College for Creative Studies: Photography
When Charzette Torrence sets goals for herself, she aims high—whether it’s to become “the most celebrated female photographer in the world” or to establish “THE online video channel” for gays/lesbians and people of color.
“With each new project, I continue to grow and learn something—it all plays a part of my destiny,” said Torrence, who works in New York City under the name Charlie T.
For the past twenty years, Torrence has built up a portfolio that includes such celebrities as Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Ellen DeGeneres, Chaka Khan Ray Jay, Montel Jordan and B.R. Gumer. Her photos have been featured in several publications, including Black Enterprise, Code, Hue, Essence and Emerge, and she has done work for New York City ads, Advance Communication, Radio One, Comerica Bank, Campbell-Ewald, Don Coleman and RJ Dale.
Torrence received her artist-in-residence from world renowned Maine Photography Workshop in 1992 where she got a chance to study under the likes of Arnold Newman, Maggie Stebbers and Joyce Tenneson. One of her photos from the “Essence of a Woman Series” was featured in the 1992 Art in America. In 1994, the Schomburg Museum for Research in New York purchased her series “Single Working Parent Series.” Since 2005, the photographer has headlined nine solo shows for “Just as We Are Project,” a 50-piece series of images depicting gay people in ways neglected by the mainstream media. She has participated in over 22 gallery and museum exhibits.
Torrence’s latest project is the establishment of Jillian’s Peak TV, the multimedia company behind an online web series in which she serves as creator, executive producer and writer.
The drama focuses on Jillian, a character who is struggling with the conflict of whether to stay in her socially acceptable traditional relationship with her husband, or live the life that calls to her.
“Almost every image shown in the media of gay and lesbian people is of a sexual nature,” said Torrence. “It’s time to focus on a different image—one that’s positive and inspirational... While there are other outlets of programming out there for gays and lesbians, it’s just not at a high level yet. My goal is to establish THE format for the way this type of programming is done.”
The show’s description reads, “Jillian Thomas is a wife, a professional photographer who leaves behind her all American, picture perfect life in Chicago to explore a deep curiosity and answer the question, ‘Am I a Lesbian?’… Through her story, we are introduced to other straight and lesbian women of color: Asian, Jewish, Latino, black, or white, who are dealing with their own lives’ challenges and opportunities. Jillian’s Peak … speaks of not only the complexities of gay women's sexual identities, but also how her life is the same as any heterosexual's who laughs, cries, struggles, conquers, and fails…”
Torrence has been working with several Emmy-winning directors, producers and production team members as well as professional organizations in New York City to raise the funds and formulate the process she needs to establish her multimedia company “the right way.” She expects production to begin in November (2013) with a launch mid-2014.
“This has been a great learning experience for me,” said Torrence. “I’m appreciative of all the knowledgeable and experienced mentors who have been educating me along the way. I believe this will be what will help Jillian’s Peak reach the quality of programming I envision it becoming.”
In addition to her photography and development of Jillian’s Peak, Torrence is active with several organizations. While serving as chair of the Callen Lorde Health Center women’s advisory board, she raised $5,0000 for the center that provides care for New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, regardless of ability to pay. The group will host their first women’s health fair in October (2013). Torrence is also registered as a Minority and Women-Owned Business (M/WBE) with New York and became a member of the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen to support the organization’s mission of offering free education to people in the construction field.
As the first African American to graduate from the CCS’s photography department, Torrence relishes the opportunity to give back to the school that helped her achieve her goals. She has set up an endowed scholarship at the College for other students of color.
“CCS is an excellent school—it was a great part of my life.”
“Without the CCS experience, I would not have been as prepared for my career. As a student, I could hold my own at workshops and knew about the history and basic techniques of photography as well as any other professional. Over the years there, I received support from instructors, such as Gilda Snowden, Dorothy Cortez, Bill Rauhauser and John Gannis. Now, I want to give back to the school and play a role in helping other students make their dreams come true.”