Five Black Cinematographers You Should Know

(Plus, local talent you should work with)


Ernest Dickerson

Director and cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson is one of the most prolific, yet underrated filmmakers of our time. That's a bold claim. But when Dickerson's credits include frequent Spike Lee collaborations, such as "Do the Right Thing," it's shocking to realize that many filmmakers are familiar with his work, but not his name.

Aside from working on projects that have changed the landscape of Black film, Dickerson has been the cinematographer for musical greats such as Bruce Springsteen, Anita Baker, and Miles Davis.

As a director, he brought us the classic film "Juice" (1992), which starred Tupac Shakur in acting debut. Dickerson has directed episodes for series including "The Wire," "ER," "Weeds," "Dexter," "The Walking Dead," and much more.

Notable works:
She's Gotta Have It (1986)
School Daze (1988)
Eddie Murphy: Raw (1987)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Public Enemy: Fight the Power (1989)
Mo' Better Blues (1990)
Jungle Fever (1991)
Malcolm X (1992)

Bradford Young

Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Bradford Young is the first African American cinematographer to be nominated for an Academy Award for his breathtaking work on "Arrival." But before being awarded for his work on mainstream films, Young steadily gained recognition on the independent circuit with films such as "Pariah," "Mother of George," and "Ain't Them Bodies Saints." All of which won him Cinematography Awards at the Sundance Film Festival.

Even though Young has only a few director credits under his belt, his vision as cinematographer makes him a director to watch out for.

Notable works:
Pariah (2011)
Middle of Nowhere (2012)
Mother of George (2013)
Ain't Them Bodies Saints (2013)

Selma (2014)
A Most Violent Year (2014)

Arrival (2016)

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

When They See Us (2019)
Bradford Young
Kira Kelly

Kira Kelly

There isn't much information on the internet about Kira Kelly. But what is known is that she is exceptional in telling a story through images. Her most recognizable work is Ava Duvernay's "13th," a startling reflection on how the language of the 13th amendment has allowed the U.S. government to maintain the enslavement of Black Americans. The film made Kelly the first Black woman to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography in a Nonfiction Program.

Since then, Kelly has worked primarily in television for series such as "Queen Sugar" and "Insecure." But she credits her work in documentary for making her "a better director of photography for narrative projects."

Notable works:
SEast Los High (2013-2017)
13th (2016)
Queen Sugar (2017)
Self Made: Inspired by the Story of Madame C.J. Walker (2020)
Insecure (2016-)

Arthur Jafa

Arthur Jafa is primarily known as a video artist, with works exhibited and collected by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and more. As a cinematographer, his most famous works include Julie Dash's indie classic "Daughters of the Dust." As well as iconic music videos like Solange's "Don't Touch My Hair" and "Cranes in the Sky."

Notable works:
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Crooklyn (1994)

Solange: Don't Touch My Hair (2016)

Solange: Cranes in the Sky (2016)
Arthur Jafa
Shabier Kirchner

Shabier Kirchner

Shabier Kirchner is another cinematographer who is difficult to find on the internet. But his latest project "Small Axe" - a series of films directed by Steve McQueen - is on the tongue and ear of nearly every filmmaker.  Kirchner learned about cinematography from his father while growing up in Antigua, a country with virtually no film industry. In an interview with Criterion, Kirchner says, "we taught ourselves and there were no rules. We just did it all—shot, directed, edited, worked on the sound—mostly all in-camera. With the absence of commercial expectations, it was just freedom, and those early ideas I had still remain foundations in my approach to storytelling."

Kirchner has a unique eye that truly speaks to the stories of the underdog. With films like "Skate Kitchen" and "Bull" under his belt, Kirchner is a master of creating intimate, yet agile, images of those living on the fringes of the mainstream.

Notable works:
Dadli (2018)
Skate Kitchen (2018)
Bull (2019)
Small Axe (2020)


Looking to work with Black Cinematographers in Chicago?
Here are some we recommend checking out:
(in no particular order)
Check out Black in Film for even more great talent!