Polly Irungu: Kenyan Woman Makes History As First Photo Editor At The Office Of US Vice President Kamala Harris

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Polly Irungu: Meet Kenyan Woman Serving At The Office Of US Vice President Kamala Harris
Collage of US Vice President Kamala Harris and Black Women Photographers (BWP) founder Polly Irungu. |Courtesy| New York Times / Okay Player|

Polly Irungu is a Kenyan-born US journalist who is the founder of Black Women Photographers, an organisation that showcases the artwork of black women from across the world.

Polly made history on July 29, 2022, when she was appointed the first official photo editor for the office of US Vice President Kamala Harris.

The photojournalist took to social media to celebrate the remarkable achievement, drawing congratulatory messages from public figures and the general public as well.

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“New chapter I’m excited to announce that I’m the first official Photo Editor for the Office of the Vice President to the Biden-Harris Administration. Honored and grateful is an understatement,” she wrote.

Polly boasts an impressive resume in the world of media and has worked at various high profile organizations prior to her appointed to VP Harris’ office. WoK takes a look at her career so far and tremendous contribution towards the empowerment of black women and photojournalists across the world.

Polly Irungu: Meet Kenyan Woman Serving At The Office Of US Vice President Kamala Harris
File image of Black Women Photographers (BWP) founder Polly Irungu. |Courtesy| Okay Player|

Background & Education

She was born in Nairobi, Kenya where she lived with her parents for a few years before immigrating to the US. She has lived in various places in the US including; Topeka – Kansas, Eugene – Oregon, Washington D.C., Little Rock – Arkansas, and Brooklyn – New York.

According to her LinkedIn Profile, Polly attended the University of Oregon between 2012 and 2017 and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism.

Career

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After completing her education, Polly set out to carve out a career for herself in the world of photography, an industry dominated by white men in the US. Opportunities for her were limited and she struggled to establish herself.

For black photographers, opportunities came during social uprisings or the Black History month.

“I didn’t see myself in this industry. I didn’t see other people who look like me being celebrated in the same way as their counterparts. And when it comes down to it, I’m a photographer all 12 months of the year, not just one. So why am I not being hired for other opportunities?” Polly posed during an interview with Capture One.

She sought out to change the narrative and began by reaching out to fellow creatives with an aim of learning their experiences in the industry. She realised that many black creatives were facing similar challenges and this inspired her to take action.

Through her social media, especially Twitter, she gathered photojournalists from across the world and set up a platform to showcase their work.

Polly Irungu: Meet Kenyan Woman Serving At The Office Of US Vice President Kamala Harris
File image of Black Women Photographers (BWP) founder Polly Irungu. |Courtesy| Capture One|

Polly launched Black Women Photographers (BWP) in July 2020 and has steered the organisation to greater heights for the two years its been in operation. The platform boasts a global community of over 1000 active members from over 45 countries around the world.

“Every day, somebody’s posting a new opportunity, a new grant, a new whatever that photographers can apply to. Before, the mindset within the industry was that everything is a competition and that there’s only room for one person. Yet here we are. That kind of feeling, that kind of community is unmatched and that has been one of the most impactful things for me starting this collective.”

She founded BWP with the aim of bringing to an end the notion that it is difficult to discover and commission Black creatives. The platform seeks to ensure that more Black women and non-binary photographers are empowered to succeed in the industry.

“Black Women Photographers is a home for Black women to receive proper recognition, and most importantly, get hired. Dedicated to providing a resource for the industry’s gatekeepers, it supports its members through promoting their work in an active database distributed to photo editors, directors, curators, and art buyers.

“The collective also offers free educational resources such as regular programing of webinars, workshops, trainings, grants, and portfolio reviews,” Polly says on her LinkedIn page.

She hopes to give the black creatives a bigger space in the industry, where they will share their diverse content and chose how they are portrayed.

“Knowing what it’s like to have a story told about you or being seen in a certain way that you didn’t want to be seen, there’s all these different things that we have to deal with just because of the color of skin. Knowing that, I think, helps inform us when we are documenting with our photography. I think we already just move in a more empathetic and different manner because of that.”

Polly Irungu: Meet Kenyan Woman Serving At The Office Of US Vice President Kamala Harris
File image of Black Women Photographers (BWP) founder Polly Irungu. |Courtesy| Twitter|

Between December 2021 and February 2022, Polly was a content creator as social media giants Twitter. She was selected for the first class of Hosts for Twitter’s Spaces Spark Program. For a period of three months between January 2022 and March 2022, she was one of 100 US-based creators accepted into LinkedIn’s first class of creators.

From March and July 2022, she was contracted by WeTransfer as an Assistant Photo Editor.

The photojournalist served as the DEI committee co-chair at the National Press Photographers Association from March 2021 to July 2022.

Polly is also a International Women’s Media Foundation Gwen Infill fellow since April 2022. This initiative is designed to address the lack of diversity in leadership positions across newsrooms in the United States.

She is a teacher at the International Center of Photography, and one of 20 journalism innovators a part of CUNY’s entrepreneurship program this year.

Polly also recently served as a digital editor at New York Public Radio (WNYC). As a self-taught photographer, writer, and founder, Polly’s work has been published in numerous publications, including Adobe’s Create Magazine, The New York Times, Reuters, Global Citizen, NPR, BBC News, MEFeater, Refinery29, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, CNN, and others.

Video Courtesy| B&H Photo Video

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