Chip Thomas artwork
Chip Thomas artwork

Iris Dawn Parker

Artist Biography

For more than 2 decades Iris Dawn Parker has worked as a photographer and arts educator.  Iris was born in North Carolina (USA) and now lives in Johannesburg, South Africa where she works as a photographer and is mentor and advisor to several emerging South African photographers.  Her work as an artist and as a teacher and mentor to youth explores issues of culture, identity formation, gender, family and community.

Since moving to South Africa, she has been active as a volunteer with Meals On Wheels, SA, and the Rivers Foundation volunteering with projects in communities such as Alexandra Township and Soweto.  Most recently in 2014 Iris visited the U.S. and completed an eight University and College Visiting Fellows tour.  While in the states she exhibited, conducted student workshops and public presentations about her most recent bodies of works.

During 2012-2013, Iris was active as program manager for a photojournalism and documentary photography program under the Market Theatre Foundation.  Currently she works as an independent artist/ photographer and consultant for photography and arts education projects and programs for institutions such as University of Pretoria, the University of Witwatersrand, the Africa Gender Institute at University of Cape Town and the Human Science and Research Council at Rhodes University.  In 2010 she was curator of an exhibition by celebrated photojournalist, Peter Magubane, entitled: Mandela: Man of the People, at Primitive Gallery in Chicago, Illinois.

Iris continues to work on her photo series and has published a photography book titled, “Quotidian life: the importance of small things”, an ongoing series of portraits and stories reflecting everyday life in contemporary South Africa.

Additionally, she is completing a multimedia installation titled WeaveWoven: notions of beauty in a colonized head, in which she uses photography, sculpture and other media to explore subjects of societal interest such as image, identity formation and displacement through a personal and provocative lens.

Artist’s Statement

My aesthetic is quite simple: in my images I seek to show the dignity and humility of each subject; I enjoy creating images that empower the people in the photograph.

My photographs are very private and public to me at the same time.

Often my camera is a tool of introduction to places, people and spaces and my portraits are  of people with whom I have shared some personal experience or a desire to do so.

Years ago, when I decided that I wanted to be a photographer, I committed myself to creating images and documenting the lives of peoples of African descent.

This passion is fueled and influenced by a personal need to see put forth more positive images of daily life among black people.  A counter visual.

Images that have not always been true representations of black life have been produced and re-recorded around the world since the inception of photography.

As a photographer, I feel challenged not to change such images, they exist.

However I wish to create counter, true images that reflect such beautiful people, and to also change the face of the individuals behind the camera creating and documenting.

I enjoy photographing with my camera as perhaps a dancer would enjoy choreographing movement.  Seeing through a lens is as integral to my life as seeing with my naked eye. I do consider this as an absolute gift in which I’m grateful.

Iris Dawn Parker

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