. The non-profit also hosts an artist residency program and opens the space for co-working hours to the public — even if you aren’t a photographer — starting at $5 for a day pass.

Since opening their doors, the collective has been able to materialize the world that their mission is centered on and inspire others along the way.

Kenny Burrell, a photographer, camera repair technician and sometimes model, learned about the space from one of Black Image Center’s founding members who used to frequent the camera store he works at. After attending their Black Archive Family event, he decided to get involved with the non-profit. He’s since co-hosted art walks with the organization and has held multiple camera clinics where he checks people’s cameras and provides cleanings for a reduced rate.

Being in some art spaces as a Black photographer can feel isolating at times because it’s not always the most welcoming, he said. “But if you have people around you who are doing what you’re doing — whether they’re doing it at a higher level or they’re just starting to get into it — it is so helpful.”

Giselle Keena stumbled across the Black Image Center on Instagram shortly after moving to L.A. from New York last summer. When she visited the space for the first time, she knew she’d found the creative home that she’d been yearning for.

“Not only was I cared for as a creative, I just felt super seen,” says Keena, who’s a self-taught photographer and director. “It made a lot of things make sense for me.” She can often be found shooting portraits at the Black Image Center or representing the collective at various events.

“It’s so necessary and important for a space like the Black Image Center to exist,” she adds.

Reflecting on the last few years, Yiaueki says she’s proud of the work that the collective has accomplished and is excited to uplift more Black creatives. “Neither of us, I think, had expected that it would ever become what it has,” says Yiaueki, who is one of the co-executive directors of the collective.

“We are learning as we go through trial and error,” she adds. “I think that’s what we’d like for our legacy to be. That anyone can do this work. Anyone can create a Black Image Center for their community.”

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