The Glow Up 50 2021: Meet the Innovators of Image

Maiysha Kai
·7 min read

The category is: Image. We hear it over and over again: “Representation matters.” But an ongoing racial reckoning and inventory of the fashion, media and beauty industries (among others) has confirmed what we’ve long known: representation is more than just the image of inclusion. True inclusion means representation at every level—and when it’s there, the image is infinitely more interesting.

No one knows this better than our 10 TGU 50 Image honorees, all of whom are proven innovators in their fields. Whether creating a loving and inclusive visual landscape for all types of Black bodies, ensuring that Black children grow up seeing the beauty in themselves, or ushering in a new era of leadership at one of fashion’s legacy publications, our Image honorees always represent.

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Chioma Nnadi

Eleven years. That’s the length of the journey native Londoner Chioma Nnadi took from fashion writer at Vogue in 2010, fashion news director in 2014, to now one of the few Black editors-in-chief at the legendary entity, leading the team at Starting her career at places such as London’s Evening Standard Magazine, independent style magazine Trace, and Fader, Nnadi’s knowledge, keen eye and steady finger on the pulse of all things style—as well as her steadfast commitment to championing Black talent—have all helped pave the way for her well-deserved come-up.

Visit: Instagram.

Creative Soul Photography

When it comes to the task of creating and promoting representation for little Black children around the country, Regis and Kahran Bethencourt understand the assignment. In fact, with over 10 years of experience, the husband and wife team are so invested in creating glorious imagery that they founded Creative Soul Photography—a creative agency that specializes in lifestyle photography and authentic, visual storytelling. Their work has been featured on various platforms such as the OWN Network, The Real, BET, CNN, Teen Vogue and more. Last year, they published the stunning, best-selling coffee table book Glory: Magical Visions of Black Beauty with photos and essays that seek to shatter conventional beauty standards of Black children.

Visit: Instagram

Joshua Kissi

When photographer, director and Bronx native Joshua Kissi co-created the men’s style blog Street Etiquette with good friend Travis Gumbs back in 2008, he likely never imagined the places it could take him. Fast forward to the present and Street Etiquette has evolved into a creative agency committed to supporting and producing visual content that speaks to both history and culture. When he’s not working in that capacity, Kissi is collaborating with a handful of other creatives through See in Black—a collective of Black photographers who invest in, uplift and build community through and around Black visibility.

Visit: Instagram

Kennedi Carter

She may have taken a high school photography class because she thought it would be an “easy A,” but at only 21 years old, Kennedi Carter became the youngest person to ever photograph a British Vogue cover. The young Beyoncé-stan made history when she was chosen by Queen Bey herself to photograph her December 2020 cover story. Carter expertly captured Beyoncé’s larger-than-life persona and flawlessly delivered. Though she says the opportunity just “feels like it dropped out of the sky,” her talent is clear as day. Outside of the Vogue shoot, Carter’s work captures aspects of the Black experience that are often overlooked, focusing on the sociopolitical and socioeconomic aspects of Black life and how its unique beauty is manifested through skin, hair, clothes while also honing in on trauma, peace, love and community.

Lindsay Peoples Wagner

While the phrase “goals” may be ascribed to any number of achievements, when it comes to Lindsay Peoples Wagner, it’s more than just a cute hashtag—it’s an accurate description of the woman herself. Not only did she secure the coveted position of fashion media intern at Condé Nast (a rigorous process as some industry insiders know), she went on to become editor-in-chief at Teen Vogue—making her the youngest editor-in-chief in the company’s history. Now, Peoples Wagner is back at Vox Media’s The Cut where she now helms that masthead. And when she’s not getting her Black Miranda Priestly on (albeit with far more compassion and charm), she’s running plays with publicist Sandrine Charles at the Black in Fashion Council, an organization she and Charles founded that seeks to represent and secure the advancement of black individuals in the fashion and beauty industry.

Visit: Instagram

Nakeya Brown

Vintage props, vibrant colors and bold statements are hallmarks of Nakeya Brown’s still-life photography. Since appearing on seasons two and four of HBO’s Insecure, Brown’s images have caught the attention of art lovers everywhere, celebrating the beauty of Black womanhood through hair. Brown first got her start in photography in a high school elective class; now, she pulls inspiration from her own childhood photos, imagery from bygone eras and beauty supply stores, where Brown sources wigs and props to help convey her pointed messages. Her work is bathed in nostalgia, with pastel colors intricately woven together to create a compelling yet comforting experience. Her work has been featured in Time, New York magazine, Vice, the New Yorker and Dazed and Confused.

Quil Lemons

After successfully capturing the enigmatic yet alluring essence of pop star Billie Eilish for Vanity Fair, Quil Lemons made history as the youngest photographer to shoot a cover for the magazine, at the ripe age of 23. Originally having aspirations to become a photo editor, Lemons’ sights are now set on creating art that stems from a true place of innovation, imagination and curiosity—without the added weight of political inferences, stances or correctness. (That, and seeing his work in the Whitney or MoMA by 25.) While he’s proven he’s ready and willing to rise to any occasion and challenge, he hopes to one day create a plethora of institutions solely for all-Black creators, artists, and entrepreneurs to showcase and celebrate their contributions.

Visit: Instagram

Shaniqwa Jarvis

As a photographer and artist, Shaniqwa Jarvis embodies creativity. Combining soft and emotional portraiture with a modern fashion aesthetic, she is able to capture her subjects in such a way that speaks to the raw emotion of the subjects and herself. Jarvis co-created Social Studies, a program that brings together brands and artists for community-driven team-building with the goal of empowering and educating underserved youth and helping them foster their creativity. Jarvis’s greatest style inspiration is her late father; in 2020, she honored his bold fashion statements through her debut collaboration with Converse. The ethereal floral collection was inspired by a photo from a family trip to Mexico and pays tribute to her father, stating, “let me just give the man his flowers.”

Simone Oliver

Previously the digital director of Allure magazine, Simone Oliver took over the reigns as global editor-in-chief of Refinery29 last year amid a moment of reckoning for both the outlet and the nation. Having previously worked at the New York Times, Oliver is credited with the rapid advancement of the Times’ digital growth strategy, where she was responsible for creating an innovative online social presence across their various verticals, including Fashion & Styles, Food, and Travel. With over 13 years’ experience across digital and editorial content, Oliver recently partnered with Facebook and Instagram as one of their strategic partner development executives and helped lead a campaign with various lifestyle publications.

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Texas Isaiah (King Isaiah)

In 2012, Texas Isaiah created “Blackness,” a visual project celebrating and highlighting the African diaspora across the spectrum of race, gender, class and sexuality. In 2020, Isaiah became the first trans photographer to photograph an edition of Vogue, as the self-taught visionary was commissioned by British Vogue editor-in-chief Edward Enninful to capture six well-known Black activists for a landmark series of cover stories for the magazine’s September issue, among them one of Isaiah’s personal heroes, Janet Mock. While Isaiah’s achievement was groundbreaking, he was the first to acknowledge it as “bittersweet.” “[Such ‘firsts’] reflect how deep institutional racism and homophobia and ableism goes, and how much it has impacted people’s basic needs and resources and careers,” the 2020–21 artist in residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem told Vogue. “I want to be present in a place that allows more people to come in.”

Want more? Watch our video to see these visionaries in action!

(Video production: Michael Pasquariello; Animations: Heather Hass)