Photographer Shoccara Marcus discusses her transition from professional dancer to full-time photographer, and the inspiration that led her to this craft.
When Shoccara Marcus signed up for her first photography class in college, she hoped she’d get an easy A. What she got instead was a whole new life trajectory.
Shutterstock: Did you have any interest in photography when you were growing up?
Shoccara Marcus: Not really. I got a video camera in high school, one that records on VHS tapes, and I would take pictures of my friends and get them developed at [the drugstore], but that was it. I never saw photography as an option.
I started dancing when I was three and I thought that would be my life. I went to a performing arts high school and the summer after ninth grade, I was accepted to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater summer program in New York.
After that, I really thought, “Oh, I want to do this. I want to dance.”
SSTK: What changed?
Marcus: I overslept one day and missed one of my finals.
I failed the class and, in order to remain a full-time student, I had to sign up for an extra class the following semester. I chose photography thinking it would be easy, but I ended up really liking it.
I made it my minor and started thinking maybe I could do this. On the side, at least. After graduation, I moved to New York to dance professionally, but I still took pictures of my friends and did little projects and headshots [for extra money].
SSTK: How long were you in New York?
Marcus: Two and a half years. Then my mom got sick and I came back to Atlanta to be with her.
SSTK: Were you done with dancing at that point?
Marcus: I didn’t know. I was talking to my old photography professor from Howard, Michael Platt, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life now that I was back home.
He encouraged me to pursue photography and suggested I check out the MFA program at SCAD. I went to one of their open days and I just thought, “Oh, wow, this is great!”
I put together a portfolio and was accepted. They even gave me some money.
Then, the first day of class came and it was on my birthday and I felt like it was God’s way of telling me I was [doing the right thing].
SSTK: Sounds like Professor Platt was quite the mentor.
Marcus: He was like a father figure to me. He taught my second semester photography class and we used to do critiques at his home, the whole class talking about art while we made dinner.
I would bounce ideas off him and he would give me feedback about my work. He helped me dig deep and encouraged me to keep going. It’s so great to have someone like that to tell you that you are doing a great job and really build you up.
SSTK: What happened after you finished your Masters?
Marcus: I knew I wanted to work with the dance community here in Atlanta and provide them with good, professional, high-quality photography, because, as someone who grew up dancing here, I knew that good dance photographers were really rare.
I also thought about the dance posters I used to see growing up. I wanted to see more people who looked like me in those posters—more black and brown dancers—and I wanted to be the one to create those posters.
SSTK: How is that going?
Marcus: Getting my name out there has been difficult. Photography is a very male-dominated industry. So, being a female—and a black female on top of that—it can be tough getting the same kind of exposure.
But, a lot of dancers in my area have become aware of me and like working with me now. . . . I have dance experience, so I can help them pose and move their bodies.
I was also commissioned by Brown Girls Do Ballet to create images for a series of postcards. I took the photos around the city of Atlanta, so I got to photograph dancers in front of landmarks like the Fox Theater.
It was an incredible experience. We had wardrobe and dance apparel company sponsors. It was beautiful and I remember thinking, “I want to do this for the rest of my life. Just hire me to do this. I want to do this!”
SSTK: How did you connect with the Shutterstock Create Fund?
Marcus: Someone sent me the grant application online. I knew the stock industry existed and I was interested in [being a part of it], but I didn’t know how to get started.
The grant helped me get the models and supplies and equipment I needed to do this kind of work.
SSTK: What has been your focus in creating your stock portfolio so far?
Marcus: I started by documenting my world. I want to show black people doing things that, in photography, you usually only see white people doing. Like just living their lives and having a Friendsgiving.
I also took some pictures of a friend of mine with low vision. I wanted to break from the stereotypes I’d seen growing up, where a blind person is depicted wearing dark glasses and just sweeping their cane around randomly.
SSTK: What else do you have planned?
Marcus: My niece plays soccer and it occurred to me that we need to see more black and brown kids playing soccer, so I want to do a shoot with her and her friends.
I also have an aunt with an amputated leg and I’d like to do a shoot focused on her. I think it is important that we try to normalize disability.
SSTK: There’s certainly a need in the stock industry for work that explores the intersection of race and disability. What else are you hoping to achieve, beyond stock?
Marcus: Last year, I made a documentary about the first black dance studios in Atlanta. I’d like to make more of those. I want to create this whole database of documentaries so these black pioneers and the history of black dance in Georgia can be taught in schools.
SSTK: And you still need to make those dance posters!
Marcus: Definitely! I’m gonna do it. I’m excited.
License this cover image via S Marcus.