Alyscia Cunningham is a professional photographer based in Washington D.C. who comes from a family full of multi-talented artists. Raised in Queens, New York, she earned degrees in photography and web design from Montgomery College.
As an author and accomplished photographer, Alyscia has contributed to National Geographic, the Discovery Channel, America Online, and the Smithsonian Institution. Additionally, her work has been published in several books and magazines, including The Best of Photography 2011, Beauty Around Us, Endless Journeys, and Homes of Color Magazine.
To learn more about Alyscia and her work, view her video introduction to Feminine Transitions, on YouTube. In the spirit of Women’s History Month, Alyscia is raising money for her book project “Feminine Transitions”, which “reveals the true beauty of feminine aging by taking the readers through a wonderful photographic journey in celebration of womanhood.” To contribute to this project, click here.
I recently interviewed Alyscia about her thoughts regarding her journey as a photographer, her inspirations and her role as a fine art photographer.
Sharon Burton: When was the moment that you knew inside that you were an artist?
Alyscia Cunningham: I vividly remember cutting out a comic strip of Garfield in the New York Times (I was in the 4th grade) in attempt to draw it. I used to trace but gave it a go free hand. To my surprise, it looked exactly like the drawing of Garfield, emotions and all. From there I began recreating all sorts of animations in my notebooks (I was a doodler in school and my notebooks proved it).
Then in the 7th grade, I drew a picture I had of Tupac on my bedroom wall. This was my first attempt at drawing a person. I was amazed with my drawing and thought it was so cool that I can now draw people. Or maybe it was always there but I never explored it. After that, I started drawing portraits of classmates for a small fee ($2-$3). I remember having someone different scheduled each week during a particular class (I can’t seem to remember what class it was and how I got away with sitting in the back, not getting any work done, yet drawing away).
SB: What inspires you to create? How does that inspiration show up in your work?
AC: My visions are the biggest inspiration of my creations. I have never planned to draw or photograph anything. They ALL come to me in visions, including the idea for my book. I see it in my mind then use my camera to capture what I envisioned. So that I wouldn’t forget, I started sleeping with a notebook beside my bed. I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and sketch or write down the imagery that came to mind.
SB: How would you describe your collectors?
AC: The people who collect my work deeply and truly appreciate my images and the process used to accomplish it. My buyers have all pointed out that they love the lighting of my photographs. I play a lot with light and shadow as I feel it adds a bit of mystery to the image. They’ve also appreciate that I still shoot traditionally (I use film cameras). They often mention the richness in the quality of the highlights and shadows. I love when people recognize that and feel most content selling my work to this particular audience.
SB: As an emerging artist, do you find it easier or harder to be recognized for your work?
AC: Once people see my work, their reaction is almost always positive. When I think about recognition however, I think about it on a larger scale. Shooting commercially, as a celebrity photographer or being interviewed on an international platform (as Oprah for example) are how folks gain the biggest recognition. In my opinion it has been harder as an emerging artist because I’m pretty much unknown to folks other than my admirers and local artist groups and friends. I don’t want to be just a local artist but a global one.
SB: Finish this sentence: As an artist, I feel that it is my responsibility to______
AC: Pave the way for the next aspiring young black female photographer. Whether that entails being a mentor, offering my experience and business advice and offering hands on experience with me on photo shoots, I’m completely up for the task.
Sharon Burton keeps her finger on the pulse of D.C.’s visual arts scene and runs The Artinista Art Advisory a savvy boutique, woman-owned, art consultancy specializing in providing services to professional women looking to build and maintain contemporary art collections by emerging and mid-career artists. Got a LSP Pick!? Contact Sharon here.