At Monday night’s Met Gala there were many photographers working the red carpet, but only a handful of special individuals are invited behind the velvet rope and allowed to shoot inside the event. This year Flo Ngala, 27, a lifelong Harlem resident, became the first Black female photographer hired by Vogue to shoot this iconic event.
“It was amazing,” said Ngala on Tuesday morning. “I don’t really have words for it. I’m still digesting it. It was the biggest moment of my career. … For me to be a photographer there and be the first Black woman to actually be commissioned by Vogue for the gala is incredible.”
Her interest in photography began in the eighth grade when her school offered a photography class as part of the art curriculum. She said that impacted the way she looked at things and created images. While still in high school, she photographed her friends’ headshots for $30 a pop. What she considers her first actual professional gig was photographing rapper Gucci Mane in 2016. She is known for photographing celebrities, but has also captured Harlem life and culture.
Her career took another step forward in 2019 when Ngala extensively photographed musical artist Cardi B, including her preparations for and red carpet appearance at the 2019 Met Gala. They worked together just last week. At Monday’s festivities, she shared a moment with Cardi B inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ngala did not seek out the gig. She was contacted by Vogue, but despite their appreciation of her work, they asked her to submit photos that showed she was up to the task. She sent 20 photos of Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and other high-profile personalities to show that she knew how to work around celebrities and was able to get the job done.
“It’s my ability to show that I can create and create under high-pressure circumstances,” said Ngala. “That’s what allowed them to trust me with it.”
Even the photographer had to get into the spirit of the gala, which had the theme “Celebrating in America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” The dress code was “gilded glamour and white tie.” Her mother did her hair and her sister did her makeup. Her dress was by designer Mark Ingram for Harlem Toile.
Ngala estimates that she shot about 3,000 images over the course of about six hours. While these were celebrities, she said what she brings to the photographs is seeing the humanness in people, which allows her to be a better photographer. She shot images such as Naomi Campbell, Billie Eilish, Jared Leto and even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I’m excited, of course, to see artists and entertainers, but ultimately I’m there to do a job and do it well,” she said. “I wanted to deliver on the photos. Also, because it was such an iconic moment for me, I wanted to have the presentation that was an embodiment of how I am and what comes with what I do, which is make people look beautiful.”
She saw that people were really excited to see each other, which is understandable after two years of the pandemic—that energy fueled many of the attendees.
“I have so many words and no words,” said Ngala about her experience. “I want the work to speak for itself. It’s important for people to understand that this happened, but from a photographic and artistic standpoint, I’m excited for people to see the composition of the photos and the images I captured.”