Louis Draper was born in Virginia in 1935 and moved to Harlem, New York in 1957 where he enrolled at the New York Institute of Photography, studying under W. Eugene Smith. He worked between Harlem and New Jersey, where Draper taught at Mercer County Community College from 1982 to the end of his life in 2002. In 1960 Draper founded The Kamoinge Workshop with Ray Francis. Kamoinge, translating to “group effort” from the language of the Kikuyu people of Kenya, grew to include fellow artists Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Danny Dawson, Al Fennar, Herman Howard, Earl James, Jimmy Mannas, Herbert Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Larry Stewart, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Of his own photographs, Draper wrote: “I want to show the strength, the wisdom, the dignity of the Negro people ... I do not want a documentary or sociological statement, I want a creative expression, the kind of penetrating insight and understanding of Negros which I believe only a Negro photographer can interpret.”
Draper's work is currently included in Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop at The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. This exhibition was orgranized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in 2019, and will travel to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and Cincinnati Art Museum.
During his lifetime Draper had solo exhibitions at Image Gallery, New York and The Photo Workshop Center for Photography, New Jersey. Work from the Kamoinge Workshop has been exhibited at the International Center of Photography, New York; George Eastman House, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The New York Public Library, and Harvard University among other institutions. Draper’s work is held in several public collections, including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; George Eastman House, New York; Afro-American Museum of Art and Culture, Chicago; and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, New York.