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The Create Fund: An Interview with Charlee Black

With the help of The Create Fund, photographer Charlee Black is leaving her hometown behind to create a new path in stock photography.

Photographer Charlee Black is ready to take her career to the next level. Born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, she built her business and even opened her own photo studio a stone’s throw away from her childhood home. Unfortunately, the market in Indianapolis proved too small to sustain her so, this summer, she closed her studio and relocated to Houston, Texas, hoping for a fresh start.

Self portrait by the photographer Charlee Black
Shutterstock Create Fund Winner, Charlee Black

“I love Indiana. I love my hometown. I love what I’ve been able to do there. But, I’m ready for new opportunities,” she says, “And, I’m excited to see what Houston has to offer.”

Black specializes in commercial photography, but is looking to expand into portraiture and lifestyle photography and would love to work behind the scenes on local film sets.

She’s also a recent recipient of Shutterstock’s Create Fund and is looking forward to shooting more stock moving forward.

“Stock is such a great way for creatives to make additional income,” she says, “and it’s not cookie cutter. A stock photo can be just as stylized and unique as any other photo. You really can make it your own.”

Below, Black shares how she came into photography, future goals, and the inspiration that wraps it all together. . . .

Shutterstock: How did you first become interested in photography?

Charlee Black: I’ve always liked taking photos, but it wasn’t until high school that I had the opportunity to actually develop them myself and really see what it meant to create an image from start to finish.

It’s such a cool process and something I’ve always loved to do.

Woman in a black and white striped shirt sniffs a bundle of fresh cut chamomile
License this image via Charlee Black.

SSTK: When did you decide to make photography your career?

Black: I always kind of felt like this was what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t until my early 20s that I was really opened up to what photography could be and I became really interested in commercial photography.

I love that commercial photography allows you to be creative, but still work with a very specific end-goal in mind—to sell the product. I also love that the visuals I create can be seen by thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people. 

License these images via Charlee Black.

SSTK: Do you have any formal photography training?

Black: LOL. Not really. I went to community college for a year and majored in photography while I was there but, at that point, I’d already been shooting for a few years and learned everything they were teaching me on my own through trial and error.

I dropped out and told myself that if I wasn’t doing what I wanted by the time I was 25, I would go back to school.

SSTK: That didn’t happen, though?

Black: No. By the time I was 25, I had already established my business, Good Friends, so there was no going back. 

Woman walking into a yoga studio
License this image via Charlee Black.

SSTK: Is your family supportive of your work?

Black: Absolutely. They know I’m quite headstrong and my dad has always pushed me to follow my passion. I think as long as I continue to do that, I’ll end up exactly where I want to be.

SSTK: Is there anyone whose work or career you particularly admire or seek to emulate?

Black: Dana Scruggs. She was born in Chicago and was the first Black photographer to shoot the cover of Rolling Stone (January 2019, Travis Scott). I’ve closely followed her career for a long time.

One of the things that really inspires me about Dana is that she creates on her terms. I really look up to her for all that she’s accomplished at her age.

License these images via Charlee Black.

SSTK: What role does your identity as a queer Black woman play in your work? 

Black: I think my perspective and my experiences are always going to impact what’s created. It’s always going to impact how I see, especially when it comes to other Black or queer people.

It’s really important for me to make people feel seen and comfortable. 

Woman in a brown coat browses in a boutique
License this image via Charlee Black.

SSTK: What is your objective as you begin your work in the stock image industry?

Black: I think I have a very strong eye; I want to bring that to the stock space.

For a long time, I thought stock had to look a certain way, that it needed to be all smiley and it couldn’t be expressive—couldn’t be editorial—but I’ve learned that is not actually the case.

Stock imagery can actually be really unique and stylized. I love that and I’m looking forward to creating with that in mind. 

SSTK: What is your vision for your work in the future, both in the stock industry and beyond?

Black: I definitely want to focus more on commercial work and content creation. I’m giving myself a month or two to settle in, here in Houston, and then I’d love to start working on production sets and capturing images behind the scenes.

I’m really open to whatever comes my way. And, of course, I want to keep creating for stock. There is just so much growth potential there.

License these images via Charlee Black.

SSTK: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be and what would you hope to create together?

Black: I’m a huge fan of Black surrealism. So, Jordan Peele, Donald Glover, or Pharrell, feel free to hit me up any time.

I’d also love to be a full-time photographer for a film production company like Monkey Paw or A24—to be a part of something unique, that is shifting the culture. 

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License this cover image via Charlee Black.

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