Student photographer uses her film background to showcase dynamic Black experiences.
If you see the magic that narrative photographer Makayla Camille can capture with her lens, you might forget that she’s a student. Yet, her photography begs us to shed light on the overlooked voices of art students. With Black subjects typically at the forefront of her narrative photo series, Makayla Camille shows the Black experience for what she knows it to be—freeing, unapologetic, and passionate.
Makayla begins by breaking down her photography into three focuses. She explains that her photography consists of editorial work, client work, and narrative photography. “When it comes to editorial, it’s all about high fashion and working with very powerful models and designers to create beautiful things that should be in magazines.” For client work, Makayla has created images for CD jackets, book covers, author bios, and more.
Although, with her narrative work, we see dynamic images capturing the Black experience. Works like Blaque 365, for example, aim to celebrate Black people all year round, not just in February. “As a black woman, love and blackness surround me. So when it comes to my narrative work, that’s what I dive in.” With a minor in Film Studies, Makayla can reinforce emotional messages within her photos. Makayla’s film background also encourages her to focus on composition and styling when capturing specific images.
When you’re able to capture the Black experience the way Makayla does in photos, it can be challenging to accept the critique that comes with being an art student. As we discuss what it’s like to be graded on some of the pieces she creates, Makayla points to a racial disparity in the UMKC art program that affects how professors see her art. “The fact that there are not many people of color [in art programs] is a hindrance because you have professors that don’t understand your work. And they’re trying to grade you on technical aspects when it’s not about being technical sometimes. If I’m telling a story about heartbreak and you’re talking about the girl’s eyelashes not being in focus, that’s not the purpose. The purpose isn’t always supposed to be technical. Art is made to feel. That’s a thin line that I feel professors forget about. Some grades don’t matter half the time.” This realization can be disheartening for many Black art students. Though, I can see that Makayla has a strong awareness of what truly matters as a student and photographer.
“When you’re in these institutions and people are criticizing your work that they know nothing about, it hurts because you’re like, maybe I am doing it wrong…but then I always have to remind myself: this is not about anybody else but me. If I like it, I like it. It’s my art at the end of the day. It’s all a balance because self-doubt always creeps in and you just have to remind yourself to screw the haters. This is for you.” Disproportionality, in any sense, can be frustrating and threatening to one’s self-esteem. Keeping authenticity as a priority is how Makayla has managed to overcome. And with pieces like (Un)Happy Lovers Day and Disconnected, which are currently featured in the 2021 UMKC Student Art Exhibition, it’s evident that she keeps it moving despite those who may or may not understand her artistry.
The life of a student is nonstop. After one assignment, you can certainly expect there to be another one. This succession is anticipated. However, as a student artist, creative ideas don’t always flow as freely. I ask Makayla how she deals with the creative blocks that are so intrinsic to the life of an artist. “If I’m having artist’s block, I have to slow down and re-evaluate. During quarantine, when everything was shut down, it was like my whole life shut down too. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do anymore because I was doing so much client work and photoshoots for everyone else that I forgot who I was as an artist. I had to redefine myself. I had to get in touch with what made me an artist, what made me want to do [narrative] photography? Sometimes you just need to retreat and go back into a shell until you find yourself.” Makayla’s process for navigating a creative block is commendable. She has a compelling connection to her environment and allows this bond to inspire each photograph she captures.
At just 22 years old, Makayla Camille’s photography has been featured in four exhibitions, including a current exhibition at The Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph, Missouri. “It’s pretty cool. Especially when you send in the works and they actually email back like ‘Yes, I love your pieces. Let’s have them!’ The Kemper had a lot of submissions and to get both of my pieces in was quite special. I think at the end of the day, it all goes back to my grandma and making her proud.” Pride is an important thing to have in one’s artwork. Makayla’s pride in who she is as a Black woman is a tool she uses to create dynamic works of art like BET (Blaque Entertainment Television) and various portraits featured on her Instagram and website www.makaylacamille.com
When you’re able to create and capture powerful Black experiences the way Makayla does, school isn’t the only teacher. Life as a Black woman teaches Makayla far more and sets her up for a lifetime of authentic artistry through photographs.
The minutes feel like seconds when you’re discussing the timeless works of Makayla Camille. As I race against the clock to squeeze in one more question for Makayla, I’m reminded of the gift within her narrative photography. From Makayla’s photographs lies answers to our questions. Questions about Black space, love, heartbreak, and unity are all answered by the unique storytelling of Makayla Camille’s narrative photography.
You can see Makayla’s photography on display at the 2021 UMKC Student Art Exhibition until May 15!