IN CONVERSATION WITH
WORDS BY LEE GLANDORF
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHAWN PRIDGEN
Over 2021, Tracksmith has supported six projects from runners with creative ambitions as part of our first-ever Fellowship program. We've introduced podcaster Dinée Dorame and sculptor Bob Boyle, and now we're chatting with Shawn Pridgen, a photographer working on a photo essay that examines the experiences of Black Track and Field alumni for Ivy League and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Tracksmith: When did you start photography? What does it mean to you?
Shawn: I started with film photography in high school. My mother, god bless her soul, brought me a used camera from a pawn shop as a birthday gift—it remains one of my favorite memories of my childhood.
I struggle to put in words what Photography means to me, it’s complicated… but I love it unconditionally. It has given me more than I can ever repay including a sense of self, purpose, freedom and responsibility.
Tracksmith: Are there people or experiences that inspire your work?
Shawn: I think a quote I reference often from Bernd Heinrich puts it best for me, he said: 'I'm inspired to no end by people who can really do great things, so I'm moved by others’ dreams, by their devotion and courage in the pursuit for this excellence...'
Tracksmith: How did you dream up your Fellowship project?
Shawn: I really wanted to do something to highlight underrepresented athletes, specifically people of color. In the end, I was inspired by my sister’s experiences. As a former collegiate athlete and member of her universities track and field team, her story as a highly decorated black student-athlete motivated me to create this project; only second to my mother, she is the strongest woman I know and this project is dedicated to her.
Tracksmith: You’re a prolific photographer, training in the process, how do you approach getting better?
Shawn: Not sure anyone has ever used the word prolific to describe me, but I’ll take it. In terms of training and getting better, I surround myself with people whose work I admire and respect—loyal, and honest people with integrity; it’s a small circle. I also seek out constructive feedback and counsel from mentors and dear friends in the photography community. Lastly, my father, a retired Marine, has instilled a work ethic.
Tracksmith: What stories excite you visually?
Shawn:I love a good photo-essay featuring people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities; it’s always great to see people of color represented in media and entertainment that aren’t necessarily the superstars. I believe that those hard working, consistent, and talented people also deserve a seat at the table, and it brings me joy when I see a story highlight the unsung hero or underdog of any medium.
Tracksmith: How does running inform your creativity?
Shawn: When I’m running, I come up with my best ideas. Running also allows me to clear my mind. As a creative my mind is always busy, I don’t really sleep more than 5 hours a night, so running allows me to take the time that need to center myself and recharge.
Know an HBCU or Ivy League athlete that would be a fit for Shawn's project? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in joining our 2022 cohort of Fellows? We're now accepting applications. Learn more.