Photographer Myrina ‘Renaissance’ Otey-Myton tells the stories of unsung Black women

Myrina "Renaissance" Otey-Myton

Myrina “Renaissance” Otey-Myton produces an annual project, Her Eminent Reign (H.E.R.), that highlights women of color whose achievements may be less known. (Photo courtesy of Myrina Otey-Myton)

In a picture by photographer Myrina “Renaissance” Otey-Myton, a model, clothed in white and gold, sits self-assuredly on the ledge of a vivid red bathtub with matching wall tiles. Her gaze is arresting, emanating confidence and poise.

The photo, recreated from a 1940s image of Black Fashion Museum founder Lois K. Alexander Lane, is powerful and immediate but recalls history. It is part of a women-led visual project Otey-Myton started in 2018 as a business student at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. The annual project, Her Eminent Reign (H.E.R.), highlights women of color like Lane whose achievements may be less known.

Through her photography, Otey-Myton not only wants to highlight women who have come before, but address stereotypes in images of Black women on social media, which she finds generally hypersexualizing.

“There is so much more to women of color,” Otey-Myton says. “I had to change this narrative.”

The H.E.R. project has blossomed since inception, with the latest series featured at the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. But success hasn’t been a straight line for Otey-Myton, who recalls her undergraduate experience at UMSL as not without struggle, including having to send her children to stay with their father so she could finish school. “It was the ultimate sacrifice for me,” Otey-Myton says.

While at UMSL fulfilling her longtime dream of getting her degree, Otey-Myton also started her photography company, TJS Photography by Renaissance TJS. She quickly found being a full-time student while also starting her entrepreneurial journey was a challenge.

“I was broke-on-broke, and the struggle was real,” she says.

However, she found life-changing support at the university.

“Because of what UMSL did for me,” Otey-Myton says, recounting the assistance of UMSL staff members who helped her find campus lodging when she needed it or food when times were lean, “I have so much pride in being a Triton.”

As a student at UMSL, Otey-Myton seized opportunities. She applied for scholarships widely, getting many, and served as president of the Black Business Student Association and treasurer of the Student Government Association. The skills and experiences she had along the way helped Otey-Myton mold her approach to business and art.

Otey-Myton likens her shoots to photo-therapy sessions, describing the high-touch service she provides, including not only hair, makeup and set design, but also intimate conversations and lasting memories.

“We have a team of Black women to lift you up, empower you, make you feel beautiful,” Otey-Myton says.

After delivering a lecture at TEDx St. Louis this October, Otey-Myton is hard at work preparing next year’s H.E.R. series, which will have a female warrior theme. Some of her photos will be on display inside St. Louis Lambert International Airport starting in 2023, and she is launching a tech company, MWANZO, that will leverage the power of blockchain by bridging NFTs with travel and tourism for the city of St. Louis.

It certainly hasn’t been easy, but Otey-Myton credits the people around her for her success. Her advice to struggling students is not to correlate their bank accounts with their worth.

“When you have people and resources,” she says, “you are never broke.”

This story was originally published in the fall 2022 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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