Photographer Interview: Sheila Pree Bright

You can view Sheila Pree Bright's photography online and also see her work in the Connections group show at the Jenkins Johnson gallery.

D&B: Where are you from?
SPB: I'm a daughter of a Vietnam veteran and one of the benefits of being born into a military family was the experience of living abroad and in various American communities. My father was stationed not only in Germany, but also in upstate New York, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas.

Overall, my work is definitely inspired and motivated by my personal explorations and by my experiences as an Army brat. The exposure to various lifestyles, ethnicities and cultures has given me an appreciation for diverse cultural perspectives.

D&B: How did you get started in photography - any "formal" training?
SPB: During my senior year in college I took an elective course in photojournalism. After graduating, I moved to Houston and continued to take photographs. I kept my camera with me all the time. I worked with local professional photographers because I wanted to learn the technical craft of photography.

After a while I landed my first job shooting aerials for Burger King; and then shortly thereafter I wanted to do something a little more creative, so I started photographing local rap artists within the community. Eventually I was hired by Rap-A-Lot Records to photograph the artists on their label, which included Scarface and the Ghetto Boys.

It was after my friend, a local artist named Tierney Malone saw my rap portraits and suggested that I visit nationally acclaimed artist, Dave McGee, that I examined my thoughts about my photographic career. That meeting really helped me to redefine my interest in photography. I discovered a new way to communicate thoughts and ideas about my environment through the medium of photography.

Photography demanded that I interact with my subjects, and helped me to open up; and since I am a naturally shy person it also helped me to feel more comfortable about expressing my thoughts and opinions. In essence the camera became my voice. Photography not only was the beginning of a journey of self realization and expression for me, but it also eventually lead to my path as a visual artist.

I received my MFA in Photography were I learned more about being conceptual than technical. My technical skills came from hanging around older photographers who knew the craft.

D&B: What cameras or techniques do you use?
SPB: Cameras: Mamyia pro 67, Hasselblad HD Digital. I don't have any special camera techniques and it really depends on the concept of the work in what I am trying to achieve visually.

D&B: Who are your mentors (in photography)?
SPB: It was not until graduate school at Georgia State University in Atlanta that I became interested in other photographers. I was drawn to artists such as Richard Avedon, who took bold and glamorized portraits; and Hannah Hoch, a Dada artist, who created photo collages addressing how women were portrayed via the mass media.

I'm also inspired by the work of Roy DeCarava who photographed blacks in the 1950's in New York. His images show an emotional intimacy and poise that you don't always see in photographs of that era.

D&B: Have you experienced any setbacks or different treatment along your photography career that you would attribute to being a woman and/or photographer of color? (this question is optional)
SPB: I just think being in the Art World is really hard to break into... you have to have perseverance and a thick skin! However, the society in which we live today is label conscious. I realize that people will label you whether you like it or not. It's not constructive to get caught up in characterizations and assumptions about who you are, because you'll never progress as a person or an artist. I am who I am and this is the work that I do.

D&B: What do you hope to achieve with your photography?

SPB: What I'm trying to do with my work is change people's perspectives, and perhaps challenge their assumptions, about how they view the world.

D&B: What's your dream photography project?
SPB: I don't have a dream photography project.... My thoughts on projects come to me from what I see in Popular culture.

D&B: What are you shooting now?
SPB: The globalization of Hip-Hop culture.

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