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Brian Ellison is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He moved to Houston to pursue his Masters in Counseling at Prairie View A&M University. He earned his BA in Sociology at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. Ellison works as a photographer, visual artist, and special education teacher at YES Prep East End. We interviewed him about his path to YES Prep, his art installation “You Are Enough” with Project Row Houses, and the intersection of community art and teaching.
How did you become a photographer?
I went to a performing arts high school and took my first photography class then. When I think back to it, I’ve always loved taking photos– I just didn’t know that there was a title for what I was doing. After I moved to Houston, I picked up my camera again and started taking photos. I’d post them online and people would reach out to me to see if I’d do shoots or to express interest in my work. I wasn’t trying to get accolades; it was just something I loved doing. In 2011, I went to Africa and that trip really transformed me. I was able to capture so many beautiful day-to-day moments in the community I visited. When I got back, I had my first show and 25% of the profits went back to that community. The show had an amazing turnout. There was a write-up in the Chronicle about it, and the feedback was great. It was the first time I realized that people really liked what I was doing. About a year and a half ago, I started talking to Michael Healey, East End’s art teacher, and he invited me to submit to Avenue CDC’s Winter Street show. I put in a photo and won best photo for the whole show. That was confirmation that you shouldn’t sit on your gifts. You need to be confident enough to try. After that, I started applying for grants and opportunities.