Exposing a Message
Photographer Sierra Pruitt explains to Sarah Olowofoyeku how she honours the art form of photography, how she got her start on Instagram and what being behind the lens means to her.
Before Instagram became the home of influencers and a gallery of very carefully curated feeds, it attracted amateurs—including people who wanted to explore photography. Sierra Pruitt was one of them.
In 2012, a couple of years after the photo-sharing app had launched, Sierra was using her iPhone to take pictures in her home city of Portland, Oregon, and uploading them to Instagram for fun. But it wasn’t long before she realised that she had a talent.
‘The encouragement of people on Instagram who would say, “this is amazing” made me want to take photography more seriously,’ Sierra says. ‘I loved doing it too. In 2013, I bought a cheap camera, and started taking pictures of my friends and doing mini fashion shoots. I was actually studying theatre at the time, and I quit college to start doing photography full-time.’
Sierra started working as a freelance photographer, documenting weddings and taking portraits. But a visit to London broadened her view once again.
‘I was obsessed with the fashion in London,’ she says. ‘And I knew I needed to live there. In Portland, Oregon, where I’m from, you don’t really hear about fashion much. But somebody said I should look into fashion photography, and I loved it. I had been doing a lot of lifestyle photography but I wanted to start doing fashion, so I practised on my friends, getting wacky avant-garde clothes and trying to do editorial shoots.
‘Then I decided to apply for a place at the London College of Fashion to study fashion photography, and I got in. That’s when I knew this was my career. It’s more creative and expressive and I’m able to be more weird, whereas with lifestyle photography, I wasn’t able to do that.’
Three years after graduating and moving back to the States, Sierra is working as a creative manager for a PR agency, doing product photography and graphic design for the social media pages of major beauty brands.
She is also a freelance fashion photographer, and carries out her own personal projects. When she decided to study, she says, part of her motivation was to learn how to put more meaning into her work. One of the most important themes she wanted to portray through her photography is her faith, and it’s something she still does.
‘A lot of my personal projects are based on Jesus, or they show a different way of seeing the gospel. Photography is a powerful medium for me to express my faith, without having to come up with words.’
Her faith even influenced her first university project, which was inspired by her own experience of anxiety.
‘I wanted to depict what it felt like to be in silence and solitude, and how I’m anxious at first but then peaceful by the end. So, I did a shoot that started with a guy in white with crazy, plastic clothes on, showing chaos. Then, towards the end, it showed him being peaceful with water over him, depicting renewal and baptism. That was a fashion shoot, based on Jesus. It showed the transition of what it’s like to live in anxiety and then what it’s like to live in peace with God.’
More recently, a project that she called The Ninth Hour made reference to the hour at which Jesus cried out when he was hanging on his cross.
‘It was about deconstruction, and how we can be entrapped by our idea of trying to be perfect when that is not the perfection of Jesus,’ she explains.
Through her photography, Sierra wants to break down misconceptions about Christianity.
‘I don’t want to stick within a Christian bubble of making art that is surface-level,’ she says. ‘My work is very beautiful, but I want to show that you can express yourself and be weird and avant-garde. I want to show people Jesus in a way that they haven’t seen before, and in a way they can understand.’
Sierra is also certain as to the characteristics of Jesus that she wants to portray through her work.
‘He is peace, he is kind, and he’s there in the really hard stuff,’ she says. ‘I want to show people that he is there in the mess. He loves broken people. He is stability and unconditional love.’
Every year, World Photography Day is held on 19 August to celebrate the day in 1839 that the French government officially announced the invention of the daguerreotype. Being able to portray a personal viewpoint is why, Sierra says, photography is always worth celebrating. (Read more about daguerreotypes)
‘Photographers are showing you what they see, and that’s really important.’
Reprinted with permission from War Cry in the United Kingdom and Ireland Territory.