Last Updated on 03/30/2023 by Feroz Khan
“If a photographer says that they can separate their emotion from the work they do, they’re not being honest,” says photojournalist Cheriss May about the connection between ourselves and the images we make. She ensures that the photos she creates as part of her work truly reflect the person and environment. It’s all about bringing the stories to life but keeping them authentic at the same time.
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Cheriss May’s Journey To Photography
I found some similarities between my introduction to photography and how Cheriss was drawn to it. “My first memory of taking pictures was when I was about eight years old, and I was playing around with my mom’s camera,” Cheriss tells me about her first memories of dabbling in photography. “She was a teacher and advisor for her school’s yearbook. My parents saw my interest in taking pictures and bought me a small pocket camera for Christmas.”
This meant that Cheriss became the unofficial family photographer, taking candid photos and getting people to pose for her camera at gatherings. And almost as exciting as taking the photos was the anticipation of waiting for them to develop. “My parents would take me to drop my film off and a few days later, we would pick up the prints,” recalls Cheriss of those happy childhood days. She vividly remembers being so excited to see the photos and used to bring them to the next family get-together to show everyone. “I remember them saying how good my photos were and the joy of sharing them. I don’t know if they realized that they encouraged me to keep going.”
Cheriss May realizes that it was curiosity that first brought her to photography. Then, as she enjoyed taking pictures, it became a hobby, gradually developing into a love for photography.
Through my passion for photography, I found my purpose in storytelling.
What Drives Her To Create Compelling Images
Despite being a successful photojournalist for years, the curiosity to learn still hasn’t left Cheriss. She says she’s still learning and growing as a photographer, always looking for new ways to see. “This is important, especially in my work that can be repetitive with the same people, same rooms, and events,” says Cheriss of the need to look for new perspectives each time. “It requires listening first and paying attention to what’s being said verbally and through body language,” she adds.
Listening to music inspires her, and Cheriss finds that photography is similar to music in some ways. “Photography is a lot like music to me. There’s a cadence, and different combinations of gear are used for various stories. It can evoke some powerful emotions and introduce you to unfamiliar stories and people.”
She enjoys the challenge of finding beauty in what’s generally considered boring or mundane to bring out the extraordinary in the everyday.
How Does Cheriss Portray Authenticity In Her Editorial Work
Cheriss feels that in her line of work, this comes naturally in many ways. “I want the authenticity of a person and/or moment to lead, not what I may think or want it to be, not to fit a particular narrative, but what’s honest and real. It’s not a directed posed portrait; it’s about bringing people into the moment and letting them experience it for themselves,” Cheriss tells me. “In this work, it’s not scripted, more so a reflection of what it is — good, bad, or indifferent.”
I want people to feel my images in the stories they read. I want my images to tell the stories that connect people to those moments I experienced.
She admits that all that she’s gone through in life influences her work in many ways and that this holds good for all photographers. But how she balances that against her work is essential to create an accurate picture. “How and where I grew up, my life experiences, spending time with people outside of my family and friends influences the way I see, feel, and am drawn to in a moment,” clarifies Cheriss. “This influences my style and perspective in my photos. If a photographer says that they can separate their emotion from the work they do, they’re not being honest. I can’t shut off my emotions, but I can be fair. I can allow space for the moment to breathe as it is.”
A Strong Community Of Female Creatives Is Necessary
In closing, I asked Cheriss how female creative artists could enhance their work’s visibility in today’s world. She replied that it was essential to have a strong community for this, with people and organizations that will genuinely support women’s work.
“We can make inroads with consistent advocacy for opportunities and programs that celebrate the work of women. We must keep doing the work, telling our stories, and holding people and organizations accountable for equity in this industry,” she says proudly.