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In-demand Silicon Valley photographer turns to topical portraits

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But these independent works are a vast departure from Price’s already robust and unexpected career. In 2014, Price became Silicon Valley’s most in-demand commercial photographer in a matter of months — her client list is a who’s who of global brands and big tech names. Her quick rise is in its own way a version of the classic tech startup tale.

After receiving a public relations degree from North Carolina State University in 2009, Price packed up and moved to San Francisco on a whim. “No plan and no money either,” she says. “I checked my bank account when I got there, and I had $40. Fortunately I had a car that I could sell.”

Price eventually worked her way into public relations in tech, but after a few years felt dissatisfied with her work and began to devote free time to photography, an old love of hers. Soon a photo gig with the tech company Square in 2013, along with a startup-like prescience, prompted her to jump headlong into photography.

“I had a theory that Silicon Valley was just starting to care about branding and visual storytelling. When I first started working in tech, nobody cared about branding or design,” Price says. “But no photographers cared about tech — why would they? At the time, being a tech photographer sounded like the most uncool thing in the world.”

Justin Bethune is in the 100-person “Techies” project. Photo: By Helena Price, Courtesy Helena Price



Photo: By Helena Price, Courtesy Helena Price

Justin Bethune is in the 100-person “Techies” project.

Justin Bethune is in the 100-person “Techies” project.

But Price bridged the gap and became, seemingly overnight, the de facto cameraperson capturing a new aesthetic veneer quickly spreading across Silicon Valley’s brand names.

Yet just as Price’s can-do attitude (borderline rash, she admits) catapulted her into an eminent status, so did it inspire her to deviate again with the past year’s intensive outpouring of personal work.

“I’ve always wanted to do these big libraries of oral histories for some reason,” Price says. “I think it’s the same kind of motivator behind why I took pictures for so long — I want to capture things and save them before they go away.”

What fades quickest perhaps are individuals and experiences that never find a platform. With “Techies,” a massive undertaking Price took on practically single-handedly, she provided a comprehensive spotlight on the stories of outliers in an ostensibly homogenized industry. A simple, muted blue backs the varied, lesser-seen faces of 100 “techies”: women, people of color, LGBTQ, over 50, people with disabilities.

But “Techies,” like “The Pussy Project” and “Banned,” is not a photo collage ticking off a diversity check box. Each portrait series, composed with varying shades of pink backdrops in “The Pussy Project” and light tan in “Banned,” is distinguished for the distinct stories Price mined, 156 across all projects, and the insights and anxieties they contain.

Behind each face of “Techies” — from designers to big-name entrepreneurs — is a striking subversion of the stereotypical tech worker journey and the distinct challenges that come as a result (what does it mean to transition from the business side of tech into a diversity management role as an African American?).

“The Pussy Project” rallied a palette of female voices in a time of trepidation: “In a million small ways, we learn our opinions aren’t valid,” reads the project’s introductory profile of a young woman from Texas. The 50-woman ensemble went live a week before the presidential election.

“We watched the results together,” Price recalls. “I was watching it surrounded by Muslim women and trans women and all kinds of women in that project who were bawling their eyes out. It was heavy. It was horrible.”

The project, whose title co-opts Trump’s infamous, lewd utterance caught on a 2005 hot mike, feels more essential following the election, Price says.

Yet Price doesn’t see her work as a political blame game or liberal crusading either — she herself grew up in a conservative bubble in a small North Carolina town.

“I never necessarily thought of it as propping up minority voices,” Price says. “I think, more than anything, it’s just stories I can personally relate to. ‘Banned’ was the one exception because I cannot personally relate to what they’re going through right now.”

In “Banned,” six Silicon Valley employees vent their fears in the context of Trump’s proposed travel ban on seven (now six) majority-Muslim countries. Shahrouz, a product designer who emigrated from Iran at the age of 2, remembers the relief he felt following the election, knowing his son looks white, “which is a terrible thought to have.”

“A goal that I have with all these is bridging these empathy gaps,” Price says. “Especially with (‘Banned’), I wanted people to hear these people and be like, ‘Wow they sound just like me. They sound really nice and kind and normal.’ ”

Price, a curious character under the traditional photographer moniker, appropriately detests categorization. And if there’s an overarching premise to her trilogy of passion projects, it’s to tell stories that defy preconceptions and connect us.

“There are no rules about people,” Price says. “There are no laws. There are no broad strokes that we can apply to groups of people. It’s not effective and it’s not true.”

Brandon Yu is a Bay Area freelance writer.

Online

“Techies”: www.techiesproject.com

“The Pussy Project”: www.thepussyproject.com

“Banned”: https://bannedproject.com

More of Helena Price’s work: www.helenaprice.com


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