Shelby Perez’s many gifts include engaging storytelling, intentional human connection, and beautiful works of art. Perez, owner of Shel Francis Creative and a longtime advocate of diversity, humanity, and empathy, has used these gifts over the last 15 years to capture and share people’s stories . “I learn something from each person I photograph. It is such a deep storytelling experience to me.” Perez has made one of the primary goals of her work to “build awareness through artful creations of people and their experiences,” and says, “it’s a great connection point and opportunity to spark curiosity and empathy towards others.” Perez seeks to amplify stories that have been hidden historically, and asks, “How am I to truly honor the human experience through photography if I don't understand experiences outside my own?” Perez’s intentional drive toward inclusion and intentional creations helps engage us all in storytelling, connection, and the beauty of humanity.
Although she has participated in many meaningful shoots, Perez notes two that reaffirmed her love for photography and spoke to the way she incorporates storytelling and amplifying hidden stories in her work.
The first shoot, ‘Emerge’, occurred at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and helped Perez reconnect to her roots. In the darker moments of 2020, she looked to photography as her mode of healing. “I wanted to create a shoot that evoked the push and pull of life, and I wanted it to be heavy and as lost as I felt.” At the conclusion of the shoot, Perez explains, “It was a total cathartic session, and it sparked a newer age of expressing myself.”
‘Emerge’ reminded Perez why she got into her line of work to begin with – to self-express and shed a piece of herself. “That shoot catapulted me forward into a lot of new opportunities.” Perez felt rejuvenated to continue seeking out this expression and telling visual stories to share pieces of humanity.
The second photoshoot that deeply impacted her career, Dear Dearfield, took place in the relatively unfamiliar town of Dearfield, Colorado. Dearfield was the largest black homesteading settlement in Colorado during the early 1900’s. During 2021’s Black History Month, Perez launched this shoot and explained, “Creating imagery at Dearfield was about building awareness of an important piece of our history in Northern Colorado.”
Shedding light on the work the Black American West Museum is doing to raise funds for Dearfield’s preservation, she spoke with people about the community’s history to pique interest in donating, and to continue sharing this piece of Colorado history. Emboldening her passion for diversity and humanity, she says, “encouraged me to keep trying to make an impact, even if it’s small, because it truly does make a difference.”
Outside her personal work, Shelby is a versatile photographer who specializes in photographing people throughout their life experiences. She also works full time for Prosci, helping to shape their visual brand through her photography and videography work. For Perez, working as a professional photographer is a way to focus on redefining what it means to be a creative in the 21st century. While creating meaningful imagery, she seeks to make a difference and celebrate humanity, one photoshoot at a time.