At the intersection of activism and art, nationally acclaimed fine art photographer and visual producer Sheila Pree Bright fearlessly occupies an area that many have left vacant.
Born in Waycross, Bright’s childhood entailed living in Germany and then returning to the United States, where she lived in various areas. It was these experiences as the daughter of a veteran and as a woman of color that would later influence the stories Bright has chosen to tell through her photography.
On June 4, she will bring her talents to Savannah as a lecturer and artist whose work will be installed as a part of the “Complex Uncertainties: Artists in Postwar America” exhibit at the Telfair Museums’ Jepson Center. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia, Bright was invited to speak and share her “Young Americans” series in particular.
“Young Americans” (2008), is a series of photographic portraits of people of Generation Y, ages 18-25, and very diverse. Many of those subjects were new to the voting system and were exercising their rights to vote for the first time when deciding to be photographed.
“How citizens participate in American democracy as shown in Sheila’s work fits perfectly with the League’s purpose of informing and educating the American electorate,” said Cuffy Sullivan, the League’s president. As a nonpartisan organization, the League of Women Voters organizes programs to inform and educate the public on issues across the local political spectrum.
Bright’s lecture, “Exploring What It Means to be an American,” will focus on civic engagement through her photographic series.
“It shows attitudes and values of Generation Y as American citizens,” explains Bright. “Participants posed with the American flag, using it as a prop to express sentiments about America. I did 'Young Americans' because I’m an Xer [born in 1967] and everyone has negative connotations when it comes to young people.”
Initially, “Young Americans” premiered as a solo exhibition at the High Museum of Art in 2008. In 2012, Bright and her team took to the streets of Atlanta and Art Basel Miami to reach people beyond museums. In doing so, 11 images were wheat pasted on buildings and abandoned homes.
“[Having] the work in a new space was a successful initiative in giving the residents of an urban neighborhood art they could own and relate to and in creating fresh dialogues about what it means to be an American in the 21st century,” says Bright.
As an introvert, Bright found solace in books growing up. While enrolled in a photojournalism class during her senior year at the University of Missouri, Bright discovered that despite being reserved, she could easily communicate through photography. Eventually, Bright relocated to Atlanta, where she is currently based. With her newly discovered passion in tow, she went on to earn her M.F.A. in photography from Georgia State University in 2003.
Since then, Bright has consistently provided a voice and image for the often overlooked and underrepresented bodies in America. With series like "Plastic Bodies," "Suburbia," "Grillz," "#1960Now" and "1960Who," Bright continues to build her resume by asking some of the most challenging questions. Through “#1960Now," she examined race, gender and generational divides to raise awareness of millennial perspectives on civil and human rights.
This “social cultural anthropologist," as she's been called, continues to build bridges, bringing a fresh perspective to Savannah with her June 4 lecture. As Bright says, “I use my art and activism as ways to create dialogue."