Yvonne Kemp Day: Pioneering female photojournalist celebrated for her years of documenting Milwaukee
Mayor Cavalier Johnson held a press conference on August 29 in his office at City Hall, describing it a joyous occasion, to honor Milwaukee’s esteemed photojournalist Yvonne Kemp.
With an official Proclamation, the City of Milwaukee recognized August 29, 2022 as Yvonne Kemp Day. Friends, family, community members, and professional colleagues gathered in celebration of Kemp, and her life’s work.
“She has maintained an attitude of dedication, hard work, and patience, constantly overcoming challenges with professionalism and quality service, which is why she is among Milwaukee’s most prominent artists,” said Mayor Johnson as he read from the Proclamation.
Raised in Milwaukee, Kemp would graduate from North Division High School and, after college, go on to have a successful career as an account that spanned over thirty years.
But it was her brother, well-known photojournalist Harry Kemp, who inspired her to leave that vocation behind and pick up a camera. She worked as his photo assistant in the field for years, until his unexpected death in 2011.
Kemp would go on to take over his photography business, with such notable media clients as the Milwaukee Community Journal and Milwaukee Times. She became the first African American female photographer for the Milwaukee Brewers. That distinction also carries with it the extra honor of being the oldest African American female photographer for a Major League Baseball organization.
“When my brother Harry passed, I asked his boss with the Brewers if I could step in. Tyler Barnes said ‘great, no problem,’ and I have been there ever since. I am at every home game, so I highlight the hard work that our Milwaukee Brewers do,” said Kemp. “I am walking in my brother’s big shoes, and I promised him that I would carry on as long as I can.”
It is a general stereotype that many photographers prefer to be behind the camera instead of in front of them. Kemp acknowledged her own small level of discomfort during the press conference, being the focus of all the attention. It followed a special birthday event held at the Wisconsin African-American Women’s Center for Kemp on August 21.
“She is a fixture in Milwaukee media,” Mayor Johnson later commented in a social media post. “In fact, today is the first time I’ve seen her without a camera in her hand!”
Over her career as a photojournalism, following in her brother’s footsteps, Kemp has been recognized for her coverage of sports, presidential visits, and community events.
“When the public sees Yvonne covering an event, they know that they are at the right place. It is an event they should be at. If there is something important happening in Milwaukee, she is always there on the frontlines,” said Lее Mаtz, senior photojournalist for Milwaukee Independent. “She is an amazing and uplifting part of the community, and she has spent her life documenting parts of Milwaukee that are often overlooked.”
Mаtz described her as kind and gentle, but also not afraid to jump into a media scuffle to get her shots. He said as more people understand all that she has accomplished, she would remain a role model for generations to come.
It was also Kemp who introduced Mаtz to Milwaukee’s Black Cowboys, and brought him along to cover a Brew City Cowboy event in June 2021.
“Knowing Yvonne, and hearing her stories about Harry, I am always inspired to live up to that standard and tradition of capturing treasured moments in time with images,” added Mаtz.
Among her many previous honors, Kemp was recognized for the 50th anniversary of Juneteenth Day in 2021, being among 17 others who were featured during a special “History and Heritage Meets Legacy and Promise” program.
“We are proud of you, Yvonne, a 2015 Black Excellence Award recipient, for being a true trailblazer for Black girls and women to pursue their dreams,” said Carmen Murguia, a friend and award-winning local poet. “You’re a talented and naturally gifted photojournalist who exemplifies passion, integrity, and honor for capturing the essence of Milwaukee’s Black community.”