Visual Voice of the People
DC photographer Dee Dwyer talks to Middle Schoolers about her work and recent rise to prominence.
In just the past three years, photographer Dee Dwyer has taken pictures for The New York Times, Vogue, and Rolling Stone; given a TED Talk; and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for reporting. But if you ask her, Dwyer’s real accomplishment is chronicling her favorite place in the world, Southeast DC. “I’ve been documenting Southeast DC since I was a teenager,” Dwyer told Sidwell Friends Middle Schoolers at a special assembly in January. “I want to be the visual voice of the people. I want to show that DC isn’t just monuments.”
Dwyer studied photography and filmmaking in college and became inspired by Spike Lee’s cinematic love letters to Brooklyn, New York. Dwyer wanted to convey the vibrancy of her neighborhood, too. “I started taking pictures at the go-gos,” she said of the venues devoted to DC’s native sound. “It was where people smiled.” She became well-known in DC and has been a regular feature of Art All Night, the District’s 22-ward arts festival.
But it was Dwyer’s still images from Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 that catapulted her to national prominence. Dwyer’s reputation as a trustworthy local voice gave her access to DC’s Black activist community. “Black Lives Matter shed light on my work,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here were if not for Black people insisting that other Black people tell their stories.”
She encouraged all the students to find their own voices, expressed joy upon hearing they could take photography as early as Upper School, and went back and forth with the kids about who the best new rap artists on the scene are right now. Learn more about Dwyer’s work, which she says, “shows the world what it’s made of,” at deedwyerjonts.com.
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