A real feast for your eyes
At a wedding in Ethiopia, where she lived for two years, Dana Zhyon Selassie’s photography stood out.
She hadn’t been hired to shoot, but the bride and groom were thrilled with the pictures she gave them.
Despite that, she never considered herself a “real” photographer; film-making was more her thing.
“I’ve always been more involved in documentaries, in video. It’s strange now to have photography become centre stage for me,” said Dr Selassie, who launched her photography business, Zhyon International, in December and whose pictures are now on display at Utopia Restaurant on Front Street.
Called Amitié, the exhibit is a showcase of her documentary portraiture; many of the photographs are candid shots.
“It’s a form of photography where you’re capturing people in the raw environment; it’s not staged,” she said. “[In one image] I photographed the mother of a bride just as she finished reading her tribute to her daughter. I loved capturing the tears of joy, the special moment.
“I wanted to branch out with my storytelling. Something about still photography, capturing a single moment, is so powerful for me. It gets you wondering...what’s going on in that photograph?”
She remembers getting her start in high school at Bermuda Institute where she took pictures for the yearbook.
Ultimately, however, films interested her more.
For her bachelor’s degree, Dr Selassie chose TV and radio production; media production for her master’s. Film and television studies were the focus of the PhD she received in 2017.
Through it all she gained industry experience working in local broadcasting and, in 2007, became the first producer of the government-operated television station, CITV.
She currently works for David Burt, the premier, advising him on media and communications.
“I had been doing freelance work for the Department of Communications [after I received my doctorate and returned to Bermuda] and they assigned me to the premier,” Dr Selassie said. “He called me into his office and said, ‘I absolutely love the way you capture me.’”
Eventually a press officer’s position opened up in the department and, with a PhD in film and television, the job “kind of fell into my lap”.
“I did [the premier’s] New Year’s Day family photos and also work closely with the photography team at the Department of Communications. So even though I’m not usually taking pictures physically I do give a lot of creative direction.”
Her interest in photography was reignited years ago while teaching media communications, television production and digital photography and darkroom techniques at CedarBridge Academy.
“Still, I didn’t take it as seriously as film-making,” Dr Selassie said.
Ethiopia changed her. On her return home she began taking wedding pictures for friends and family. Word soon spread that she was good.
As demand and her own interest increased, she mulled over starting a business and was thrilled with what she learned at a symposium for female entrepreneurs put on by the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation last November.
“It was an amazing conference,” said Dr Selassie who was especially appreciative of what it offered women who were just starting a business, such as herself. “It was all about promoting the growth and development of sisterhood and women in business.
“Just being able to network and brainstorm and hear stories was [incredible].”
A month later she officially launched Zhyon International, and then came the opportunity to show her work at Utopia.
The show includes “wedding portraits, candid stills and a sneak peak” of pieces from Connections Collection, an exhibition Dr Selassie will hold at the Bermuda Society of Arts in May. Its overarching theme, however, is friendship.
“Amitié is French for friendship,” she said. “So essentially, my inaugural exhibition is about celebrating the diversity of friendships and their special connections.
“It highlights people in my space, through various journeys I’ve been on. And it reflects the diversity of friendship, how it crosses cultural, political and racial barriers.”
She was pleased that people who attended the exhibit’s opening on January 19 seemed to appreciate her work.
“It was such a great turnout,” said Dr Selassie. “The response was amazing; a number of people were moved by my canvas pieces. I enjoyed hearing people’s interpretations of [one of my pieces] Chained, and what they thought it meant.
“I’d never put myself out there as a photographer before. I am a media producer. To actually brand myself with this genre of photography, it’s different. It’s fresh and new even for people who know I’ve been taking photographs for years.”
• Amitié runs until March 1 at Utopia Restaurant on Front Street. For more information, contact Dana Selassie at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram, @zhyoninternational
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