Profile and photograph by Michael C. Butz

Years 23 • Lives South Euclid • Creates Cleveland • Degrees BFA in photography from Cleveland Institute of Art

Amber N. Ford wants to correct the narrative. Two of her most prominent photography projects thus far, “In Between” and “By Force & By Choice,” have gained notice throughout Northeast Ohio for the way in which they challenge head-on mainstream media depictions of people of color.

“In Between,” which stemmed from her BFA work at the Cleveland Institute of Art, is a powerful collection of images that portrays African-American men as themselves, wearing what they’d wear on a typical day in a space comfortable to them. The works seek to widen the narrow scope through which black men are characterized – often only as criminals or victims – in the news.

Similarly, “By Force & By Choice” invites viewers into the homes of refugees and immigrants – in kitchens, on couches, at doorsteps – portraying them as the neighbors and community members they are. The photographs serve to dispel notions one might construct if his or her only exposure to immigrants and refugees comes from news coverage.

At a time when instances of racism are on the rise and inequalities must be confronted, Ford’s work is vitally important.

“I want people – when they see my artwork or read my artist statement or have a conversation with me – I want them to, after that, think about these interactions they have with people, or these preconceived notions they have of people,” she says.

Byline: Artwork courtesy of the artist. “Braid Out” (2018), one of her photos that explore hair culture.

“Braid Out” (2018), one of her photos that explore hair culture. Artwork courtesy of the artist.

“I don’t really want to just be making pretty pictures. I want to make thought-provoking work, and work to start conversation – and not just conversation, but for people to want to do something about situations they’re passionate about or things that are going on in Cleveland.”

“By Force & By Choice” accomplished just that. When it debuted in April 2017 at the former ZAINA Gallery at 78th Street Studios, the show included a fundraiser for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. When the show moved to The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood that
September, several congregants who saw it started volunteering at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Thomas Jefferson International Newcomers Academy, Ford says.

“It’s nice to have a platform to use my art to be able to say something, and then see someone else be inspired by what I’m saying or be interested in what I’m saying and then take that further,” she says.

Ford’s work has been in high demand. It’s been on view at places like Heights Arts in Cleveland Heights, Zygote Press in Cleveland and the Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike.

Further, she was recognized in 2017 with an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and recently, “Insufficient Ink,” a wall-sized collection of silkscreen images of a young African-American man that provided further commentary on media portrayals specific to print, was added to Dalad Group’s permanent collection at Worthington Yards in downtown Cleveland.

Byline: Artwork courtesy of the artist. “Sister Sister” (2017) from “By Force & By Choice.”

“Sister Sister” (2017) from “By Force & By Choice.” Artwork courtesy of the artist.

Ford is now seeking to expand on her work, both technically and in terms of her subject matter. In a recent series of photographs, she experimented with how she posed her subjects and shifted her focus to hair culture. Those works were on view in January as part of a group show, “Beau•ty,” at PopEye Gallery at 78th Street Studios.

“I’m interested in hair culture – the number of products that are advertised to us and how we just buy into this advertising because someone says you have to have this but there’s a million different companies that are all saying the same things. Now you have 10 shampoos, and it’s like, why?” she says. “How can I explore that topic, whether it’s through photographs, whether it’s video or using the scanner as my camera? I’m trying to branch out a little bit and show people some different stuff.”

Regarding the positive response her art has received, Ford says she’s felt “overwhelmed, but in a good way.”

“If you would’ve asked me four years ago, what would I be doing now and what would I be talking about, I would’ve never guessed this is what I’d be doing,” she admits. “I feel like everything has been very unexpected, but it’s been nice. People have been super-generous, whether it’s been introducing me to people or giving me the opportunity to show in their spaces or buying work or letting me take their photograph.” CV

Lead image: Amber N. Ford in her Cleveland studio.

Arnold, Anna

“The first time I became aware of Amber Ford was in a picture in a local magazine. What struck me the most was her quiet confidence and determination. She wasn’t smiling and was not looking into the camera. She didn’t appear to be concerned at all what you think of her or who she should be. … Amber is already making iconic images. She has a brilliant way of capturing the beauty and resilience of the human spirit.”

– Anna Arnold, director, Florence O’Donnell Wasmer Gallery at Ursuline College | Photo by Rosaria Perna


Amber N. Ford will be in a show with Juliette Thimmig from May 18 to June 15 at Cleveland West Art League at 78th Street Studios, 1305 W. 80th St., Suite 110, Cleveland. An opening reception will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. May 18.

“Wonder: Alternative Processes and Photo-Based Prints,” featuring work from Amber N. Ford, Tatana Kellner, Yana Mikho-Misho and Bellamy Printz, will be on view from Oct. 19 to Nov. 21 at the Morgan Conservatory, 1754 E. 47th St., Cleveland. An opening reception will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 19.