We had the good fortune of connecting with Colleen Cruz and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Colleen, can you share the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
This project has taught me patience and the beauty of imperfection in a big way. When you are photographing dogs (and children as well), you never know what you are going to get. Some are fantastic with a treat and a pose, others take a little more work. The humans of the shoots get frustrated if their dog is not cooperating and then soon the dog will feel the stress and things just get more challenging. I never want that, so we will change things up and try a different approach. For this reason I have learned to be patient and to also get what I can get. This project is not always about the perfect shot, sometimes it’s the imperfect shot that is what truly shows the dogs personality.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My project Shine A Light ATL is actually not my full time job. It’s a project I took on 6 years ago to help change perceptions about pit bull type dogs. I find volunteers that have rescued their pit bull type dog, have them fill out a questionnaire that tells their pups story and then I take photos of the pup and their families. The goal is to illustrate through the stories and the photos that these are just loved family members just like all the other family dogs out there. There are a lot of challenges with a project like this because it’s highly dependent on the interaction of the people that follow us and their willingness to share the stories to spread the word. I do a lot to get the word out there and try and make it a national message but its success is really dependent on our supporters. Multiple times I have wanted to quit because I didn’t think I was making a difference until I happen to be speaking to a past volunteer and she said someone mentioned Shine A Light to her (this person had not volunteered) and how great the project was. As she told me, in the community here in the Atlanta area I am making a difference and even though I strive to make this a national message I now know that even success at a local level is important.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If you have a beautiful day I would suggest going down the East Side Beltline trail and venturing off to the various neighborhoods that it takes you through, like Old 4th Ward, Inman Park, Reynoldstown etc. There are so many great bars and restaurants along the Beltline or just a few blocks off that are worth checking out. Ponce City Market included which has you covered from shopping, to food, to views on the roof with games. Then on your next beautiful day, check out the West Side Beltline trail, that is an area that is up and coming with so much development, including breweries like Monday Night Brewing or the AWS distillery. Then of course I am very partial to my own neighborhood, Virginia Highland. It’s a great walking area with some fun shops and great restaurants. You can get some raw oysters and a cold beer at Fontaines, or a wonderful hearty meal at Murphy’s, there is nothing better then the burgers at George’s, I can’t forget to mention Highland Tap and their city famous martini’s. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My partner Dan definitely deserves a shoutout for all the support over the last 6 years that I have been doing this project. He always encourages me and compliments my work even when I don’t feel like its very good. He challenges me to think bigger and wants me to try new things. Of course the encouragement and thanks I get from my volunteers is a huge motivator. Knowing that I am doing something to help change perceptions and the people who are affected by those negative perceptions are thankful means the world to me.

Website: http://www.shineliteatl.com/

Instagram: @shineliteatl

Twitter: @shineliteatl

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shinealightATL

Image Credits
All photos have been taken by me, Colleen Cruz

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