East Bay photographer Sydney Welch has compiled a collection of photos that serve as a highlight reel for the latest wave of talented hip-hop and R&B artists emerging from the Bay Area, including Stunnaman02, LaRussell, Kehlani, P-Lo, Su'Lan, Larry June, and Rexx Life Raj.
And that doesn't even scratch the surface of her portfolio. Her collection is like a stack of baseball cards, full of rare rookies.
Her images are captured at concerts, showing artists rocking the crowd or having an intimate moment backstage. She has Polaroid photos taken at parties and magazine-style portraits shot on film.
Most importantly: Sydney's images aren't taken from an outsider perspective. Before becoming a professional photographer, Sydney was a regular at local Bay Area hip-hop and R&B shows, supporting talent on the rise.
Sydney grew up in Fremont and after studying journalism in high school and at San Francisco State University, Sydney is now behind the camera at concerts and community gatherings. She's often seen with multiple cameras strapped to her person, in full shooter mode.
This week Sydney Welch tells us about her ultimate professional goals, how she relies on grace to navigate the notoriously treacherous music industry, and why she's so passionate about representing the Bay through photos of the artists who are currently providing the soundtrack of our time.
Below are lightly edited excerpts of my conversation with Sydney Welch.
Pen: Back in May of this year, I bumped into Sydney at an event thrown by Oakland based non-profit Urban Peace Movement. In the crowd of a couple hundred people gathered around Lake Merritt’s bandstand, there was Sydney: moving through the crowd, with three cameras strapped to her person. I had my handy-dandy digital camera on me. But Sydney? She was in full-blown shooter mode.
Sydney: Film has always been my favorite form of photography. It just gives like that historic, like that dope vibe. When I was in high school, I literally shot with the film camera before I shot with a digital camera. So I was in a dark room with my teachers at lunch time. Growing up my mom was a photographer as well.She did film photography on the side, she always had her camera on her.
Pen: In her junior year of high school, Sydney landed an internship with the San Jose Mercury News as a writer and photographer. It was her formal introduction to the industry.
Sydney: But also during that time in high school, I was really in music a lot. Like I was listening to HBK a lot. Kehlani, G-Eazy, literally every Bay Area artist. And so that really gave me a big, sort of inspiration, I feel like, to where I am today.
Pen: There's a big variable behind this, it's you and your identity as a Black woman. What does that bring to the table?
Sydney: That really just brings my voice, you know, not being afraid to really express who I am through my work, but to also, you know, inspire another Black person like myself to get out of their comfort zone and to try something new, no matter how scary it may seem or how intimidating it may seem. Sometimes with like, you know, people's intentions and stuff like that, you have to be on your guard more than ever, especially being a Black woman. Like people will try you. They will try you, especially if you're good looking as well. And it's like, ‘I'm here to work. If you can't respect me working, then I'm not working with you ever again.’ Like, it's, it's that serious. I will just never, you know, dim myself and disrespect myself to make somebody else comfortable.
Pen: What story do your photos tell?
Sydney: My photos tell history. They tell passion. They tell art. Some may tell struggle, but you may not see that in your perspective. But also, just like they show love too, you know, I hope my photos tell the love that I have for the Bay Area.
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