Sean Black: Eyes for the marginalized

Posted March 6, 2023


Many people during early adulthood are faced with a difficult dilemma: follow your passion or find a career to support yourself.

For photographer Sean Black, he was able to make his passion his career. Black selects unique subjects that have the power to make people question their own beliefs by giving a voice to those who have gone unseen and unheard. The passion in his work is apparent, as he connects with his subjects as a human first and an artist second.

Sean Black (Photos courtesy of Sean Black).

Black developed a passion for photography in his formative years with the inspiration of his father, an esteemed military photographer from Scotland.

“Growing up, I always had a camera in my hand whether it was a Yashica my father had given me or his Rolleiflex he gifted before he died in 2011,” Black reminisced. 

Black has made his name in the art world as a photographer who focuses on social justice causes, specifically regarding LGBTQ+ movements. The job often requires Black to wear many hats besides a photographer, including stylist, creative director and writer. Recently, he received a grant from UNAIDS and organized a photo campaign with trans and ‘travesti’ women living in a Brazilian safehouse.

“What was really exciting for me was that the sponsors had the vision to incorporate contingency management training into the sessions; teaching the women about HIV awareness and prevention along with harm reduction and encouraging better health outcomes,” Black explained.

Many marginalized people at risk for HIV do not have sufficient education, resources, or access to better health outcomes.  Furthermore, discrimination, criminalization and violence impede their access to seeking out and realizing proper care. This campaign was an effort to raise awareness and educate underprivileged individuals at risk for acquiring HIV along with offering incentives to participate in a commercial photo shoot and campaign.

Sean Black’s cover photograph of Sheryl Lee Ralph for plus magazine.

“I loved that there was a focus on their health and the opportunity to help them see the value of their lives,” Black concluded.

He has also been a member of the art collective Visual AIDS and their Frank Moore Archives for many years. The organization aims to end the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and help those who are living with the disease through visual art and creative expression.

Black explained how the lives and care of LGBTQ+ has become highly politicized again and has gained national attention in recent months, as politicians like Ron DeSantis have been advocating for legislature that would be cataclysmically harmful to the safety and welfare of LGBTQ+ people overreaching into many aspects of their personal life.

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, he has always been passionate about advocating for the queer community whose voices often remain unheard.

“As a person who has experienced hate and violence simply for having effeminate mannerisms, which we now describe as gender fluidity or non-binary expression, I have gotten older, tougher, and wiser and I am no longer afraid to present as I am, unapologetically. Gay and Trans and Queer people are some of the most caring and creative people I know,” Black remarked.

The photographer also served as a teaching assistant for two years and a full-time lecturer for nearly four years in the Art and Art History Department at the University of Miami. He left a lasting impression among his students because of his infectious energy and passion for photography.

Black has a special way of making people feel heard and comfortable from the second you meet him. His teaching style aims to instill core principles of photography with a hands-on approach, constantly exposing his students to new styles and settings.

“Sean was an amazing professor. He was very caring towards his students and always made sure to help us reach our full potential! His teaching style was unique in the fact that he allowed his students to have a lot of artistic freedom,” said nursing student Danielle Lovetro.

Lorraine, a Brazilian safehouse occupant, photographed by Sean Black during the UNAIDS campaign.

Students from all areas of study were able to take Black’s class, inspiring artistic creativity in people of all professions.

Black enjoyed teaching his classes equally as much as the students enjoyed taking them.

“I found the students at UM to be incredibly bright and honestly, I found that bright, worldly students aren’t intimidated by difference or ‘other.’ They are secure in themselves whereas people such as our elected officials seemingly demonize what they can’t personally relate with or understand.

“Politicians are meant to serve ALL of the people they represent, elected by or otherwise. The fact that lies and hatred are swirling and regressing our freedoms and our educational systems is completely alarming,” Black stated.

Black also has a couple exciting new ventures to be started soon.

“I have a new project that I will be working on helping under-served communities blog about their lives and make photographs to help them visualize their value and let others know their struggles firsthand – through their own lens.”

Black will also be delving into the fashion and editorial world with the upcoming creation of a new magazine with a big A-list icon. While the details are still discreet, Black is excited to venture into this new opportunity alongside a powerful celebrity.

Black’s use of photography to raise awareness for the underrepresented demonstrates the power this art form holds.

“Photography is a medium that is meant to be shared. We make images to show to others as well as tools to understand ourselves and the world around us,” Black said. “It’s existentialistic at its core.”

His collaborative viewpoint on art sheds a light on his passion for community and the importance of learning from others to learn more about oneself.

“We are always looking to substantiate our human experience to see ourselves in reflection.”