Camille Bennett, Founder, Executive Director, Project Say Something
Project Say Something is in the throes of protesting a monument standing in front of the Lauderdale County Courthouse in Florence, AL. We are blessed to have several photographers document our journey. However, Audrey Matthews finds that her new profession has found passion in extracting poignant portraits that speak to the urgent demonstrations of participants in their quest for justice. It is her gift to the movement. I asked her to share her campaign with Garden Spices.- Victorine
GS – Why do you photograph protests?
Audrey Mathews – If I’m being honest, I started not only to document local history but also because I wanted to practice candid shots. I used to have a passion for photography and after my first camera broke, I stepped away from it for several years. Photography is an expensive hobby, you know, and I’ve never been well off, financially. I also battle with depression and bipolar disorder pretty severely, so I finally decided to start a fundraiser to buy myself a camera for my birthday so I could get some joy back in my life. I couldn’t take the darkness anymore, you know? It was getting dangerous and scary for me, mentally. I needed an outlet. I raised half the amount I needed and my family split the rest of the cost. I have been taking photos like mad ever since. But what started out as me wanting practice, turned into a need to contribute.
I don’t have money, so I can’t donate. But I have this ability and it’s the only way I know how to contribute to actively make the world a better place for my son and future generations. And from there, it’s turned into documenting the entire movement in Alabama as best as I can. It has really turned into a project of passion that I care about very deeply. I’ve met so many amazing people and have been offered amazing opportunities, such as this one, and it just blows my mind. I call my mom almost every day so excited about something new that happened or someone else who loves my photos and it just makes me so happy to know that they’re being seen. At this point, I photograph for visibility for PSS, and for the movement, it’s not about me anymore. Maybe it never was. Maybe I just needed something to believe in. And I am not exaggerating when I say that I am thankful for all the incredible people I’ve met every single day.
GS: How do you manage to capture portraits?
AM: I remember when I was first learning how to take a captivating photo, I was told to watch where I crop and to leave enough empty space to create interest and all about the rule of thirds. When you’re learning a new craft, there are always so many rules to remember. But sometimes it’s better to break the rules. I’ve never been particularly fond of rules anyway, so that works out for me. So basically, I try to create interest visually, whether that’s a unique perspective or with contrast or with wordplay. I also like to make sure I get photos of everyday people doing their thing downtown because we’re at an important crossroad and people deserve to have these memories of themselves fighting for justice. They deserve to be seen and to feel good about what they’re doing. And I think a good portrait is when you can see the life in someone’s eyes. I try to always make sure the eyes are bright and clear in post-processing. It’s very important to me, it’s what gives a portrait soul.
GS: What are your hopes for your photography?
Visibility, plain and simple. I want to get the photos out there, I want them to reach people who have doubts, I want people to see that love and camaraderie and peace. I want people to see a community coming together. That’s why every post I share I make public so everyone can share it. According to the insights on my Facebook page, some of my posts have reached over two thousand people, after taking into account all of the shares. That is just incredible to me. When the Indigo Girls shared my photos on their social media and I saw how many likes they got, I literally cried. I was so excited. I love them, anyway, but to see that response from their fan base from MY photos was just…it was so cool. And THAT’s my goal. I’ve actually been invited to participate in an art show in Huntsville and to have a booth at an Art Expo coming up soon. It’s really exciting because this is my way of contributing, and every photographer, or any visual artist, just wants to be seen. If I can reach just one person and if my photos can make them see another perspective, then it’s all worth it. Definitely worth all the work. It doesn’t even feel like work for me, it’s simply my passion.
I’m 31 and a proud member of the LGBTQIA community. I’m currently a full-time mom to a 3rd grader in virtual school. I have been a photographer for 15 years. I am a big mental health advocate and am living proof that having a creative outlet is critical in dealing with mental illness. I am a college drop out and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but for now, I’ve decided to give my best effort at starting a photography business. I’m just following my heart and doing the best I can, one day at a time.