A Black Actress is a series of stunning portraits by photographer Shonay Shote.

These images recognise the talented and diverse young creatives boosting black female representation in the arts and challenging perceptions of race, gender and identity in theatre, television and film.

TBB Talks spoke to Shonay about the importance of this project …

Introduce yourself…

I am a London based Fashion & Beauty Photographer, with over 10 years’ experience in the arts and media, working in online and print.

Your project A Black Actress is your intention to showcase the beauty of black women actresses, tell us more …

A Black Actress
is a series of stunning portraits in which the images recognise the talented and diverse young creatives boosting black female representation in the arts and challenging perceptions of race, gender and identity in theatre television and film. A Black Actress responds to a need for more positive representations of black women.

Why rising black actresses? What is it about this group of women that you feel is being overlooked?

As a young black British woman myself, I’m passionate about making our existing role models more visible for the next generation of young women- you can’t be what you can’t see. I feel we don’t really celebrate our talent here till they find success elsewhere, and I think it is important to acknowledge the work that they are doing now. The aim of A Black Actress is to recognise the achievements of young black British women because we’re not celebrated in this way- and we don’t cheer ourselves on enough either.

What inspired this project and why did you decide to crowdfund to finance it?

In Britain, we don’t have a culture of shouting about our achievements. When you see race issues in the media, the headlines are often negative. A Black Actress is about giving space to let us celebrate, crowdfunding means we can cover the costs of holding the exhibition as well as raise awareness for the show itself.

The images we’ve seen so far are beautifully shot and indeed capture the beauty of the actresses you’ve chosen, what inspired the visuals and style of this particular exhibition-and how did you choose/find your subjects?

I approached the actresses who collaborated on the project based on the diversity of their work on television, theatre and film and their desire to send an empowering message to younger women of colour. Part of being celebrated is been given the chance to go on photo shoots and given the Hollywood treatment. I was very much informed by styles seen in Vanity Fair and the Hollywood Reporter, I wanted the images to have a sense of timeless glamour whilst hinting at the moderns of the subjects.

Did you give the actresses a brief- how did you get them to give in to the moment so you could get the best picture you needed?

I feel my team and I created a sense of fun and sisterhood during the shoot that made the actresses feel welcome and part of the process. I was keen to have them involved in their own styling to make it feel like the images were really theirs as well as mine. The photos capture a range of moods and emotions, with shots ranging from joyful, defiant poses to serene depictions of Black womanhood.

Is there a photo series/ photographer in general that has inspired your career as a photographer? Do you have a definitive style?

I would say my style is really about capturing the nature of people, so visually I play with different aesthetics, though I love the fantasy of Tim Walker, and resonate with the ideas of identity that Maxine Walker explores.

Who are some of your favourite black photographers?

Contemporary photographers that I admire are Phillip Raheem and more recently Florence Akano, very different in style and content, but both inspire from a creative and technical standpoint.

Three things you’d like to change about the world?

More opportunities for Black female photographers. More opportunities for Black women in general. The space for Black women to fail or succeed, and have our humanity respected and celebrated.

What other projects are working on?

This is my life right now! But I intend to expand it to include other Black women in different sectors. The more we see ourselves the more we can be free to be ourselves.

How can we keep up to date with A Black Actress and what’s next for you?

I am on Instagram & Twitter: @a_black_actress though you can follow my other work @shotbyshonay. Next is getting this exhibition done and building it further!


Deadline to contribute to the A Black Actress campaign is Tuesday, June 5th 2019. Find out how you can support here.

The campaign features Lolly Adefope, Joan Iyiola, Jade Anouka, Jennifer Saayeng, Amara Okereke, Vanessa Vanderpuye, Susan Wokoma, Gemma Knight Jones, Tamara Lawrance, Ashley Bannerman, Faith Alabi, and TBB’s writer Adele Oni