Susan J. Ross, Camera, Photography, Photographer, Atlanta

History Documented: Meet Atlanta’s Beloved Photo Documentarian, Susan J. Ross

The Atlanta "photo-griot" describes herself primarily as "a people photographer, finding grace and dignity in the faces of our people.”

For 50 years, a petite, curly-haired photographer named Susan J. “Sue” Ross has documented Atlanta’s Black community through thousands of candid shots of leaders, artists, activists, musicians, and everyday people.

She calls herself a “cultural activist,” according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s Natrice Miller, who connected with the cultural artist at a previous photo exhibition. Although Ross does not identify as an official member of the media, she has worked for the City of Atlanta supporting minority and women-owned businesses, capturing her beloved city, which she’s dubbed “Magical Atlanta.” Her website describes her as a “documentary photographer” and “photo-griot,” which in African heritage refers to the “oral historian holding the essence of African history and culture through the word.”

Ross moved from Connecticut as a child in the 1960s when her academic parents taught at Atlanta University, according to AJC . She lived among civil rights icons like the King kids, who were neighborhood friends and “regular family people,” Ross shared. “Yoki is Yolanda King, and she was the oldest of the four King children. Her younger brother Martin, who we called Marty growing up, and my brother were roughly the same age.”

The documentary photographer said she encourages young people today to “take pictures of the folks that they’re involved with, because you never know who is going to grow up to be the next leader in Atlanta or in the world.”

Observation is only a small part of Ross’ artistic eye. She also participates in the same spaces she photographs, like helping elect Atlanta’s first Black mayor, Maynard Jackson. Ross has documented key moments in Black history – from the ’96 Olympics to portraits of Nelson Mandela and former President Barack Obama. Her work resides in various collections, books, and her 2011 exhibition “Sankofa” at the National Black Arts Festival.

Now, Ross’ shots, boasting a “special connection” to everyday folks, are being preserved for future generations. The Atlanta photographer boasts an archive full of Atlanta’s young artists, campaign rallies, community discussions, and annual events. Ross is a founding member of Sistagraphy, a collective of Black women photographers who express themselves and share their passion for photography.

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