Erika Shallcross, a Riverdale-based artist specializing in collage and photography, challenges traditional notions of female beauty with her work.
“I see a lot of art out there that reflects a man’s idea of what femininity is, what’s feminine, what’s sexy,” she said. “I hope that my idea also reflects what other women think, but exactly what we (all) think of as femininity or femininity or beauty.”
Originally from New Jersey, Shallcross studied English in college before earning her Masters in Education and a 20-year teaching career. And like many in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, she rediscovered old hobbies while stuck at home. She began making collages regularly and started using her digital and film cameras again.
“I happened to have a lot of magazines around, and it was easy; I didn’t have to get any materials,” she said. “It really rekindled my love of art.”
In 2021 she quit her job as an English teacher and got a job as an instructor at the Pelham Art Center, and in March of this year she started her own photography business called the New York Portrait Company.
“Last year I stopped teaching English, you can imagine the pressure of teaching during the pandemic,” Shallcross said. “And I got a job as an art teacher … and it opened up a whole new world for me where art is my job.”
Much of her work revolves around femininity and the female experience, she said, which has also been the main focus of her photography business.
When Shallcross couldn’t find a photographer who could portray her in the tastefully feminized way she wanted, she decided to start her own brand to cater to people with similar visions – and thus the New York Portrait Company was born.
“That was the origin — just trying to offer women a service that I couldn’t find out there when I was looking for myself,” she said.
But what is perhaps most unique about the portrait company is the story behind its namesake.
After setting up a Google Ads account and looking at some digital prototypes online, Shallcross came across records from another New York portrait company that existed more than a century ago.
“I came across old newspaper clippings from a company called the New York Portrait Company, and that’s when I started digging,” Shallcross said. “I was just so tickled when I found out there was another company with the same name. I was fortunate to find many photos taken by the New York Portrait Company on eBay… I actually bought some of the pictures.”
According to archives of the Buffalo History Museum, the old New York Portrait Company was named in the official catalog of the Pan American World’s Fair in Buffalo, New York in November 1901. Adam Rubin, an assistant librarian at the museum, told The Bronx Times via email that old newspaper archives indicate the company was headquartered in New York City, although he “couldn’t say for sure.” The old New York Portrait Company was dissolved sometime after the Buffalo World’s Fair before being revived by Shallcross – albeit unintentionally at first.
Some of her collages – under the New York Paper Arts moniker – will be on display at Gallery 505 in Riverdale starting September 12. Titled From Every Angle: Through the Female Gaze, the exhibition explores themes of femininity, beauty, and the female experience.
Shallcross said she encourages people to experiment with the freedom of mixed paper art.
“I think collage is an underrepresented art form, and I think it’s as valid a form of expression as anything else,” she said.
For photographs by Shallcross, see newyorkportraitcompany.com; Check out her collage work on Instagram @newyorkpaperarts.
Reach out to Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes