Local organization supports Black women photographers with scholarships and studio space

·3 min read

Rochester is synonymous with Eastman Kodak, so it's not a surprise that the city is full of photographers. Allison McDonald and Jackie McGriff are two local photographers — Black women looking to turn their passion into a career.

"I had no idea there were so many Black photographers in Rochester," McGriff said.

Despite the strength in numbers, these two Black women feel like their work is underrepresented and not supported in the same manner as their white counterparts.

"I feel like oftentimes we can be overlooked in this field," McDonald said.

Allison McDonald is one of the Black women photographers making use of the RAC's Creators Lab in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts.
Allison McDonald is one of the Black women photographers making use of the RAC's Creators Lab in Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts.

In 2022, Adam Eaton and the Rochester Artist Collaborative will shine a light on these artists by giving them resources and platforms through a scholarship that will allow them access to a collaborative studio space.

"If you don't have the opportunity available, sometimes you have to make that opportunity available for yourself," McDonald said. "I feel like that's what Adam did with the creators lab."

Rochester Artist Collaborative is an emerging arts organization specializing in visual arts, media and design. Adam Eaton founded the organization in 2019 to support individual artists in Rochester.

RAC's Creators Lab, located at 250 North Goodman St. in the Neighborhood of The Arts, opened during the pandemic with the idea of providing equipment, space, and tools for local artists to further their careers.

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This year, Eaton's organization launched a Black women's initiative to fill the studio space. With funding from the local marketing company Helen & Gertrude, the Creators Lab will offer three scholarships to Black women in the visual arts. The scholarships cover a year's worth of access to the studio and all its technology and equipment, as well as small business mentorship and support.

Rochester photographer Adam Eaton encouraged local Black women photographers to access equipment and resources at RAC's Creators Lab.
Rochester photographer Adam Eaton encouraged local Black women photographers to access equipment and resources at RAC's Creators Lab.

"Black women artists are the most underrepresented group in Rochester," Eaton said. "I thought it was important to highlight the amazing Black women we have in our community and make sure they get their time to shine."

McDonald, McGriff and Briana Seda-Stringer are the three women who will receive the scholarships in 2022.

"Having the studio space will allow me to grow in my craft," Briana Seda-Stringer said. "It gives me the opportunity to be free with my creativity and to assist in the development of my portfolio."

Briana Seda-Stringer
Briana Seda-Stringer

Both McGriff and McDonald work full-time jobs while pursuing their dreams of making art their primary source of income.

McGriff inherited her love of still pictures from her grandmother, who had her own darkroom. She believes now that she has a professional studio space; her subjects will feel relaxed and confident and her work will flourish.

"That's what I really love," McGriff said. "Inviting somebody in and letting them know they can absolutely let loose with you. It comes out in the photo; I see it every time."

The space also promotes teamwork amongst the creators, which feels good to McDonald as she perfects her craft.

Jackie McGriff, owner of Jackie Photography and one of the women utilizing RAC's Creators Lab in Rochester NOTA.
Jackie McGriff, owner of Jackie Photography and one of the women utilizing RAC's Creators Lab in Rochester NOTA.

"You have other Black women beside you rooting for you instead of competing," McDonald said. "It's a sisterhood."

Eaton hopes that the program can expand with more funding to offer 15 scholarships instead of three. Eaton believes Rochester officials should support their local artists so talent doesn't bolt for larger cities with more opportunities.

"We believe these artists have world-renowned talent," Eaton said. "Those talents are not being displayed or showcased in a way that can really bring a light to what the Rochester art community has to offer."

"I enjoy shooting in Rochester because of the history," Briana Seda-Stringer said. "There are so many scenic trademarks here. There are a lot of hidden gems.

Rochester may not have the same opportunities as New York or LA, but McDonald doesn't care.

"I love how close-knit Rochester is," McDonald said. I don't feel like I have to go to another city to succeed in photography."

Contact Robert Bell at: rlbell@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter: @byrobbell & Instagram: @byrobbell

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This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Rochester organization supports Black photographers with studio space

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