The pho­tog­ra­pher looks back on doc­u­ment­ing a gen­er­a­tion of At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity

GA Voice - - Out In The Wind - Sher Pruitt

“There were ben­e­fits but back then it was a lot more bar shots. It got really de­press­ing be­cause I would pho­to­graph peo­ple and it wouldn’t be much later and they had died, and I didn’t know they were HIV pos­i­tive. It was really sad.”

By PA­TRICK SAUNDERS

Thir­teen thou­sand. That’s how many events Sher Pruitt es­ti­mates she has pho­tographed in her 25 years cov­er­ing At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity. She did 14 alone dur­ing Pride week­end this year, from Out On Film to the bars to the park to the Pride pa­rade, plus a same-sex wed­ding to top it all off. And she’s done it all while never be­ing on staff at an LGBT pub­li­ca­tion, work­ing en­tirely free­lance.

The sin­gle Columbia, South Carolina na­tive lives in Ma­ri­etta, but con­sid­ers her­self a Mid­town girl at heart, which makes sense con­sid­er­ing she’s ba­si­cally an hon­orary res­i­dent with all the events she shoots in the area.

Pruitt looks back on doc­u­ment­ing a gen­er­a­tion of At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity, from the early days shoot­ing for Etc. and Southern Voice, through the worst of the AIDS epi­demic and nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits, bar nights and protests, to the present day in which she shoots for David, Fenuxe, Project Q, Pocket Rocket and Ge­or­gia Voice.

What was it like grow­ing up in South Carolina?

It was com­pletely dif­fer­ent be­cause I look Asian but I’m not, it’s a lit­tle Amer­i­can In­dian. Peo­ple didn’t look like me so peo­ple were al­ways ask­ing me to teach them kung fu. Even when I went to col­lege, guys would come up to me at bars and say, ‘Would … you … like … to … dance?’ like I didn’t even understand English. So I com­pletely felt like a mi­nor­ity in South Carolina whereas here in Ge­or­gia I never felt like that.

How did you make it to At­lanta?

I had never even been to a gay bar, or even thought I was gay, I just knew that I was dif­fer­ent. I would come home and say, ‘Momma, I meet all th­ese nice guys. How come I don’t want to go out with any of them?’

I was a late bloomer, so my first girl­friend was when I was 23. I met her in Columbia

Novem­ber 13, 2015

and she ended up mov­ing here be­cause she had fam­ily here so that’s how I ended up mov­ing here in 1987.

How did you get in­volved in pho­tog­ra­phy?

I have a pic­ture of me from when I was a kid with one of those Ko­dak cam­eras around my neck. My dad got me a pro­fes­sional cam­era when I was 14 and I just started tak­ing pic­tures of my fam­ily. Then I ended up be­ing on the an­nual staff at my high school as a pho­tog­ra­pher. Then about 1989 or 1990 I saw that Etc. was look­ing for a pho­tog­ra­pher and I went and took them some pho­tos I had taken and that’s how I started.

What kind of as­sign­ments were you shoot­ing back then?

There were ben­e­fits but back then it was a lot more bar shots. It got really de­press­ing be­cause I would pho­to­graph peo­ple and it wouldn’t be much later and they had died, and I didn’t know they were HIV pos­i­tive. It was really sad.

I was see­ing things change. Things are much bet­ter than they used to be but I re­mem­ber dur­ing the Cracker Bar­rel dis­crim­i­na­tion and the marches. I pho­tographed ev­ery­thing.

I usu­ally work ev­ery week­end and I have pri­vate events that I do. Also dur­ing that time I used to free­lance in the mar­ket­ing depart­ment for At­lanta Mag­a­zine. So pho­tog­ra­phy’s a pas­sion for sure.

What was it like watch­ing the com­mu­nity grow and change over the years?

What I do love is be­ing gay is much more ac­cept­ing. At­lanta has such a large gay pop­u­la­tion and it’s just good to see peo­ple be­ing who they are. We have so many ben­e­fits, much more than we used to. The only bad thing is there doesn’t seem to be as many dance clubs or tea dances as there used to be. But as far as be­ing gay it’s much bet­ter.

What was your most mem­o­rable pho­to­graph or as­sign­ment?

I’ve loved so many. Wow. I think this was a really fun one, not that it’s nec­es­sar­ily that gay but I love [Jef­frey] Fash­ion Cares, and part of the money goes to HIV. And just see­ing it grow, be­cause I used to go when not many peo­ple would show up and now it’s like 500 to 700 dol­lars a ticket and it used to be like 25 dol­lars.

I pho­tographed a ben­e­fit that had El­ton John, Bil­lie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and some other peo­ple. That was a su­per nice event at [Ken­ne­saw State Univer­sity]. To watch them play and be in there for the press con­fer­ence was really fun. I pretty much enjoy ev­ery­thing I do.

What is it you love about pho­tog­ra­phy? What makes you want to keep do­ing it?

It’s weird be­cause when I was get­ting ready to pho­to­graph El­ton John at Mu­sic Mid­town [this year], just bring­ing my cam­era up be­fore I even snapped, my heart rate goes up. I get ex­cited. That’s it. And I do like the part of pho­tograph­ing history. I also love go­ing to the dif­fer­ent bars and ben­e­fits and all the peo­ple that get ex­cited that want their photo taken. I get lots of hugs and they like their pho­tos.

And now that gay mar­riage is le­gal, I’ve pho­tographed a few gay wed­dings a month so far. I’ve done two in the last week. I love that peo­ple can marry who they love and th­ese cou­ples that I pho­to­graph, some of them have been to­gether for 25 years.

How much longer do you want to do it?

I’m not a spring chicken but I want to keep do­ing it as long as I’m able to and they want me. I’m young at heart so I’m ex­pect­ing to go at least un­til I’m 80-some­thing.

Sher Pruitt es­ti­mates she has pho­tographed 13,000 events in her 25 years cov­er­ing At­lanta’s LGBT com­mu­nity. (Cour­tesy photo)

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