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ArtCenter Photography alum Erinn Holland leans against her
Erinn Holland (BFA 15 Photography and Imaging) and her '16 Mustang "Midnight Caviar." Photo: Erinn Holland

profile / alumni / photography / diversity / fall-2021
October 27, 2021
Written by Gabrielle Ione Hickmon

Photography and Imaging alumna Erinn Holland on working harder, upending assumptions and getting closer to the person she wants to be

Erinn Holland (BFA 15 Photography and Imaging) knows who she is now. “A lot of times, as a creator, I’ve allowed myself to feel limited by the pressure of being judged,” the alumna says of the past. But the pandemic has forced her to reevaluate her life and to level up her work. “I feel like I’ve let that go and just allowed myself to be fully who I am. Today, I do what I want to do, without worrying about other people’s thoughts.”

Holland is doing, and has done, a lot. She studied photography at ArtCenter, graduated in 2015, and went on to make a name for herself in advertising and editorial photography. Holland has worked with Hasbro, Nike, Forever 21, Mattel, Walmart, Riley Rose, Coach and more. With few Black advertising photographers she can call her peers, the path hasn’t always been easy. She also hasn’t always received the respect she deserves from others in the industry, which has at times caused her to question her path and passion.

“Being a Black woman and being younger, there is always a hierarchy where they’re trying to make sure you don’t reach the top. It’s like, you are in the door, but you still can’t pass,” she says, noting she always needs to make sure her portfolio is on top. “I’ve had to push harder and work 10 times harder than anyone. And that is such a challenge, because I know I’m good at what I do.”

A green and yellow leahter Coach Double Zip Wallet, with purple accents, lying between two translucent sheets of paper.
A Coach Double Zip Wallet, photographed by Erinn Holland for Coach.

Part of the barrier Holland faces is that she’s shooting things the white-dominated advertising industry doesn’t expect a Black woman to shoot. She recalls a time at ArtCenter when, during a critique, two instructors asked if she thought it would be best to shoot things closer to who she is and her culture. It’s a question Holland has never forgotten. She asks, “Why is shooting product photography not what you think I am or what I should be shooting as a Black photographer?”

The idea that Black people cannot or should not be product photographers could not be farther from the truth. The reality, she says, is that there is not an industry, creative or not, that Black people have not been a part of and influenced—often for the better.

Holland, who was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, grew up going to the Detroit Auto Show, where cars and car advertising were on full display. Her experiences at the Auto Show sparked her interest in photography, and specifically advertising or product photography. She grew up looking at ads for Ford, Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola and Gatorade. “I was always fascinated by the idea that making Gatorade look a certain way could make people want to buy it,” she says. “Or that because a product was promoted by a celebrity, that people would want it, no matter if it was good or not. It made me wonder how it’s so easy for an advertiser to get inside the human mind.”

That question animated Holland’s childhood as she worked to develop her eye, and then guided her time at ArtCenter, where she focused on advertising and commercial work. While there, she made friends with students in the Transportation Design department, drawing inspiration from the way they thought and worked to figure out solutions to marketability issues.

Five dramatically lit Power Rangers Beast Morphers action figures stand in front of a metallic wall and atop a reflective backlit surface.
Power Rangers Beast Morphers action figures, photographed by Erinn Holland for Hasbro.

Holland used her time at ArtCenter and, after graduating, while working either in-house or freelance for a variety of powerhouse brands to get really good at shooting products. Today, she feels confident enough in her photography to say, “If I’m going to use my ability, then I want to work with companies that are doing something more in line with what I believe. I don’t want to just make money—that’s something I can do easily.” She wants to use her gifts to work with people who are changing the world, she adds.

Holland just finished a job for Hasbro, at the moment is focusing on what she wants to do personally, which is photographing her ’16 Mustang (which she named “Midnight Caviar) and working on her health and fitness. She’s also developing her own skin care line for women of color, for which she’ll of course be doing the product photography. “I want to have my own thing going for me,” she says. Ultimately, though, Holland wants to inspire more people of color to do what they want and follow their dreams, even if they don’t see themselves represented in their field of interest.

She’s put in the work to develop her craft and get to know herself. “Now that I’m finally closer to the person who I want to be,” she says. “I’m learning that my hard work can be placed in anything and get me what I want.”