Bri Richards (formerly McDaniel) is a Seattle-based wedding photographer who is an advocate for empowerment and knowledge, the keys to self acceptance and self love.
Liz: Hey Bri McDee! Can you tell us a bit about your background? What was growing up like for you?
Bri: Sure! I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina with my mom. She raised me pretty much by herself with the help of my grandparents. I’m an only child, and I guess I am pretty spoiled. (laughs) In fifth grade I got a scholarship to go to private school. I was the only black girl in my grade of 70, and I graduated from there. Looking back on that time now I didn't realize how hard that was for me. So many expectations were put on me regarding how to act and perform. And I never really fit in at school or even at home. I was too black for school and too white for home. It made me really closed off, and it was hard to show my true self to people. Which is why I became really passionate about art and photography. Photography was a way to express myself when I felt no one was listening. It’s easier to show than to talk.
Liz: I love that, and I love how you can make clear connections between your childhood and your work as a photographer now. What was your transition into adulthood like?
Bri: It was really amazing! My transition started when I went to SCAD-Atlanta to study photography. At school I was surrounded by so many people who had experienced the same feeling of isolation growing up. It made me feel like I could finally be myself. But with that feeling came confusion because I wasn't sure who I was. I wasn't even sure how I wanted to look. But I was really excited to find out. I stopped relaxing my hair, and I stopped wearing heels every day, and it felt good. I realized I wanted to pursue wedding photography because love makes me so happy. My transition also is linked to my husband because I met him the first weekend at school. He was a huge key in me waking me the fuck up. Because I had been asleep for too long. I wasn't really aware of how the world worked because I was sheltered, and I closed myself off. He helped me see it and taught me how to find out things for myself. Overall I gained this sense of empowerment and self love which has shaped me into the adult I am today.
Liz: That's beautiful. Can you tell us more about what "waking the fuck up" looked and felt like for you?
Bri: Thanks! And it was shocking. It sounds so silly, but I was really in denial as a child. I wanted to fit in so bad, so I just ignored the microaggressions thrown my way every second of every day. But then I had this aha moment. Phillip showed me this documentary on COINTELPRO. I realized the FBI was actively discrediting and disrupting the Black Panthers. The Black Panthers threatened the status quo of white supremacy, and the government just couldn't have that. When I saw the sneaky measures they went to, I just had the moment. Like I just opened my eyes. COINTELPRO is real, and there are actual documents proving what the government did. It made me start paying attention. I realized how unfair the world was for people of color and that the government is actively trying to keep it this way. And then the police killings and videos just put me through the ringer. We knew it was happening, but now we have proof and still nothing is changing. With that proof I realized I couldn't walk in denial anymore. Ignoring the problems is keeping them going. But yeah it was shocking. Still is.
Liz: Yeah, I don't think we can deny much of anything in terms of racism and the government's enforcing of racist policies any longer. So how have you incorporated this awakening into your photography and business?
Bri: With my photography I just simply want people to feel empowered. I want them to feel beautiful and cared about. I didn't feel empowered growing up, and now that I do I want to share that feeling. One of the ways I do that is by showcasing diversity in my portfolio. It’s hard to feel beautiful if you are not being represented. If only one type of bride is being shown over and over, and you don’t look like that bride, it makes you feel kind of shitty.
Liz: Totally. Can you describe what it means to feel empowered and to see yourself represented?
Bri: To feel empowered means you feel confident in yourself, and you love yourself. When you see a person who looks like you get praise through representation it makes you feel confident in how you look, which can lead to self love. When you don’t see yourself represented, it can lead to doubt and denial in yourself.
Liz: Thank you. I think we throw around words like "empowerment" a lot, but sometimes it helps to step back and remember what the essence of empowerment is.
Bri: Yeah I agree! The essence really comes down to self love, which I feel is so important. Love is so beautiful, and we are so quick to share it with other people, but we can’t neglect it for ourselves.
Liz: Is there anything else you would like to share with folks reading who are also working to find their own place and their own identity?
Bri: I would say to others that it starts with stepping out of the denial. Don’t deny how you feel or think because it is beautiful, and it is you. Once you stop denying you can start loving, and that extends to yourself.
Liz: That's beautiful and so well said. Thank you so much, Bri.