“You’re in This Place for a Reason”: Erin Douglas Is Flipboard’s Latest Photographer-in-Residence

Mia Quagliarello / March 10, 2022

Erin Douglas

As a teen, Erin Douglas was always the one with the camera. But upon graduating from college, she took a detour through finance before becoming a professional photographer. One recession, a camera Christmas gift, lots of encouragement from friends, and many classes later, Erin has emerged as a self-taught photographer specializing in travel and portrait photography. She is perhaps best known for the Black Burner Project, a photography series and community that celebrates and encourages Burners of Color at Burning Man.

We’re proud to share that Erin is the latest Photographer in Residence to join the Flipboard team. Erin has been curating gorgeous, artistic images for Photo of the Day within our #photography topic and creating collections on her own account that showcase her expertise in capturing pictures of people. Erin is also offering us advice on our photography destination and connecting us to members of her community who might benefit from Flipboard. Give her a follow, a warm welcome, and learn a bit more about her here.

How did you teach yourself photography?

I was really into portrait and street photography. I would sit in B&H classes, take notes and shoot. When I was in the presence of some of the people I interned for, I tried my best to ask as many questions as possible.

How would you describe your photography style?

I guess I would call it kind of simple. It’s a lot of just [appreciating] the moments that are around me, be it people, an animal, a leaf…it could be anything that attracts me. I’m just looking at things a lot differently than people around me. I don’t realize that until I’m just staring at something that I recognize is so minor or minute, but like, man, this is pretty awesome. No one sees like this one little moment happening, you know? 

Do you have any tips for the rest of us and how we could hone our ability to really see?

Just pay attention to what pulls at you. A lot of times we get caught up in what someone else is doing. Maybe you aren’t into directing someone and putting them in poses. Maybe you get off seeing the person walking down the street, the randomness of it, and being OK with what you’re gravitating towards. Recognize that little moments don’t have to be something spectacular. 

Early on, I was walking in Chinatown in New York City and there was a crab on the street walking, trying to get away. Everyone’s just passing it. I’m sure people saw it, but I got down and captured this freaking crab walking. Sometimes it seems silly; you’re also putting yourself out there because you might be drawing attention to yourself too. That in itself can be a little scary, but I was just like, ‘This is so epic right now.’ Somehow the moment called me; I was in the right place. Sometimes you have to just think about it that way: you’re in this place for a reason.

Photo by Erin Douglas

What are some of your favorite shots that you’ve captured?

It’s hard to point out favorites, but the Philippines [is one because it was] kind of my intro to travel photography. It was my first solo trip. My first international trip. It really opened my eyes to storytelling and culture. I knew that I wanted travel to be a part of my photography journey after that. It taught me how to connect with people, how to approach them. 

Photo by Erin Douglas
Photo by Erin Douglas

How did the Black Burner Project (BBP) come to be?

I was gifted a ticket to Burning Man in 2017…I was somewhat terrified [to go], which I thought was interesting considering I had traveled solo in the Philippines and would travel every year, often being the only woman of color or Black woman that I would see during the extent of a lot of my trips. There was just something about Burning Man that scared me. I wasn’t really expecting to see a lot of people of color, specifically black people, but I did…it wasn’t a ton, but I saw more than I expected to.

Once I started posting photos of the playa…it allowed people to see that someone who looked like me had gone. It was tangible. It started to make me feel like, man, I don’t know what I just experienced, but it’s kind of unfortunate that there’s so many people who have had interest for even longer than me but did not go because they figured it wasn’t for them. 

[The project] really was based on having so many people say the same exact thing in different ways…I knew I wanted BBP to be bigger than my Instagram account.

Can you talk about the group photo? I know that was an emotional moment for a lot of people, seeing so many people who looked like themselves out there.

My first year of project was my second year at Burning Man, in 2018. I started tracking down people who I saw, telling them what I was doing and asking if I could take their photos. It was probably midweek where I had this urge to take a group photo. But, Burning Man is Burning Man. You’re off grid. I didn’t really see how it was possible at all to tell people to come to something that wasn’t planned. But I met some people at my camp and I just happened to share this idea with them. One guy in particular convinced me to just do it anyways. Come up with a daytime location, tell people, just do it. I said Friday, at The Temple, six o’clock. I rode out there and I was pretty sure nobody was gonna show up and tried to convince myself that if five people showed up, which would be like the number of friends that I knew would probably come, that I would be happy. 

I even stopped a couple of people to take photos and basically convinced them not to come because I was like, I don’t wanna waste their time. They looked like they were on a mission somewhere. And, a few yards away, I realized that 35 people had come. And this is like all through word of mouth. It was very overwhelming. The fact that people remembered and decided it was important enough to come and to share; it was magical.

Group photo, year 1. Photo by Erin Douglas

The following year, in 2019, the word spread like wildfire and about 250 people showed up on Friday night that time. Incredible.

Group photo, year 2. Photo by Erin Douglas

For the gear heads, what cameras do you use at Burning Man?

So I think for my first year, I had my D 90, which isn’t full frame. My second year, I brought my 7200 Nikon. Most people will probably say bring the best worst camera you can get, tape up all the crevices as much as possible. Don’t change your lenses. I probably had a 35 millimeter on there, which was really hard for the width that I needed for the group photo. 

One of my favorite photos is the photo you’ll find on the Black Burner Project Instagram page. I’d been wanting to take a photo of this guy for the whole week and this day was just a dust storm all day. There’s no way I can take my camera out in this. Luckily, his camp had like this old school bus that they had completely gutted and they used for a kitchen. So we went on the bus and, of course there’s dust in it, but it’s not flying in the air like it is outside. And so that’s where I got that photo. 

Photo by Erin Douglas

How are you finding using Flipboard?

I’m having fun because it’s forcing me to dig a little deeper into different topics that I have been putting off spending time with. It’s a great way for me to learn and use my brain on what would’ve been helpful for me — like how can I help other people who might be either interested in learning as a beginner or how can I bring a different perspective. I have to remember that as a Black woman, that I have the opportunity to bring light to people who don’t always get recognized in the space. So I’m trying to make sure that I incorporate that into my Flipboard storytelling.

I really love what you’re curating in “Photo of the Day.” How are you thinking about this?

It always has to do with what moves me. A lot of times it has to do with the lighting, the movement, what that person was feeling or thinking to capture it…It’s really about a feeling.

What advice would you give to other photographers when it comes to using Flipboard?

I think it’s a great learning tool and a great way to be inspired. Even going through what Anete Lusina, the previous resident, did…I’m like, ‘Ooh, I can’t wait to go back to this one and learn about this topic.’ Being new at it, I find myself getting a little bit lost in someone else’s stuff as I’m supposed to be doing my own!

Mia Quagliarello, head of creator community,  is curating the curators for the new “The Shot” newsletter

We hope you enjoyed getting to know Erin. Give her a follow to ensure that you never miss all the awesome content she’s curating and sharing about her profession and passion. She’ll be our resident through May 2022.

In case you’re wondering, Flipboard’s residency program is a rotating position where every three months a new photographer joins our team to share their expertise with our community. Past residents have included Ryan Mense and Anete Lusina.

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a Photographer in Residence at Flipboard, please email photography@flipboard.com with your CV and/or Website.