PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY
Photographer $han Wallace, left, and The Roll Up CLT Founder Jessica Moss.
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$han Wallace has a story to tell.

As the photographer’s residency with The Roll Up CLT begins, expect to see her unapologetically highlight the beauty of the black over the next six months. The East Baltimore native fell in love with photography twice in very different ways. As an 8-year-old, she would use the camcorder her grandparents purchased to record her cat’s exploits.

“My cat was really important to my upbringing,” Wallace said. “That was my girl. Her name was Pepa. I would show my grandfather how to use the camera. We lived in the city, and we lived in an environment where there weren’t many pretty things, but the cat was pretty.”

Photography called Wallace in a different way when Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in 2012.  

“I was 21,” Wallace said. “It was the first time I really started asking questions, and started making sense of the world that was around me, and not just of the world that was in Baltimore. It really added perspective, but it was life changing for me to be able to confide in my community and my family, and not really receive any answers, but then also find myself kind [of relating] to Trayvon Martin. I knew Trayvon Martins throughout my city. I went to my first march, and it was at city hall, and it was packed—over 15,000 people.”

Wallace knew about the historical implications of people gathering to protest social injustice, but the experience looks nothing like a history book.

“It was the first time that I had done anything like that,” she said. “It was the first time that I was even aware of anything like that, other than history, but it’s different when you read about it, and see it on television, than when it is happening in your city, and you have an opportunity to make change, and be active.”

Freddie Gray’s death in 2015 was the final stroke for Wallace.

“I had a tool that I could use that would reflect our outcries, and reflect what’s happening, and reflecting that there are a lot of Freddie Grays,” Wallace said. “There are a lot of Mike Browns. There are a lot of Sandra Blands. There are a lot of us who should be remembered and valued, regardless of their ZIP code, regardless of how much money their family has. That was the tipping point for me.”

Wallace’s goal became to align herself with the work of photographers like Gordon Parks. She visited Charlotte in December to acquaint herself with the residency and the city before moving here in May. Her time in Charlotte extends through November, with roughly 10 programs scheduled per month. Wallace will teach Photo 101 and 102 to middle school students at the Lorien Academy of the Arts in West Charlotte for three months starting in June. She has already produced curriculum for the academy. She previously served as a teaching artist during her fellowship at the Getty Institute in Los Angeles.

“The students here are younger, but also, we have a lot of room to really invest in not only their photography skills and their skillset, but their lives, and potentially helping them grow and expand and elevate in a way that influences how they move in the world, and what they plan to do,” Wallace said. “They might not all want to be photographers, but at least they have the skill to bring in some revenue for yourself, for your family, but also if you want to be an artist, you can document your life, or your family’s life, or do fashion photography.”

The Wallace experience opens with an open house on May 23 from 4-7 p.m. She will also continue her project “Sisters With Stories,” which highlights women of color, throughout her stay in Charlotte. Additionally, she’ll include portrait sessions throughout her stay at the Beatties Ford Road Library, as well as a portrait session at the YWCA. Photo

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