Award-Winner Ryan Vance: "We All Want Equality"

Frasier Horton

Frasier Horton

Thursday, September 16, 2021
Award-Winner Ryan Vance: "We All Want Equality"

All images created by Ryan Vance.

My first question is, where did you get your inspiration? What made you even take pictures in the first place?  

Dang. Uh ... I guess it started with Ms. Hunter. She believed in me, told me I could be a great photographer, felt that I needed to put in great results based off her beliefs and uh ... looks like I got great results.  

What was your overall goal with the pictures you took? 

[Laughter] Honestly, the goal was just to complete the assignment, but as time went on the feedback I received from my classmates just made me believe more and more that my photos had potential. I realized, you know, that it actually has the potential to speak volumes to people rather than just being a good picture, you know? From there I just started putting more time into it.  

Cool, cool. So let's get into the pictures. What made you chose your family to be in the photos?  

One of the things I learned during this process was that people themselves speak volumes ... they're the first thing someone is gonna see in your picture. I really wanted it to be people I cared about in my pictures. 

I like that, but how did they respond to you wanting them in your pictures? 

[Pause ...] I think initially they were excited for the opportunity to be in a picture that would be seen by, well, Olivia's [Vance's sister's] classmates and the entire school. I think they were also a little uncomfortable as well, especially regarding a topic like [race]. But the process they took was like, this is necessary, you know, this is something that we as a family care about. If a member of a family wants to address it, then we need to support him.  

Did you feel pressure taking pictures regarding a subject that some of your peers might have found controversial? 

Not really, actually. In the beginning, I never really thought that much about it as I was honestly just trying to complete the project, you know. But it was really the feedback that I got from my classmates that made me think that they'll stand with me. I mean honestly, I know there are people out there who are gonna' disagree, but the feedback was so positive, I just didn’t care what they thought. 

I think you kind of answered my next question. Did you feel a sense of pride, not only as a photographer, but as a black teenager, after the pictures were submitted? 

Uh, a little. Honestly I felt that I just did my due diligence at that time. I didn’t necessarily feel pride, you know, I kind of knew that this isn't just my fight, this isn't just our picture; this picture is for those who can't represent themselves. This picture is the symbolism of the absence of black history taught in our schools, so it takes those who know truly about black history to kind of be the voice of those people. I felt that the opportunity I had to tell the stories of African-Americans and speak the struggles through my photo.  

thumbnail_Do you see us.jpg

That’s what's up, man, for real. I can get with that. Alright, let's get into the showstoppers themselves: What's up with the photos ? I never actually saw them when they came out, but man, looking at them before this interview, I got chills every single time. I guess my question is, what did you do to make a serious picture even more serious? 

Well, for Justice Delayed, it’s a blend of Olivia's face with the pillars from the National Memorial
for Peace and Justice. On the pillars were the names of African-Americans who were lynched. I wanted the look on Olivia's face to be the base of the photo though, so I got a serious picture of Olivia to symbolize the frustration over the African-Americans who have been lynched. To cap it all off, I named it Justice Delayed for the victims of the lynchings who couldn’t get the justice they deserved.  

And for Do You See Us? 

For Do You See Us, my mother is sitting like 90 degrees from my sister. This picture was
more to symbolize the struggle of African-American women, and kind of just women in general. I brought my mother in for a kind of an older perspective, and my sister for a younger one to kind of bring in a stark contrast, you know. I guess the biggest thing for the photo was, I took a picture of a chalkboard, but before that I erased the board to give it that sort of chalky feel that I thought blends with the picture pretty well. Then I just added a black background. 

Sounds like a lot of work. Did you have any trouble with the pictures? 

I mean it wasn't that much trouble, but with Justice Delayed I had trouble blending the pillars with Olivia's face so that you could see both. With Do You See Us, I kind of did have trouble positioning their noses actually ... I had to get their positioning right because, you know, they're different heights, so that was a struggle. 

Well it all worked out -- you came out with two awards. How'd you feel when that happened? 

Honestly, I was really surprised that I won at all. I mean, of course I was proud of the work I did, but like, I still was just trying to fill an elective spot, you know. I was really happy that the photo reached people enough to win those awards.  

Well now that you’re an 'award-winning photographer,' what are your plans for the future? 

[Pause ...] I want to continue taking pictures about 'the black experience' and the hardships or inequalities that African-Americans face daily. And not just African-Americans, but other minorities as well. I want to be part of the storytelling that describes the struggle of minorities everyday. This project taught me to push myself to kind of 'see past the veil' and notice injustices in our society. 

I can't wait for those to come out. Is there anything else that you want to say or want people to know about you or your photos? Or anything in general? 

Put these four words I'm about to say: We all want equality.

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