Alumni Spotlight: Sunny Strader


Photographer and Art of Freelance alumna Sunny Strader is currently working on projects about a 71-year-old woman chasing her dreams in L.A. and another exploring the adult lives of her former fifth-grade classmates. We recently talked to her about her work.

How did you come up with the idea for 5th Grade Dreams?

When I worked as a newspaper photojournalist I’d go into someone’s home, photograph them, and walk away forever.

5th Grade Dreams is the beginning of work that allows me to break the rules of photojournalism and tell stories that are more intimate. It’s a series that’s allows me to look inward, authentically connect with my former classmates, explore the town I am from (Danville, Ill.), and artistically represent this group of intelligent Midwestern millennials.

I had the idea for this work while meditating in traffic on the east-bound 10 freeway sometime in spring of 2017; it really felt like a lightbulb clicked on above my head, which had never happened before but I hope it happens again.

You did another work called “The Charlotte Show” about a 71-year-old woman chasing her dreams in Los Angeles.

Charlotte jokes with me about becoming rich and famous. Last spring she even landed a spot on Judge Judy for $500. To make ends meet, however, Charlotte’s been working 50-60 hours a week for Uber. She’s allowed me to document these quirky parts of her life.

Last month she was diagnosed with lung and liver cancer, bringing most of our antics and adventures to a halt. The diagnosis came as a shock, as Charlotte has been in excellent physical shape her entire life.

“This work explores vital involvement in old age, what it looks like to age in Los Angeles, and now, our mortality. Stay tuned.”

How has Art of Freelance helped you realize your vision?

I came into this program the first month after quitting my day job. The exercises and community have provided me with structure and accountability; two things that are necessary for freelancers.

The coolest part about Art of Freelance is realizing that I’m actually where I wanted to be when I started the program more than a year ago: I am working photography gigs to fund my bigger projects. I am traveling and making those projects. I am happy.

“Art of Freelance has helped transform me as an artist and as a person.”

The next challenge is learning how to dream bigger; I have the confidence now to dream little bit bigger.

What are you working on now?

I’m always working on Charlotte and 5th-Grade Dreams. I don’t know when to end these projects because I’ve become so invested in everyone in them.

I’m also experimenting with medium-format film and the town where my father’s from and my grandparents live: Roachdale, Indiana.

What kind of support are you looking for as you continue with this work?

Right now I’m looking for support for Charlotte’s cancer treatment, as she can’t drive Uber while she is this sick. Donations can be made here.

Financial support allows me to pass on some gigs and stay focused on the work that matters most. To do this, I often sell signed prints, e-mail me for inquiries:

Conor Gallagher