In today’s social climate, it’s hard to find a moment of beauty within the chaos erupting in our own communities. Despite the odds, 19-year-old Photographer Shannah Greene from Baldwin creates her own moments of beauty and uses her talent behind the camera to share them with all those who look her way. Greene, a young Black woman in a predominantly white industry, sat down with Shades of Long Island to discuss some aspects of her burgeoning career and her plans for her future of photography.
How did you get into photography?
It first started off when I was younger, I used to love being in front of the camera. I’m not sure when that changed because nowadays I hate being in front of the camera. I remember being 8-years-old, stealing my moms flip phone and taking pictures of my Bratz. My godmother actually got me my first camera — granted, it was one of those kid-friendly ones, but it took real pictures. Since then I would take pictures of everything, my parents started to notice how serious I was about photography and they got me my first real camera. Once I got into high school, I took my first photography class. It was a film class — to this day film photography is still my favorite. It’s just an art that I’ve always been drawn to, and the more I learned about it through school and through personal experience, the more I fell in love with it.
Do you have any inspirations in the field?
Tim Caver is definitely a big inspiration of mine. He’s a photographer based in Atlanta and he gets to photograph celebrities and stuff. I actually got to talk to him, which was crazy. I DMed him on Instagram and sent him some of my work — not expecting anything, but curious about what the chances were of him responding. And he did! He gave me some feedback on my work — it was incredible.
What does the creative process look like for you?
I’m mostly a studio photographer. Being a studio photographer, you can alter your set, make up your own world and be as creative as you want. You can play with the backdrop, the lighting and the editing. You can make the picture be whatever you want it to be. Personally, I do all of my own work. I do the lighting, I pick my theme and my model and what mood or message they’re going to portray. I do all of my own editing and pick out my angles. Whenever I get an idea, I put it in my notes and kind of write it out. Then I try to find people who fit my idea. What I mean by this is I don’t ever want someone to not feel like themself on my shoot. They’re going to be uncomfortable and awkward and I won’t get the shot I need. I make sure my shoot matches their energy and vice versa; that is how you get the perfect shots.
What were some struggles you’ve experienced trying to pursue your passion?
What was really discouraging was not being able to attend a four-year college. I had been accepted to SUNY Purchase and I had been so excited to be able to study photography in such a creative environment with like-minded people. I had gone to the college to visit and was even looking for roommates — but at the end of the day, the money wasn’t there and I had to stay home. The COVID situation was when I really hit a wall though — I have my own business and suddenly I didn’t have any clients or models. I didn’t have a job, everything felt like it was moving really slow and I just felt like, maybe photography wasn’t the route I should be taking. I wasn’t able to go to my school of choice, and then my business was sinking — I felt like I would be wasting my time if I continued to pursue photography. I just felt completely lost. I remember messaging my photography professor at my community college, asking him for advice, and he told me that I should look around for internships so I wouldn’t feel so stagnant. And I winded up getting one and it really helped pull me through that rough patch.
What is it like being a Black woman in this industry?
Being a Black woman is hard in any job or field that you go in because not only are you Black… but you’re a woman too. We are so under appreciated in society and so overlooked that it makes it hard to stand out in any professional or creative field. As for the photography field, I feel like we [Black women] don’t get credit where credit is due. Like I could take the same exact picture as somebody who is white, or even a better picture than somebody who is white, and not receive the same feedback. I have a job with a photo company right now where we go and take school photos for nursery-age kids, and I feel a lot of microaggressions from the teachers and staff I work with. They’ll come up to me after I’ve taken their picture and make comments about how they look in the photo as though I didn’t take a good picture of them. But they leave my white co-workers alone. If I need assistance with one of the babies I’m photographing, I don’t really receive it. But, on the contrary, my coworkers typically receive immediate assistance. It’s frustrating.
Any projects you’re working on now?
Yes actually! So there’s this girl that’s a YouTuber whose Instagram page I came across accidentally. She has like 300,000 followers, which is crazy. I saw she had an email in her bio so I reached out to her, and long story short, we have a shoot set up! I’m still trying to plan out what I want to do with her, but it is going to be a studio shoot. That will be coming soon.
What can we expect for the future of Shannah Kristina Photography?
A lot, I really want to start branching out and getting in touch with people with bigger platforms. I also really want to try different styles and play around with that. Film is my favorite type of photography and I really want to get back into some of that. I also really want to get into street photography. I want to catch people’s eyes, I want to create things that are captivating. I have so many ideas and I’m so excited to start testing new things out and share my work with everyone.