InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. This week, Rebecca Emmanuelle, a 26-year-old Queens, NY resident and college counselor/instructor talks about her life and love for photography.
ELIXHER: How would you describe yourself in three words?
REBECCA: Leader. Innovator. Game changer. Wow, that sounds like a car commercial. No, these are my three words for real: Haitian-American. Silly. Abundance.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
REBECCA: That I’m extremely outgoing and social but I am in fact quite shy.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
REBECCA: Coming out to traditional Haitian parents. I overcame it by doing it…after waiting 10 years. When I decided to finally tell them, I knew that regardless of their reaction it would be a transformation in my life in some capacity. Although my parents are still adjusting to that fact that the daughter they’ve known for the past 26 years was someone different than who I really am, it has been extremely freeing to show them my complete self. Their reaction was a much more positive one than I expected and they continued to remain the supportive and loving parents that they always have been to me.
ELIXHER: When did you begin taking photographs?
REBECCA: I was exposed to photography at a young age but didn’t develop an interest until later on in life. My uncle was always around with his camera in hand. He would often take portraits of myself and other family members that would result in beautiful images.
Although being around my uncle’s photography always fascinated me, I didn’t take my first photography class until my freshman year of college at Binghamton University. I was extremely eager to take a Photography course so I stayed on campus during the summer after my freshman year just so I could take the course. I had so much fun in creating my own images and knew that it was a hobby I wanted to continue, but I never once considered trying to make it a career. I was actually intending on majoring in Graphic Design at the time but I was persuaded by family to switch to a more practical major as they believed that Art would never be a lucrative career. I eventually found Psychology as a major that I very much enjoyed and pursued graduate education in the field. Although I very much enjoyed the Photography course I took, it was the only class I have ever taken.
Despite my connection and interest in the field of Psychology, I felt as though something was missing from my work. I wanted more creativity in my life. When I obtained my first full time job, I realized that the steady income would allow me to be able to purchase my first DSLR camera (Nikon D80) which I bought in December 2008. My goal in purchasing the camera was to take photos for my own enjoyment. For the first year of owning my camera, I actually hardly used it. It mainly sat in my closet unless I felt that there was event going on worth photographing. It wasn’t until this year when 2 friends of mine, Ryann Holmes and Genesis Frederick, asked me to assist in the creating of the first ever Bklyn Boihood Calendar project that I actually began using my camera actively. They believed in my talent when I was still doubting my ability. Once we began shooting the BBH calendar, I found myself learning so much about my photography just by diving in and shooting. I took on a much more active approach by reading more books on photography, attending a few workshops and subscribing to periodicals. Now I have my camera in my hand almost everyday and when I don’t, I’m at the computer editing photos.
ELIXHER: What drew you to the craft?
REBECCA: People who know me well know that I hate writing and sometimes even hate talking (so this interview is killing me right now). I am extremely reflective and tend to keep my thoughts in my head prior to expressing them. I find that photography is a great way for me to express myself in a medium that often times does not allow for the luxury of stopping to filter spontaneity. It has challenged me to capture powerful moments in the few seconds available to me while also having it be an image completely unique to my vision.
With the advancement of technology in the field of photography, I very much enjoy the photo editing process as well. For me it is another opportunity to get creative in a whole new way. I can evoke an emotion from an image simply by the colors I decide to accentuate, the level of contrast or if I decide to add vignetting to the photo etc. I absolutely love the editing process and often spend my free time editing photos simply because I enjoy it!
ELIXHER: What are your favorite things to shoot?
REBECCA: I enjoy photographing people in gritty locations. I recently have started photographing more engagement portraits and I love capturing the contrast of a happy and loving couple in front of something like a graffiti stained brick wall or rusting metal fence. While many of the photos tend to be posed, I enjoy the challenge of capturing the couple when they are in their natural state of being in love. It is interesting to see the different ways in which love is expressed amongst individuals.
ELIXHER: Who or what inspires you?
REBECCA: Recognition. It’s extremely exhilarating when someone comments on how much they enjoy a photo of mine or tells me that they can instantly recognize a photograph as being my work. It makes me feel as though I am creating something unique and contributing something new as art. Even the fact that I was contacted for this interview blows my mind and has me wanting to continue to work even harder. I never thought that people would be willing to pay for my work and it truly is a humbling experience for me each time I get a new client or receive positive feedback on my work. It feels good to make people happy through something that I have so much fun doing.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
REBECCA: I am referring the Black queer community that I am surrounded by here in Brooklyn as that is the only Black queer community I have really known. I really am proud to be a part of a community of individuals that has used their unique talents to represent not only themselves but our community as a whole. I have met some of the most creative, artistic and enlightening individuals from the Black queer community who instill a sense of pride in me because of the pride they have in their identification. Coming from a community that is an intersection of two socially marginalized groups has resulted in some powerful expressions of self that run the gamut of emotion that only individuals from socially oppressed groups can relate to. Whether it’s through writing, photography, painting, fashion, film making or activism, our community has such a strong voice that we use as a representation of ourselves and our community as a whole. Our presence at this point is becoming stronger and we are becoming more visible but at the same time we do not forget about the struggle it took for us to get to this point. I feel as though many individuals in our community express their thoughts in these different creative mediums not just for themselves but also for ancestors who had their voices quieted. I proud to be a part of a community that remembers how we became who we are today.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the Black queer community?
REBECCA: More collaborations amongst the community in general but more specifically amongst artists. Where I live in Brooklyn, I feel like the collaborations naturally happen because of how small the community is but I would like to see more done amongst artists. There is so much we can learn from each other with regards to technique, history and simply sharing are unique experiences. One of the things I started over the summer is a Female Photography Collective. Since teaming up with BBH to help with their calendar, I met many amazing budding photographers who wanted to fine tune their craft but unfortunately did not have time and money to take traditional courses. Many of these photographers would contact me for tips or to shadow some of my sessions but at the same time, I was looking at their work like “Wow! I need to shadow you!” So because I felt like I still had a lot more I could learn and things I wanted to share, I decided to start up the collective as a way to empower one another as photographers and provide a source of knowledge to each other.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Rebecca?
REBECCA: I guess I will fit the stereotype of an artist with this answer, but I haven’t thought that far ahead yet. I am really enjoying where I am at right now with photography as a side job but I do hope that it will one day blossom into a full-time career for me. If I were more of a risk taker, I would have already tried to pursue this career path full-time but there is still so much more I want to learn and polish before I devote myself to it completely. But one day!
Check out more of Rebecca’s work here!