Meet Our {un}convention Diversity Panelists: Lucy Baber

Meet Lucy Baber, a Philadelphia family photographer and art activist behind the 100 Black Dads project!

Liz: Could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from, and what was growing up like for you?

Lucy: Sure. Well I currently live in Philadelphia with my husband and two sons. I was born and raised in Philly until I was nine years old, and then we moved to central Pennsylvania (Amish country), so my childhood was about half urban and half very rural. My husband and I moved back to Philly when we got married...I am definitely more of a city girl!

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Liz: What did your path to photography look like?

Lucy: My path to photography is about as cliche as it gets! My son was born in 2010, and I bought a "nice camera" (Canon Rebel) to take pictures of him. I wanted to make the most of my investment, so I started taking online photography classes. Soon enough, friends were asking me to take family portraits, and by 2012 I had left my job as a child therapist to stay home with my son and do photography full time. My business is focused on newborn, children, and family photography (no weddings or big events).

Liz: That's amazing!

Lucy: Thanks

Liz: You call yourself a "photographer + art activist." Could you talk a little bit about art activism?

Lucy: The art activism piece of my brand has been about two to three years in the making. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement these past few years, I wanted to stay engaged in social justice issues. I already mentioned that my prior career was in social work and child therapy...social justice has been an area I have been passionate about for my entire career. But as a photographer, I wasn't really sure the best way to engage in a truly meaningful way. So I started considering how I could give back to the community with my art. During the summer of 2016, I had this idea to take candid family photos of black fathers with their children, in an effort to change the negative media narrative that black fathers are all "deadbeat dads" and "criminals." I am proud to live in a very racially integrated area, and I realized that the amazing black fathers that I know just don't fit that narrative. I wanted to give them a voice—to offer a platform for them to tell their stories. And then of course, after the presidential election last year I felt an even stronger sense of urgency to get this message out. That's when my project "100 Black Dads" was officially launched. The rebranding to call myself an "Art Activist" came a little later, after I had the opportunity to shoot for the Philadelphia Women's March in January. To be honest, the rebranding was partially intended to provide a platform to show my work on my website in a more cohesive way and also partially to ensure that I would keep attracting the type of open-minded, socially conscious clients that I want to work with. I recognize that there are certainly other photographers out here doing way more social justice work with their art than I have time to do, but making the decision to just own this title openly has also allowed me to meet some amazing activists, and it's always so satisfying to get client inquiries saying "We LOVE what you're doing, and we want to support MORE of this type of work!" It's helped me keep "finding my people" during these crazy political times.

Liz: Absolutely. I have to say I'm amazed at how cohesive your brand is given your different subject matter. What has the reception been like for the 100 Black Dads project?

Lucy: Oh it's been amazing! I mentioned that the project took some time to really fully "develop." It definitely had some tweaks along the way, but the most important thing I did during that time was to really focus on educating myself and listening to respected leaders within the black community. I read books, listened to podcasts, had conversations, attended local lectures and discussion panels. When I finally felt the project was "ready" to launch, I ran it by a few trusted friends of color to make sure that this project was something that was WANTED by the black community and that I was going about it in the right ways. As a white woman, this was a major priority for me...to not co-opt this project and turn it into something about ME or my ego. I mentioned that I've been working on this project since last November, and it's had some amazing media coverage in that time. Around Father's Day, I was very fortunate for the project to have been featured on several online platforms, and I was even on the local news channel with two of the dads from the project! My inbox has been filled to the brim with a ton of support, many families just writing to say "THANK YOU," and SO MANY dads writing to volunteer.

But there is one aspect I'd also like to comment on...especially given the current political climate with sports...

Back in the late spring I was also very fortunate to have been able to work with Malcolm Jenkins, who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles. Malcolm reached out to volunteer for the project, as he has been VERY vocal on social justice issues within the NFL. It was amazing to work with him, because I really feel like he was able to give the project a much broader audience (and also just because he's such a cool guy, and his family is really awesome!). But I do want to say that in all of the media attention this project has received, his shares of the project on his own Instagram page were really the ONLY place that I have experienced any negative backlash to this cause. There were people commenting "Why do you have to get political on your page? Why can't you just keep your mouth shut and play football?" And he was so incredibly patient and engaged with most if not all of the negative comments, politely educating them on his reasons WHY he wants to engage in social justice issues more actively in the public eye. But that experience really did remind me of my privilege regarding this project. I recognize that it's much easier for other white people to tolerate a white woman presenting this subject matter than it would be if a photographer of color were doing the same thing. There is still SO MUCH MORE WORK TO DO to keep elevating black voices within our society, and it's something I keep thinking about as I move forward with this project.

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Liz: Thank you for noting that. So you are on a panel at {un}convention discussing diversity. What can we expect to hear from you?

Lucy: That's a great question! So I expect a panel to have a lot of moving parts of course, but as the sole white woman on the panel, you should expect to see me first and foremost elevating the voices of the other women on the panel. But I really hope to be able to speak to those artists/creators/business owners who are also looking for ways to engage in social justice work. I really want to emphasize the learning and listening period I went through before launching my project and branding. I feel like in the age of social media, and especially right now with all of the chaos of the current political climate, so many people are feeling ready to just dive in to a cause without really taking the time to breathe and grow one's contribution into something that can be truly useful and sustainable. We want to do something helpful, and instead we end up tripping over our own two feet and doing/saying all the WRONG things. Especially when you're a person with privilege (as I am as a white, cis-gender, hetero female), it's really easy to screw things up when you're trying to do things like diversify your portfolio or expand your brand to be more inclusive. So you'll probably hear me acknowledging some of my own mistakes along the way, as well as some helpful tips for ways to keep giving back in useful and meaningful ways. 

Liz: Well said, Lucy. We can't wait!

Lucy: Thanks so much, Lucy, for talking today.

Join us at {un}convention to hang with Lucy and learn from her expertise!