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Portrait of Danielle Scruggs, Photo by Danielle Finney

In recent years, the Chicago-based photographer Danielle Scruggs has helped tell the stories that have defined and reshaped her city. She’s met the Black women activists working to secure landmark victories for their communities, including Aislinn Pulley, a founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago, and Barbara Ransby, the author of Making All Black Lives Matter. She’s connected with pioneering trans activist Mama Gloria and spent time with her chosen family from Townhall Apartments, Chicago’s LGBTQ-friendly senior living facility. She’s photographed Diane Latiker, the founder of Kids Off the Block, a non-profit supporting the city’s young people.

As the founder of Black Women Directors, a global library of Black women and non-binary filmmakers, Scruggs has also worked to uplift the next generation of storytellers working across genres: documentary, drama, comedy, sci-fi/fantasy, horror, animation, and experimental. This year, Scruggs will serve on the jury of the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards, joining other leading editors, photographers, writers, and more to discover up-and-coming talents. We recently had the honor of catching up with her via email. Learn more about the Emerging Photography Awards here!

How does your career as a prominent photographer yourself inform your work as a photo editor?

“I think continuing to work as a photographer while I work as a photo editor has allowed me to have a lot of empathy for staffers and freelancers who are constantly in the field. I think I have a very solid understanding of challenges that may arise on the spot, and I think that informs how I interact with them.

“And vice versa, working as a photo editor gives me a perspective on what other editors are looking for when I do get assignments. I try to get as much variety as possible, making sure to get different perspectives and details, and trying to find things that will really bring the crux of the story together. I think I am a stronger photographer and a stronger visual editor because of how these two roles feed one another.”

Gloria “Mama Gloria” Allen with her neighbors Carolyn Davis and Terry Maddry, Town Hall Apartments, Chicago, Ill., May 2021, Danielle Scruggs for People magazine.

You’ve photographed so many inspiring and influential people over the course of your career. Can you tell us about one of your favorite sitters?

“Oh gosh, it’s really hard to choose, but meeting and photographing Gloria Allen, better known as Mama Gloria, a transgender activist in her 70s living here in Chicago, was absolutely a humbling and an amazing moment thus far. I had the opportunity to photograph both her and her neighbors for People magazine’s Pride Issue. She is so warm, so full of wit and grace, and just was a joy to be around.”

People magazine tearsheet

You’re also a picture desk editor at Getty Images. How did that come about, and what has been one of your most memorable projects in this role?

“I started back in July 2020; a recruiter reached out to me and wanted to know if I would be interested in working on the picture desk, and things moved forward from there. So far, the most memorable work I have done has been working on social media content for Getty’s Instagram and Twitter platforms. It’s been memorable because it gives me a chance to spend even more time with different photographers’ work and spotlight their hard work in the field by creating narratives for those social media platforms. I was particularly happy to work on an Instagram story highlighting the Colston statue in the UK being preserved in a museum, as well as working on stories highlighting environmentalism, climate change, and racial justice protests in the U.S.”

Travis Johnson traveled from Texas for the American Descendants of Slavery’s inaugural conference in Louisville, Ky., October 2019, Danielle Scruggs for the New York Times

Please tell us about Black Women Directors. What inspired you to start this platform, and what has been the most rewarding aspect of serving at its helm?

“Black Women Directors is a digital library I first started as a Tumblr in 2015 that I made to highlight the work of Black women and nonbinary filmmakers around the world (it’s now a standalone site at blackwomendirectors.co). And really, the inspiration was wanting to better educate myself because I was seeing so many conversations about ‘diversity in film’ that made note of Black men and white women but left out this huge segment of innovators in the cinema field.

“And very quickly, I realized there was a real desire for this kind of platform because almost right after I started that Tumblr, it got written up in places like Blavity and For Harriet and mentioned by the British Film Institute, and I received so many emails and tweets and DMs from people thanking me for creating it, which was completely unexpected.”

“I would say the most rewarding aspect has been the continuing education aspect of it. I am constantly learning about past and present Black women and nonbinary filmmakers, and seeing so many different approaches to cinema and storytelling inform my own photography as well.

“People reach out to me all the time to be included in the library, and a lot of agencies and producers who are looking to hire Black women and nonbinary filmmakers come to the site to figure out who to hire. So knowing that my humble site, which I still see as a way to educate myself, is possibly helping get these folks hired and expanding people’s ideas around who we think of as cinematic innovators and leaders is so gratifying.”

Adam Hollingsworth, 33, with his horse Prince, Chicago, Ill., June 2020. Danielle Scruggs for the New York Times

Thank you for being one of our judges for the Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards! Will you be looking for anything specific?

“I am so excited to be a judge and see all kinds of work! I am looking for, above all else, a point of view. So many people are capable of mastering the technical aspects of photography, but I have always found myself drawn to imagery that shows a photographer’s unique perspective of the world and their ability to tell a story with their images. It doesn’t need to be linear or even logical, but knowing that someone has something specific to say with their images is something that makes me so excited to review other people’s work.”

The deadline for the 7th Annual Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards is September 3rd, 2021. Prizes include gallery shows in Paris and Berlin (for series) and street exhibitions in NYC and LA (for single images). Submit your work today!

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