Creator Spotlight: Courtney Lowry
"Everyone wants to be heard and listened to, without feeling as if they’re being down talked into in a condescending voice. Just listen, make the change, and get it done."—Courtney Lowry
Courtney Lowry may be small in stature, but she’s making big waves in the Vocal community. A recent SCAD graduate majoring in Photography, Courtney views the world in a unique lens. With a focus in black and women’s rights, and a passion for dispelling the stigmas surrounding mental health, Courtney has moved her audience and challenged them to think critically about the world around them. Check out her thoughtful responses in her Creator Spotlight.
On her personal brand of activism:
When artists say they’re activists, there’s a stigma with that—a stereotype that we are creating this aggressive and hard-hitting work. Some do, and it works well for them each and every time. But, if you’ve met me in person, I’m the complete opposite. I’m more reserved and shy around new people. I love everybody and I’m empathetic, so much so I often feel my friends’ feelings. But with my work, my voice is elevated to a height that I could’ve never imagined. I’m a small person, and virtually underestimated whenever I step into a room. I think my work is profound, but there’s a sensitivity to it. Considering that I am only five feet tall, no one expects me to create work that I’ve made. That’s my favorite thing about myself.
On the works that inspire her writing:
As a kid, I was inspired by Barabra Park, author of the Junie B. Jones books. In high school, I gravitated to a lot of Young Adult fiction. My two favorite books as a high school senior were All the Bright Places by Jennier Niven and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. During my sophomore year of college, Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey floated into my life, just as it was cascading down around me. But I felt Rupi’s pain, because she was writing about the things I’d gone through, as I was going through them. That’s a really beautiful thing, to connect with an author’s work, like in the way I felt bonded with Rupi. Poetry became more prevalent in my life from then on, and I sort of left fiction behind, because it didn’t feel true anymore. However, turning pages and feeling words under my fingers still excites me. I love new books, and it was my dream to have one with my name on it, fully written by me. I do now, as an adult: it’s called When The Kids Go Home (East French Press 2020). So, I think I made my childhood self very proud. Storytelling is in my blood, with both writing and photography. It’s something that will never not exhilarate me.
On the voices that move her:
- Tyler, The Creator
- Gordon Parks
- Dapper Lou
- Myles Loftin
- Carrie Mae Weems
- Joshua Rashaad McFadden
- Maya Angelou
- Kehinde Wiley
- Jean-Michel Basquiat
- Jacob Lawrence
- Tyler Mitchell
On her experience with photography:
In my junior year in high school, I was introduced to photography, and I learned that photography was a new way of telling stories. Writing wasn’t the only form of self-expression. The darkroom was my first taste of photography. My high school had a really nice darkroom and provided small-format cameras and 35mm film (which I then accepted that college does not provide free cameras and film).
I wasn’t in love with the film immediately, yet, I was enamored with the concept of freezing a moment in time forever. I spent day after day in the darkroom, the smell of developer forever in my clothes. My senior year, I decided to take the second-level photography class my school offered.
That same year, I received my first digital camera and was the head photographer for the school’s yearbook. I recreated Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, calling it Humans of Catonsville–which is where I went to high school. I interviewed around twenty students for the page, and it was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had.
Both my friends and strangers opened up to me about their mental health, school, and family life. I’d seen a new, unexpected side to the students of Catonsville High. I began college in the fall of 2015 at SCAD Savannah. On the brink of the Black Lives Matter movement, I knew my calling was to create work depicting the black experience. I was a senior in high school during the Freddie Gray riots.
On growing up in Baltimore and its influences on her work:
Baltimore holds a lot of memories. It is not comforting, like Atlanta (which I am more willing to claim as home than Baltimore). But, I was born in the hospital in the heart of the city so it’s in my blood. I was shielded from a lot, because of my mom. But with the news constantly projecting that hour’s double shooting, avoiding Baltimore’s grit was impossible. We went to the city often as a kid, and I was exposed to the realities of Baltimore young. Plus, The Wire was a show that acted as a documentary for those of us living in Baltimore.
My mom was interested in theatre, film, and television during my childhood. All of the production and acting opportunities were in the city. I’d go with her to all of her opportunities, as moral support, of course. I’d bring snacks and work on homework. Or, if I was there was a place for me, I had a microscopic role without any lines. The production meetings or plays we were in ran from mid-evening to late at night, and you’d have to be aware when you’re walking around at night in Baltimore City. You can’t be overly paranoid, just be aware. I’m fortunate now though that I was in the city a lot as a kid, because it taught me a lot about survival as an adult. Just basic life skills about how to get by and what to look out for.
Baltimore City, which I wasn’t too fond of but appreciated, was shaken to its core as we realized that police brutality could happen anywhere. I was enraged by the injustices Freddie Gray faced, but I couldn’t sit back and let it fester. So, I turned my anger into art. It was then that I knew I had to do this forever, because Caphotos stick with people. You’ve captured not only a moment in time, but have that moment in physical form. Pouring the truth comes easy for me as a photographer, and it’s something I never want to lose.
On the importance of sharing her own story:
Always. It’s my identity. I can’t speak on or make art sharing someone else’s story. It’s just cringey and when I’ve done it, I can’t even remember those projects because there’s no attachment to them. During 2017, through 2018, and into 2019, I solidified the messages and had a grip on the photographer I wanted to be. Years prior, I was adrift in trying to make what I thought people wanted me to make: all work about the black experience, which hindered my identity as a woman, and never gave me to share my thoughts as a disabled person. It was this constant cycle of backpedaling and doubt in my ability as a photographer, but I’ve grown from it.
On her political writing:
No, I wasn’t always drawn to political writing. As a young girl, history terrified me. I wanted the world to be rainbows and sunshine. I used to cover my ears whenever the news was on, because I just couldn’t handle it. In school, during Black History Month, we’d see photos of innocent black people getting sprayed with hoses and attacked by dogs, and I hated looking at that stuff. I remember I used to pray to Jesus that it would never happen in this world again. I used to have nightmares about being chased by white mobs, because I was so scared of racism. But after Freddie Gray, something shifted. It didn’t scare me anymore, it motivated me. When I got to college, a handful of professors encouraged me to push the envelope when it came to telling the black narrative, the woman’s narrative, and later the narrative from the perspective of a disabled person. By college, I didn’t want to read or write fiction anymore, because (for me) fiction was like fabricating life, which would contradict my vision as an artist.
On fighting stigmas and inequalities:
It’s important to have conversations about the world, particularly if you’re a marginalized folk. And it’s even more important if we hear it from you, as a marginalized folk. There’s nothing that makes me cringe more is when there’s narratives that are tainted by the complete opposite of who’s supposed to tell them. Projecting your views on a subject that doesn’t match your characteristics is shadowing and silencing the truth. What you think may be the truth, probably isn’t the truth, so let the people who were actually there speak for themselves. The topics I speak on most are black’s rights, women’s rights, and mental health stigmas as I can share my journey of overcoming the barriers placed in front of me for being a black disabled woman with fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression. I wouldn’t appoint someone who’s not like me to speak for me. We need to continue conversations, after starting them, to educate. Or else, we’re just going to keep drilling ourselves into a hole of ignorance, where change is a myth and equality is a fantasy.
On her hopes for the future:
I’d love to see more acceptance and more accommodations when it comes to disabled people. It still makes people uncomfortable to talk about disabilities. Personally, it is more offensive when you’re overly sensitive when it comes to talking to me about my disability. It’s almost like talking down to me, when I go into an establishment asking if its ADA-accessible, and I’m immediately hit with, “Oh I’m so sorry to hear about your pain. Unfortunately, we don’t have a handicap ramp.” It’s like an undercut, a personal attack. It’s like, you refuse to adapt your space, but then shrink me down by pretending to care about my disability. My disabled friends and I are always having conversations about ableism, and how much it hurts. The same goes for racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Everyone wants to be heard and listened to, without feeling as if they’re being down talked into in a condescending voice. Just listen, make the change, and get it done.
On her favorite Vocal stories:
- 'Sex Education'—Netflix's Woke Series We Didn't Know We Needed
- The Truth About "Pro-Black" YA Fiction
- The Misogyny You Didn't Notice in 'Mr. Mom'
- In Light of Lorena, There's Still a Promotion of Abusive Me
It’s hard to narrow down my favorite stories, because there’s a lot of heart in these four stories that I’ve written with Vocal. I remember each time I published these stories, it was a refreshing feeling, as if the floodgates had opened and everything fell into place. I always come back to these stories, referencing them in my writing portfolio when I’m applying for freelance opportunities, because I’m so proud of them. We should hold the work we are most proud of, because it signifies strength and belief in ourselves and our craft. My truth was laid out on the table with these stories, as I called out things as I saw them—unjust and stagnant.
Don’t think about it—first thing that comes to mind:
What is one thing you couldn’t live without? Music. It’s how I function. Headphones included.
Cats or dogs? Allergic to both, but I love the pups.
Go-to late night snack? Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers.
All time favorite movie? Moonlight.
What are you currently binge watching? I don’t like much T.V. because I like stories that have a beginning and an end. BUT—I’ve been binge-watching Marriage Story for the past two days.
If you could go anywhere for vacation, where would you go? Copenhagen, Denmark.
If you could speak a new language, what would it be? Danish.
Favorite Atlanta art gallery? Sapphron Studio: Sapphron is an Atlanta-based artist collective and gallery stationed at the Goat Farm Arts Center. We are dedicated to providing a critical and inclusive space that uplifts the voices and work of wlw & gnc artists of color.
Favorite story you read on Vocal? The "Angry" Black Women.
Thank you for sharing your work with us, Courtney! We're so excited to see what you create next. Keep up with her projects by following her on Instagram! Read her latest stories below: