“For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for understanding people and seeing the beauty in all things.”
Sarah Cramer Shields, the photographer responsible for VMDO’s headshots and office photography, is a Charlottesville-based photographer who specializes in environmental portraiture. Her empathy and warm embrace, which she generously shares with everyone she meets, is balanced by an earnest dedication to the craft of portraiture. Her photos capture the specificity and poignancy of a moment in time. As she sums up, “my gift is with people and with portraits and with storytelling.” She connects all three to reveal a deeper truth about the state of Charlottesville and its people in her This Is Charlottesville project.
The project documents Charlottesville professionals and community members through portraits and testimonials that Sarah regularly posts to her Instagram and Facebook pages. She explains that the goal of the project is to get people to step out of their comfort zones. “Until we start stepping out of our comfort zones and talk to people we don’t know and that don’t look like us …change isn’t going to happen. Our town is made up of the most amazing people. The people of Charlottesville are what make it so great, and that’s what I’m shining a light on.”
Born out of a personal response to the events of August 11th and 12th, the project has become a mechanism for social and economic repair, reinvention, and healing—while highlighting the resilience of the Charlottesville community.
Sarah generously interviewed some of VMDO's collaborators and clients as part of her This Is Charlottesville exhibit currently housed at VMDO through the month of December. Below are some excerpts from interviews with Adam Mulcahy, Director of Western Albemarle High School’s Environmental Studies Academy, and Rosa Atkins, Superintendent of Charlottesville City Schools.
Adam: "I was once told Charlottesville is a secret little emerald city …This is a special place. I love working with the kids in all aspects. It’s awesome to see them growing up and become members of society. I love the high school age because they’re starting to really find out who they are. They’re creating their identities and they're really starting to think and process and ask questions, and we get to help guide that process."
Rosa: “I came to Charlottesville in 2006 because I love an adventure and I love a challenge and I love people … I am reminded how much we need each other and how much we need to lean on each other in the community. So, lean on me and lean on each other.”
You can view Sarah’s work on display during VMDO’s December First Fridays occurring December 1 from 5:30pm to 7:30pm at 200 East Market Street. Paintings by artist Janet Perlman will also be on display.