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Black Gold: A photographer offers inspiration to Black youth

VU hosts Cameron Peagler's photo series centering around the Black experience in Japan

A photo of Matthew Jordan Smith, artist Cameron Peagler’s mentor, in Western Washington University’s Viking Union Gallery on Oct. 31, 2023. Smith is a renowned photographer and was featured in Peagler’s Black Gold project. // Photo by Neisha Gaskins

Black Gold is a series of photos and interviews created by Cameron Peagler to bring publicity to Black artists’ stories and promote study abroad opportunities for youth. Peagler teaches English in Japan while working as a photographer. 

His photos consist of various portraits of talented individuals in Japan. From musicians to engineers to content creators, each set of photos brings viewers closer to the person photographed. With the help of Peagler’s artistic vision and the model’s own uniqueness, Black Gold is able to illustrate Black folks and their experiences while living abroad.

“Black Gold is to inspire youth to study abroad, but it’s also to connect our communities and bring them stronger together,” Peagler said. “They’re not just photos, they’re also interviews. I could really show who’s living in Japan and who they really are and create this indirect cultural exchange opportunity.”

Cameron Peagler was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. He was in high school when he invested in his first camera, quitting photography soon after because he felt like he wasn’t talented enough to pursue it. 

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in nursing, Peagler decided that he wanted to take an opportunity to live abroad. Quitting his nursing job, Peagler became a diplomat and moved to Japan with the help of the Gilman Scholarship, a U.S. government grant for underprivileged youth to study outside of the country. 

After two years of living in Japan, he no longer wanted to be a diplomat and decided to pick up his camera once again. Peagler said that while he wanted to pursue his passion for photography, he also wanted to continue to advocate for Black youth. When he became a diplomat, he understood the importance of discovering the world and of creating opportunities for students of color to do the same. This lesson later translated into his artwork.

In an attempt to share his work with the world, Peagler applied for a grant that gives people of color an opportunity to showcase an underrepresented community. After pitching the idea to represent the Black community living in Japan through portraits, the grant shut Peagler down. 

Peagler said that he was initially heartbroken, but remained passionate and determined to tell the stories of the Black community living abroad. This is how Black Gold was born. 

Ebony Bowens, also known as ebunnybee, is a Twitch streamer and performer based in Japan. She was one of Peagler’s interviewees for the project. 

“Sometimes there are these barriers that prevent us from truly learning about ourselves. Social expectations, institutionalized racism, they don’t allow us to fully learn about ourselves in general,” Peagler said. “[Bowens] was able to discover who she was as a woman by being able to live in Japan. In America, being a Black woman, she felt that she had to be a certain way.”

Kaia Lane, a fifth-year student at Western Washington University and peer advisor at the Education Abroad Office discovered Black Gold through a listing on the Gilman Alumni Network. The network is a site for Gilman Scholars to find and associate themselves with others who have received the scholarship. 

With their previous experience working in the arts field, Lane thought that Black Gold would be a prime opportunity to get more experience. Lane is a student member of the International Education Week Planning Committee and pitched the idea to host Peagler’s work.

“Once I got confirmation from the [Viking Union Gallery], the director and I started planning what I wanted as the proxy for Black Gold and Cameron at Western,” Lane said. 

Art comes in a variety of forms. Each form has an opportunity to bring communities together, a goal for many creators, including Peagler.

Brian Sloss, an audio engineer and pianist, works in sound production and effects. Sloss has worked alongside multiple creators and corporations, such as Amazon and Nike. He described art as a human expression that gives definition to things that lack understanding. 

“I think art is massively important for humanity because it’s one of the few things that takes the light off of despair and shines it on abundance, community, gratitude and health,” Sloss said. 

Before pursuing photography, Peagler said it’s worth it to ask why someone wants to be a photographer in the first place. 

“In my early career, there were a lot of times I wanted to quit," Peagler said, "My work was terrible, it wasn’t getting any recognition. Make sure it’s what you really want to do. Don’t do it because you think it’s going to bring you clout.”

Both Peagler and Lane said traveling abroad allows students to broaden their perspectives and learn more about different cultures.

“There are a lot of negative narratives and stereotypes of people in other countries that we subconsciously absorb, which can contribute to the idea that traveling abroad, and especially living abroad, is scary,” Lane said. “But immersing yourself in that country and culture while living abroad widens that worldview and demystifies the narratives that we learn while living in the US.”

Peagler will be speaking at a reception for Black Gold on Nov. 16 at 5 p.m. in the VU Gallery. The gallery will be available until Nov. 30, open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Peagler’s current project is the Ice Candy Project, which highlights Japanese women and their style by using informal interviews and fashion photography.

Stay up to date with Peagler and his upcoming projects on his website and Instagram.

Neisha Gaskins

Neisha Gaskins (she/her) is a campus life reporter for The Front. She is a second-year student studying environmental journalism. When she isn’t writing, Neisha spends her time reading, making jewelry and sorting her recycling. You can reach her at

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