DC SPC is bringing attention to city’s street photography community

© Sofia Sebastian

By its nature, street photography is often a lonely art. That’s one reason Ryan Madison says he decided to form the DC Street Photography Collective, also known as DC SPC, in 2018. Having a cohort to offer inspiration and support is one of the greatest strengths of working collectively, Madison says.

One thing is for sure, the collective is quickly establishing itself. One of its members, Chris Suspect, was already well-known in the international street photography community and another, Sofia Sebastian, has been making a name for herself over the past year. Their other members include Kanayo Adibe, Thomas Mullins, Robert Trejo Jr. and Ashley Tillery.

While a lot of collectives, will often publish or exhibit together, the DC SPC is also committed to creating a vibrant community of street photographers in the nation’s capital. They regularly host guest speakers, critique sessions and photo walks. Their next event is Feb. 20 when they host a talk and critique session with Darrow Montgomery, a long-time photographer for the City Paper.

Then on May 29, they will be bringing their talents to the Focus on the Story Visual Storytelling Summit  for a special “Street Slam,” where members will judge select street photography images submitted in advance by summit attendees.

Feb. 20: A night of photography

Join DC SPC on Feb. 20 as they host a talk with Darrow Montgomery. In addition, there is an open call (deadline Feb. 2) to participate in a critique with Montgomery and members of DCSPC. LEARN MORE

May 29: Street Slam at #FOTS20

DC SPC will critique select street photography images submitted in advance by attendees of the #FOTS20 Visual Storytelling Summit, which kicks off the Focus on the Story International Photo Festival.

© Kanayo Adibe

Joe Newman: Tell us why you decided to form the DC Street Photography Collective.

Ryan Madison: So, a little bit about the DC Street Photography Collective: We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating in the District of Columbia. We are made up of photographers in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area who are devoted to producing, sharing, and creatively capturing the human condition. By working as a collective, we are able to foster growth for each other’s work as artists and encourage each other to take creative risks, as well as raise the profile of photography as a form of social expression. We also support each other’s businesses—through best practices, networking, and referrals. I founded the group in May 2018 specifically as a collective to ensure all members see it as a collaborative. It’s about all of us, not any single photographer.

The catalyst for starting the group was simple. The need all photographers have for connection. Street photography is inherently a lonely endeavor as I discovered after walking the streets of almost every major city in the United States and Canada as a freelance photographer during my lunch breaks and after work. It’s easier to photograph the streets alone, but after graduating college I realized I missed the personal growth that was available to me when people got together to share, collaborate, and constructively critique each other’s work.

I was definitely inspired by the New York City Street Photography Collective as well. I was blown away by the community and their willingness to educate, share experiences, and boost the careers of those around them. I was hoping that someone would come along and create something similar to what I had seen in NYC. On May 18th 2018, two years later, I realized I was tired of waiting. DC has a unique story to tell, and I knew there were talented street photographers that shared my passion and devotion to tell it—they just needed the framework to do so.

© Tom Mullins
© Chris Suspect

Newman: One of your newer members is Chris Suspect, one of the more well-known and respected street photographers in the DC area. Along with yourself, Sofia Sebastian, Kanayo Adibe, Ashley Tillery, Robert Trejo Jr. and Tom Mullins, you’ve got a pretty talented group of photographers. What can we expect out of your collective this year?

Madison: Yes, Chris is an exceptional photographer and I can’t tell you how excited we all are to see what the group as a whole can learn from him and vice-versa. As for the rest of the year and for the foreseeable future, we plan on establishing the DC Collective as an international hub for street photography, all while boosting the careers of members and non-members alike through education and community. When you think of DC, you may not think “photography,” but one day you will.

Newman: Who out there today is doing street photography “right,” and what about their work inspires you?

Madison: That’s a difficult question. I definitely have photographers in mind who have inspired me, but I don’t know if there is one right way to create street photography. The work that most inspires me most though are the images that confront the viewer or bring them into another world, a place that seems inaccessible to the common man. As far as doing it right; stay true to yourself as a photographer and as a human being. Study the history, learn everything you can about past photographers, concentrate on the photographers that resonate with you, then aim to create images that are honest, and reflect your own voice and unique creative instincts.

© Robert Trejo Jr.

Newman: If someone reading this is thinking about trying to start a collective, or joining one, what is the best advice that you could give them?

Madison: Actually that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about—how to help inspire and guide others to establish collectives in their own communities. There are clearly things we’ve learned from the DC SPC, and I’d like to share those learnings with others. So, that’s something I think you’ll be hearing more about from us.

© Ashley Tillery

Building a collective is similar to having a second job and it should not be done lightly without thought. When you represent artists, present their works, and create a platform for people to participate and learn—it’s important you do it right and make sure it continues to grow for the benefit of all its members and non members alike. I have given everything to make sure that this continues to happen in the most respectful way possible.

It is also important to respect and cultivate both the art and the business aspect of photography. Photographers are artists first, but we also need to make sure we have the foundation to continue to fuel our creative energies—and that means we also need to be able to earn a living. Through the DC Street Photography Collective, we can help each other in our respective careers while not losing the artistic spirit that drives us forward.

For those who are thinking of starting a Collective, perhaps the best place to start if you’re not already a member of a Collective is to join one. And even if you are a member of a Collective, take the time to join or participate in others. Seek out other Collectives as you travel to other parts of the country or the world. In my experience there’s always someone who’d be down to meet up and talk shop.

Surrounding yourself with talented photographers who care about each other and are committed to helping others improve is invaluable, and this opportunity if available to anyone who’s interested. Join us for our monthly meet-ups and use the hashtag #dc_spc on instagram with your best street photography so we can see your work (we check the hashtag daily.) Other than that, keep producing and fine tuning your creative muscles. That’s the best way to learn, grow, and get noticed for the work you do—while at the same time helping others see the world from different perspectives.

© Ryan Madison