Introducing the Photography Major: Black Eyes Have a Voice At Spelman

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In 2017, Spelman college added a prestigious photography major to their course of studies. This is a major feat of a historically black woman’s college, considering that photography is usually relegated to a demographic that is white and male. Myra Greene, an accomplished photographer and artist is headlining the program, which enables students to learn every angle of photography. Here’s a brief background of the college if you’re interested in attending!

History of Spelman

Two educators, Harriet Giles and Sophia Packard had a dream to create an educational system for black freedwomen in Atlanta. So on April 11, 1881, they started their school in the basement of the Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta with $100 and eleven students in their charge. By the end of the quarter, they had a total of eighty students and the enrollment expanded rapidly. John D. Rockefeller was impressed by the vision the two women had for the college and paid the final balance that was due to solidify the college’s permanent location. Therefore, the college was officially deemed Spelman Seminary, named after his wife’s maiden name as a legacy to her and her parents as they had been avid anti-slavery activists.

From then on Spelman has had an illustrious legacy filled with women who have become pioneers in their own right with many of the alumni being successful in every field, including the gilded halls of Hollywood. Personally, I wish I had gone there! What a priceless environment to be in surrounded by black women learning and succeeding together.

Cassidy Meyers parallels the history Spelman students with images from the past and present

Here is some insight from Spelman’s very first Photography major, Cassidy Meyers, as she will be completing her coursework and graduating this year! She is well on her way to making a name for herself, as she has shot on the music video sets of Anderson Paak/Rick Ross and Saweetie/Doja Cat

Cassidy on set with Rick Ross and Anderson Paak!
What year are you in at Spelman? I’m currently a graduating senior at Spelman.

What led you to want to be a photography major at Spelman? I was really close to going to an art school in New York before I chose Spelman. Knowing I still wanted to pursue a career in photography, I decided to try out their new major (that was introduced the year I was accepted, in 2017). I’m going to be the first Photography major to graduate from Spelman.

What is the atmosphere like in the classrooms? Spelman has very intimate classroom settings, especially in the art department. Most art classes at Spelman have no more than 10 to 15 students, and sometimes even less in the photography department. I think that this allows for very personalized, one-on-one learning between teachers and students.

What is your favorite course? I love all of the art history courses that I’ve taken at Spelman. I’ve learned so much about the evolution of black art throughout the world and various time periods. My favorite course has been Ways of Seeing II: From Medieval to Modern art with Professor Katherine Calvin. She does an amazing job of connecting art from the past to themes and topics we see today in society. As an artist, I think it’s important to gain a broad understanding of many different art forms because they all connect with each other.

How has the major challenged your sense of artistry? Going to Spelman has given me a perspective on art that I don’t think I would have gotten going to a traditional art school. In every photography and art course that I’ve taken at Spelman, I’ve been fully emersed in the history of black creators and black art, which isn’t typical for PWI photography programs. Being grounded in this history for four years prompts me to consistently consider how to continue the legacies that I’ve learned about, in my own way.

What is it like to be surrounded by black women in an academic atmosphere? Constantly being surrounded by intelligent and driven black women for four years has been an incredibly nurturing experience. As someone who went to primarily white schools growing up, I felt that going to an HBCU was beyond necessary for my personal growth. Being able to connect and relate to so many people was something that I hadn’t experienced prior to going to Spelman. Coming out of this environment, I’m so grateful that I had a space like this to fully flourish into who I was meant to be.

What projects are you working on?
Currently, I’m focusing my efforts towards preparing my work to be featured in two upcoming exhibits in Atlanta! Dates are still pending, but I will be sharing more information through my Instagram as it comes (@capturesbycassidy).
Cassidy grabs a shot of Saawetie getting Icy

When I say “inspiring” who immediately comes to your mind?

Two photographers who continuously inspire me within their work and careers as a whole are Adrienne Raquel and Renell Medrano. They both capture black people in such beautifully unique ways, whether through editorial spreads or documentary-style photo essays. Both of these women are examples of people I see spearheading the future of photography.

What does the future of photography look like to you?

The future of photography (and really all of media and entertainment), is black women. We each have such individual stories to tell and perspectives to share, and the more that these are revealed to the world, the better. Black women are truly creative pioneers and will only continue to break barriers within these industries.

What do you see in the future of your artistry?

Coming out of an HBCU, I know I want to continue highlighting black people within my work; our lives, our faces and our experiences in a variety of ways. I have a love for fashion and editorial style photography, and definitely see myself exploring more of this as I continue on my path. There are so many other realms of photography that I can’t wait to dive into in the very near future.

Cassidy presents a candid portrait of Anderson Paak!

Is there anything you would change/add to the coursework you are undergoing?

Something that I think would be an amazing addition to the photography program at Spelman is a darkroom and film photography course. I learned photography on a film camera in high school, and it was this process, of taking an image and developing it myself, that made me fall in love with photography to begin with. There’s a sense of control, power and satisfaction that comes with seeing through your own vision from start to finish.

Why do you feel it’s important for black women to pursue a photography major in general, and at Spelman specifically?

We learn about the lack of agency and power many black women have had over their lives in numerous courses at Spelman. Historically, we’ve had other people assign their own narratives and stereotypes onto us, even in today’s society. Photography is a powerful tool that can reverse this feeling of loss of control and gives black women the strength to story-tell through honesty and vulnerability. Opening up to the world in ways that are tangible and impactful.

We wish Cassidy the very best as she pursues her passion in photography and are excited to see what she continues to do in her future endeavors!

Cassidy in all her glory!

Below is an overview of what Spelman offers you as you embark on the degree. This information is taken directly from their website.

The photography major enables student to develop a critical understanding of how photographic practices shape and reflect our world. It considers the photograph as both a commodity of contemporary culture as well as its distinctive place as an artistic medium and recognizes its vast impact on culture.

Students learn to produce photographic images while thinking critically about visual culture. Students consider the ethics of image capturing and manipulation, and explore image archives to glean the history of contributions to photography, storytelling, and history.

Off-campus photography exhibitions in museums, galleries and site-specific venues and on-campus guest lectures by distinguished photographers contribute to students’ engagement with the field.

Visual Storytellers

Once you become comfortable with the equipment, techniques and elements of the craft, you will explore various genres of photography. You will also be challenged to use the camera to create personally driven documentary and fictive narratives. Beyond creating your own imagery, you will research the extensive history of photography in order to learn and articulate how images gain their strength and power. By learning of the history of photography (artistic, advertising, cultural and vernacular imagery) and image dissemination, you will engage in contextualization of the social and cultural impact of images.

Connections and Collaborations

The medium of photography intersects with many other programs on campus because it examines  history, politics, culture and society as it documents the times in which we live. Opportunities for interdisciplinary activity both in the arts (sculpture/installation performance, video and film) as well as creative writing, social justice, psychology, philosophy, education and computer science, are rich with possibilities. Collaborations will be driven by you conceptual interests, which will be guided by faculty in these areas of study. 

Course Sequence

First Year
Freshman Arts Division Seminar
Digital Foundations   
Photographic Visions

Second Year
Sophomore Arts Division Seminar
History of Art II
Fictive Photography
Basic Lighting Techniques
History of Photography
Documentary Photography
Art Process and Practice (pre-requisite for Portfolio Criticism I)

Third Year
Junior Arts Division Seminar
Contemporary Strategies in Photography
Creative Careers
Installation Art
Tech, Innovation Art

Fourth Year
Senior Arts Division Seminar
Portfolio Criticism I
Portfolio Criticism 2 (Pre-requisite Portfolio Criticism 1)

*Internships are a required part of the photography major.
**See the department for information on electives.

Comment below if you’re interested in taking the course!