Black Women in Photography // Sharon Farmer

Women may have had a place in the White House, but not quite like this one. Our next feature had a very important role in the White House, and you may have seen her work and didn’t know it.

Sharon Farmer was born in Washington, D.C. in 1951. She realized the power of photography by looking in family albums. She later attended and graduated from Ohio State University, where she originally started as a bassoon major. She later decided to major in photography. Who would have imagined that a change in major would cause a change in how we look at photography?

Sharon contributed to the on-campus black student paper called Our Choking Times, which helped light her fire as an activist. She participated in sit-ins on campus to protest discrimination against black students at Ohio State. During her senior year, she was hired as an intern at The Associated Press. She later returned to D.C. after graduation and became a freelance photographer for notable publications such as The Washington Post and Smithsonian Institute. Her work later caught the eye of Robert McNeely, who was the first director of White House photography.

In 1993, Farmer was hired as a White House photographer and began traveling the world taking pictures of President Bill Clinton and the first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. She photographed pivotal moments in history, such as the swearing in of Nelson Mandela as the president of South Africa and President and Mrs. Clinton witnessing the launch of the space shuttle Discovery with astronaut John Glenn. Farmer was promoted to Director of White House Photography in 1999, becoming the first African-American and first woman to hold this position. (Source)

Sharon Farmer encourages aspiring photographers to know that “you should challenge yourself daily. The more you do, the more you know yourself. Knowing yourself is very important. Never turn down a chance to show what you can do, because it’s the littlest things that lead to bigger things.” (Source)

Ms. Farmer’s career spans over 40 years of shooting stories for editorial, political campaigns, portraits and events. Thank you, Sharon Farmer, for giving black women a voice in the White House with your photographic contributions. We salute you.

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