[photo by Endia Beal via NYT Lens]


The internal clash between and individual identity and conformity is a conflict any self-serving young person will have experience fighting, especially during the quest for employment. But what happens when navigating the battlefield has less to do with personal preference and more to do with physical existence? Photographer Endia Beal explores this dilemma with her photo series, "Am I What You're Looking For?", which focuses on young black women transitioning from an academic setting to corporate America. 

Influenced by Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee, who used breathtaking backdrops of Parisian villas juxtaposed with the uptown streets of Harlem, Beal decided to place a backdrop of an office hallway from the I.T department at Yale (where she interned as a graduate student) in each of her subjects' homes. The young women, most of them between the ages of 18-22 and students at Winston-Salem State University where Beal is an associate professor of photography, were asked to dress in their ideal business professional ensemble, and act as if they were preparing to have a job interview. 

The series contributes to a larger conversation about black women feeling comfortable within corporate environments unaccustomed to diverse images of minorities. Beal forces subjects to confront "knowing that what you look like may not necessarily fit the ideal choice," addressing race/gender-appearance discrimination within the workplace, a problem especially apparent with many black women today rocking their natural locs and curly fros. Unfortunately, many of these women are being advised to alter their appearance to be less "distracting."

"It's everything [not just your hair]. It's from they way you talk, it's what you have on. You almost have to mute yourself to fit into this space," Beal explains in an interview with The New York Times blog Lens. The variety of feelings, ranging from confidence to uncertainly, captured on camera questions a young black woman's contemplation on how much of herself she is willing to give up in order to be successful in a culture predominately dominated by white men. 

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