When it comes to photography, the roles are reversed.
When it’s the other way around, it’s hard to say.
It’s a subject that is often overlooked.
But in a city like Cleveland, where Black women are the majority of the city’s population and where Black-owned businesses account for almost one-third of the total market, the issue is becoming increasingly more relevant.
As part of a series that has focused on the lives of Black women, The Times has been looking into the lives and career paths of a small group of black women who have taken up the art.
They’re called the “Bartlett Sisters” and they’ve been documenting their own lives and work in the photography industry since the 1970s.
They started their career as models for a local magazine, which eventually folded, but their photography is now part of the fabric of the Cleveland scene.
Their portraits have been published in major publications such as The New York Times and The Atlantic and they are among the first to show up on our streets, in our churches, in public spaces and at weddings.
Their lives have not always been the same as their work.
Their families have had to navigate a world that was sometimes hostile and sometimes even dangerous, said Barbara Bartlett, the sisters’ father, who worked as a photographer before his death in 2015.
“We never had the luxury of not knowing that we had a future,” he said.
“We had to get our shit together and do what we had to do to get through.”
In the late 1980s, Barbara and her sister, Betty, went to New York to attend an art school.
Betty was working as a fashion designer in Manhattan, while Barbara was selling furniture at a local flea market.
They stayed in the same apartment and Betty took over the family business, selling furniture and cleaning supplies.
“It was a huge mistake,” Betty Bartlett said.
She would sometimes get calls from friends in New York asking if she could go to New Orleans for a week.
“I just said no.
We didn’t have enough money.”
When Betty moved to Cleveland, she had her own photography studio, the B-Sens Photography Group, and Betty began working as an assistant.
But her husband died in 1993 and she had to drop out of the business to care for her children, Barbara said.
When Betty returned to the studio in 1998, it was a different story.
She took on the role of photographer, but it was more about documenting her own life and her family’s history.
“That’s when I really felt like I was on my own, like I couldn’t do that,” Betty said.
In 2005, Betty married the first Black man she had ever worked with, Paul Bartlett.
It was a big step forward for her, she said, but she still struggled with the challenges of being Black and the fact that she was a model.
“When you look at me, I’m a model,” she said.
When it comes down to it, the Bartlett Sisters have never taken their photography for granted.
They have had trouble securing funding and often struggle to get noticed.
And their family is a little more guarded.
“My mother would say to me, ‘You’re the most important person in my life,'” Barbara Bartlet said.
“She was the one who was the biggest advocate for me.
I knew she had my back.
I trusted her.”
The Bartlett sisters still work in their small studio, which they call the B.
Sens Studio, and they have been able to keep their own professional life separate from their family’s.
But Barbara said her sister’s story is not unique and that it has become increasingly common for Black women to be photographers, even in the midst of a backlash against Black women’s work.
“It’s not just a black woman, it can be a white woman or a black man,” Barbara said, referring to Black women of color.
Bartlet and Betty are proud of their profession, which is part of what makes their work important. “
What are they doing that’s so authentic?”
Bartlet and Betty are proud of their profession, which is part of what makes their work important.
They know it’s not for everyone and that there are certain types of people who might not be able to take part.
“You can’t put a price on it,” Betty told me.
“But it’s important to have something that people can relate to.”