British photographer Misan Harriman captured the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement in London with his camera and made history as the first black male photographer to shoot the prestigious British Vogue magazine’s September issue. Harriman shares his journey as a photographer in an episode of the AAFCA Podcast.
Harriman, a self-taught photographer, picked up the camera only a few years ago, but says he’s been preparing for his new profession his entire life.
“I think my eyes started training itself unbeknown to me from the moment I drew birth,” says Harriman. “Although the instrument that has allowed me to become a decent photographer only found me a few years ago, my eye has been observing for all of my natural life.”
Since picking up the camera, Harriman has photographed some of the world’s most influential and notable people including Tom Cruise, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cate Blanchett, and the royal family including the exclusive photos of Harry and Meghan’s pregnancy. His images have graced the pages of British GQ and Harper’s Bazaar to name a few, but people around the world also know his talent after the photos from the Black Lives Matter protest in London went viral. Harriman describes what motivated him to shoot the movement as almost therapeutic after watching the footage of George Floyd’s death.
“I just sat there and again I looked at my wife and I said, ‘I don’t know what to do. I feel helpless you know, I’m tired the weight is too much!’ She said, ‘Look to your camera, look to your camera.’ I turned up at Hyde Park there were like a few people […] and then I started snapping it was fun just like I normally do. An hour later there were 3,000 people there of which say 80 percent of them look like me and I realize that I’m going to be facing my own trauma for the first time.”
His captivating images caught the attention of British Vogue Editor-In-Chief, Edward Enninful, who commissioned Harriman to photograph the prestigious September edition of the magazine. Harriman remembers being nervous and overwhelmed after the call with the Vogue team but says Enninful was a source of encouragement.
“Edward said to me, ‘Mison, I trust you – and just do you,’” Harriman says. “That’s the other thing about power and influence is that you know as the editor-in-chief you are the most powerful man – of any color in the fashion industry, you can wield power in many ways. He (Enninful) empowers you, he empowered me to believe in myself. So I went in to order the shoots knowing that it was okay to shoot it the way that I felt was right.”
“Most of the people that I met were like, ‘Ah, you’re the guy that turns up without any big lighting and all sorts of things.[…] We spent half the time talking. I can have a shoot that there could be two hours long and I only actually take photographs for half an hour because the first part of taking your photographs is to connect with the other human being who you’re sharing that moment with. I did a lot of listening to the subjects, and then with their grace they allowed me to capture their truth, so that is what you see in that magazine that is awesome.”
Aside from his photography, Harriman runs What We Seee, a digital platform that provides what he describes as “Cultural Nutrition.”
“We talk about eating your fruit and vegetables – your daily five, but because the (digital) algorithms are pushing all sorts of awful things on the social media pages all hurting the mental health of all our children and adults together. So I wanted to build the safe place where you could always jump on the website, on Instagram, or Facebook and you would always see something that was good for your soul it may be hard to listen to or watch sometimes – it isn’t just fun stuff that we celebrate, but it will be good for you to see it.”