Stella Meghie's romantic drama offers a perspective that's rarely seen on-screen: that of two beautiful, dark-skinned middle-class Black professionals who love each other in a soft, positive manner. In many films with Black actors, the female lead has a lighter complexion; Meghie's choice to cast many actors of a medium-brown to darker complexion is deliberate, and welcome. And there's no trauma, violence, or abuse complicating the warm affection between Mae and Michael -- just genuine, organic human interaction, and it's beautiful to see. What's more, the Black experience isn't presented monolithically in The Photograph, since it weaves together two stories. Viewers see what life is like for two generations of people who've experienced love, both in present-day New York City and in Louisiana in the past (which also ties into a secondary narrative about Black people who migrated North in pursuit of a better life). The movie clearly conveys the importance of archiving the past. Mae's profession as an art curator, Christina's passion for photography, and Michael's journalistic desire to find the truth of a story all lend themselves to the idea of preserving a moment in time.
That said, there are some moments in the film that feel predictable and/or too long and drawn out, and the pacing can be quite slow (though the slower pace also offers viewers space to fully absorb the beauty of two people falling in love). And some of the flashback scenes seem a bit too modern, especially with the styling of Christina's hair. But thanks to Meghie's storytelling skills, the beautiful art showcased within the characters' homes, the serene shots of Southern coastal life, and the interior design of Mae's upscale apartment, the movie is certainly aesthetically pleasing. The chemistry between Rae and Stanfield is natural, and in the form of Michael's brother (Lil Rel Howery) and his wife (Teyonah Parris), we get a lovely depiction of married family life -- and another positive counterstereotype: a wealthy Black family living in Harlem coexisting in harmony with their sweet, precocious kids.