Photo Essay Analysis

"Phenomenal Women" by Bill Knight

The Photo Essay “Phenomenal Women”, by photographer Bill Knight, is a series of black and white portraits that feature UK, black, female, professors. The photos all have high contrast and fantastic lighting landscapes. The foregrounds are bright and highlight the subjects’ faces with bright whites and dark blacks. The backgrounds are darker with little contrast. The portraits feature the women doing their jobs or feature them surrounded by items or scenery that indicate their jobs. For example, Professor Gloria Agyemang is the head of School of Management at Royal Holloway University of London. The photo is of her looking up and smiling toward the camera, while a meeting proceeds around her. The portraits are not studio shots, but not candid. It is almost as if the photographer walked in as the women were working and asked them to stop for a few seconds and smile. They are in-the-moment, yet isolated instances of someone looking up and coming out of the work that they were so buried in one second before. Something that I wondered while looking at this series is why Bill Knight chose to do this. What was his connection to the topic? After looking into it, I found that he was photographing for Dr Nicola Rollock who researched and curated the series. According to the BBC, “She has been examining the career experiences and strategies of black female professors at UK higher education establishments over the past three years. The exhibition aims to highlight the presence and excellence of all the women included, and provide a platform for debate about what it takes to reach this highest level of academic scholarship.” I loved the style of this essay. I love the fact that it gives minority women the spotlight. That is also reflected in the choice to make the photos black and white. The lack of color takes away distraction to make the viewer focus on the subject. We get to focus on people who had to overcome two major barriers in their path to reaching professional, academic success and see them at their peak. 

You can view the essay on both the BBC and The Guardian websites: