Shannon Finney (STH’96): Photographer
Shannon Finney is the owner and lead photographer for Shannon Finney Photography and a contributing photographer for Getty Images, WTOPNews, and other outlets. After earning her Master’s of Divinity from the Boston University Graduate School of Theology, she spent a decade in broadcast media and communications, working in radio and television, and then onto Capitol Hill and K Street before merging her love of photography with her interest in storytelling. Her work has appeared online and in numerous print publications, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, Vogue, Billboard, Vanity Fair, Politico, The Washingtonian, DownBeat, Modern Luxury DC, Capitol File, Black Enterprise, and Essence.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment since graduating from STH?
Finding a true partner in my husband – someone who loves me, encourages me, and teaches me how to be a better person/friend/daughter/wife/aunt.
What advice would you give a current STH student?
Always challenge your sense of vocation and don’t be afraid to expand it beyond the bounds of your comfort. When I arrived at STH I had this very definite plan that fit into a neat little box, and when that wasn’t working I panicked and tried to double-down, to force myself to stay in that neat little box. There were a lot of amazing people who saw a young woman with the talents and gifts for ministry, and it took me a while to realize that those talents and gifts were transferable.
Why did you choose to become a photographer?
After STH I spent years in broadcasting, media relations and communications on Capitol Hill and on K Street and photography had become this place of escape for me. I started with portraits – photographing my family and then friends and then friends of friends, and it was all very organic. I was reluctant to take this thing that was my sanctuary and open it up to the deadlines and demands of “work,” and that’s when I understood that for me photography was my vocation. It is the work of my heart and soul and it is the best of all of me.
What skills or experiences would benefit someone who wants to use their theology degree and work in the arts?
I’ve always thought that the arts and theology have a lot in common. Neither the artists nor the theologians I’ve known entered their respective fields with plans on becoming billionaires. Rather, they want to express who they are, to give their whole selves in the work that they do, and to awaken profound connections among the people they encounter. But, this also exposes us to risks and dangers both spiritual and, sometimes, physical. There are times when the world doesn’t want to hear what you have to preach or see its own brutality reflected back to them in a photograph. The theologian and the artist must challenge, confront and comfort.
Can you give us an example of a mistake you have learned from during your career?/ What was the most important experience you’ve had that has helped you in your career?
One of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my working life was knowing what I wanted and, instead of going for it, I asked permission and then waited, and waited, and waited. There is a runway model I was photographing during New York Fashion Week’s September shows – her name is Shailah Edmonds and she was one of the first group of African American models to walk couture runway shows. She grew up out in Oregon and she said that her dad gave her the best piece of advice when he told her, “remember that you have the right to.” I carry that with me now – I remember that I have the right to.