Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
A camera that she received as a young girl from her grandmother put Christina Ne’Cole Smith on a path she never thought she’d follow professionally.
“As a kid, I remember my grandma bought me a little camera. I was the oldest of six siblings and I always remember snapping photos,” says Smith, owner of Memories with Christina Ne’Cole
located at 2 West Michigan Avenue, and a Credit Evaluator in Western Michigan University’s Admissions Office. “I’ve always enjoyed taking photos. One day I decided I wanted to turn this into a business. Once people started seeing my work out there everybody started to request photos.”
Mae Jemison-African American Astronaut (Kashmir Williams)
Although she offers a broad range of photography through her business, including weddings and portraits, one of her more recent projects involved capturing images of children dressed as African American historical figures during Black History Month in February. Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., NASA's Katherine Johnson
, and President Barak Obama were among those that children from cities including Detroit, Lansing, and Kalamazoo chose to represent.
Smith says some of the close to 20 children photographed were selected at random through her Facebook friends and at least one co-worker. In addition to displaying the photos on various social media platforms, she also created a “Who Am I” trivia game where people were asked to guess which historical figure they were representing based on certain facts that she posted.
Christina Ne’Cole Smith offers a broad range of photography through her business.
The project was free of charge to the children and their families because Smith says she likes to give back when she can.
“It was just having a fun experience. The kids really enjoyed themselves and it’s something they can look back on. I wanted to build awareness for the children and myself,” Smith says. “I wanted to have some people who were well-known, but I had a couple of kids who chose to dress as more hidden figures like Ruby Bridges
and Mary Smith, the first African American woman who was a cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys.”
Katherine Johnson-Mathematician (Kamri Canales)
The Black History Month project was followed up with a “Who Do I Want to be When I Grow Up” collection of photos featuring children portraying who they want to be when they grow up, Smith says. For next year’s Black History Month, she says she would like to do a variation on the movie “Hidden Figures”
Smith never had any formal training or classes in photography. She learned, instead, from a gentleman who took photographs at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church where she worships
“It was trial and error and I learned to adapt and kind of go from there,” she says.
Garrett Morgan-Traffic Light (Kahree Bates)
Around this time she says she noticed that there were very few female photographers and even fewer African American female photographers.
“I think for me, this gives me more motivation to strive because we would like to see more of us out there and more people who look like us as photographers,” Smith says.
Despite, not having formal training or mentors who could guide her, Smith established herself in 2013 as a professional photographer sharing a studio with two people before graduating to her own studio a couple of years later.
Malcolm X (Avion Lee)
She says she has made a point to mentor people who are interested in becoming photographers, but that it’s “more of an informal thing with several people reaching out to her to ask questions.”
“The main thing is that I always want to inspire others,” she says. “I want people to know they can do this. As a child with a camera, I never imagined that I would go this far.”
Mary Smith-African American Cheerleader (Cailee Bess)