Profile: Coreen Simpson (1942-)

Coreen Simpson is a noted African-American photographer and jewelry designer, whose work has an African-American theme.

Early life and education

Simpson was born in Brooklyn and was raised along with her brother by a foster family in Brooklyn. She completed Samuel J. Tilden High School in Brooklyn. She took courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons School of Design, and studied with Frank Stewart, Studio Museum in Harlem in 1977.


Simpson’s career launched when she became the editor for Unique New York magazine in 1980, and she began photographing to illustrate her articles She then became a freelance fashion photographer for the Village Voice and the Amsterdam News in the early 1980s, and covered many African-American cultural and political events in the mid-1980s. She is also noted for her studies of Harlem nightlife. She constructed a portable studio and brought it to clubs in downtown Manhattan, barbershops in Harlem, and braiding salons in Queens. Her work’s ability to present a wide variety of subjects with “depth of character and dignity” has been compared to that of Diane Arbus and Weegee.

The Black Cameo

In addition to her photography, Simpson also designed jewelry. Her most notable jewelry collection is known as The Black Cameo (1990). The collection reintroduces the ancient tradition of cameos, but features portraits of black women. The portraits show the great variety of features of black women. Simpson’s goal was that every black woman would be able to identify with the portraits within her cameo jewelry. Customers of the Black Cameo collection included Ruby Dee and Oprah Winfrey.

Simpson and Avon Products entered a joint venture in 1993 and created the Coreen Simpson Regal Beauty Collection, a budget line of designs that included a moderately-priced African American cameo.

Simpson resides in New York City.

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