This week we talked with Sandra Sellars, senior photographer for the Richmond Free Press.
Sellars talks to us about how she’s been a photographer for most of her life, the joys of news photography as well as its more trying moments, what she looks for in a photo to compel the reader and more.
Please introduce yourself.
I am Sandra Sellars and I’m the senior photographer at the Richmond Free Press. I cover a plethora of assignments from general and breaking news to features and sports. I’ve been a photographer with the paper for more than 18 years.
How did you get started in photography? Is it strictly a work passion, or do you pursue it in your free time as well?
I’ve been a photographer since the 4th grade. I developed my first roll of film in the 7th grade and I’ve been hooked since that time. I was a photographer for my high school paper and freelanced as a photographer in under grad and graduate schools. So, I was at it long before I started full time with RFP. I shoot constantly whether at work or play. I love it.
What makes a photo memorable to you? What qualities does it have to have?
A memorable photo is one that evokes emotion. Joy, sadness anger, fear etc. A photo should be well composed and able to tell a story.
Tell us about one of your most memorable photos you’ve taken for RFP. What made this photo memorable to you?
A photograph I think of often is an image that ran in the paper in 2014. It captured the grief, pain and heartache of three little girls attending a neighborhood vigil for their friend Marty Cobb, 8, who was killed defending his sister from a sexual assault in South Richmond. I often wonder how those children are doing now and if they, too, think of that moment.
What’s it like, as a photojournalist, having to bear witness to such raw and emotionally-packed situations? Is there a way you go about dealing with it?
It’s tough and it’s sad. It can sometimes feel like an intrusion. But I have to keep in mind that I’m there to tell the story. Having a moral compass makes it easier to deal with recording someone’s pain and sorrow. My intention is never to exploit.
Do you take comfort in the fact that you’re providing documentation of a given moment in history—whether that be large or small?
What has kept you wanting to photograph for RFP over the past 18 years? What does the job give to you on a personal level?
It doesn’t seem like 18 years, the Richmond Free Press staff are like extended family to me. I want to see what happens next. There’s never a dull moment at the Richmond Free Press or in the City of Richmond for that matter.
I’ve always wanted to work for an African-American publication. My parents always had the Richmond Afro, Jet, Ebony, Essence, Sepia, Right On other black publications in our home. So when Richmond Free Press Founder Raymond H. Boone (a former editor with the Afro) offered me a job, I jumped at the chance to work with him. I love making a living as a photojournalist.
Have you ever had a moment when you were reminded of the importance and necessity of what you and the rest of the RFP team do?
A few years ago someone called the office to see if we would be interested in covering an investiture at the Supreme Court of Virginia. That was one of those moments because prior to 2011 no one was allowed to cover investitures in that space other than one pool photographer and one pool videographer. After being denied access to Leroy Hassell, Sr.’s investiture in 2003, former Richmond Free Press publisher Raymond H. Boone fought for 9-years to get us access to cover investitures photographically in the Supreme Court of Virginia. In 2011 we covered the investiture of Justice Cleo Powell first African American woman to serve on Virginia’s highest Court and the fifth woman to serve on the Court. We provided pool coverage for weekly publications.
What do you enjoy most about working in newspapers?
I enjoy meeting people and having an opportunity to tell their stories.