Dust + Grit | Raw, Relatable Photojournalistic Storytelling

Mae Frances and Stevi McNeill | Co-Creators of  Dust + Grit

Mae Frances and Stevi McNeill | Co-Creators of Dust + Grit


Two years ago, Stevi and Mae decided to meet at a bar after sharing a mutual respect and admiration for each other’s creative portfolios. Fast forward to today, and they are the co-creators of Dust + Grit, an intimate and new Boulder-based photography business that takes an editorial and photojournalistic approach to relatable human and brand stories. Their goal: To capture the grit, raw relationships and beautiful unheard stories of everyday life.

How did you two meet?

STEVI: I don’t know why, but I’m blushing right now thinking about it. I remember stumbling across Mae’s work on Instagram, and I was absolutely struck by her work. I felt like I needed to know her. We ended up meeting at bar in Lafayette and talked about dogs and photography. The rest is history.

How would you characterize your photography styles?

STEVI: Mine is more editorial, documentary style. It has evolved as I have grown as a person and photographer over the past 15 years.

MAE: I always bitch about this question. I really struggle with it, because I play around with many styles. But if I had to characterize it, today it’s mostly simple, bold, clean. It’s an ever-evolving process for sure. In a nutshell, I like to portray elegant lifestyles in outdoor settings.  

What’s Dust + Grit’s origin story?

STEVI: Dust + Grit branches from a desire to tell awesome, beautiful stories in an elegant way all while creating meaningful relationships with our clients. I was looking for a creative partner, and it just happened that we we were both at the right place at the right time. After doing a couple of shoots together, I think we both noticed a natural working synergy between us. It was definitely a little nerve-racking though to ask, ‘hey, do you want to try this thing out?’ Thankfully, the timing was perfect for both of us.

MAE: Yeah, Stevi is the one who approached me with the idea. I was super flattered that she considered me as a potential partner. I immediately told her that I was in. As a photographer, I’ve grown to think more critically about the subject of my photos and the stories I am telling. We don’t want to just do a shoot and finish our relationship with our clients. We want to build a community and highlight stories that often don’t get told.

How did you come up with the name?

STEVI: To us, dust represents the fleeting ideas, the creativity, hope and expectations of everything that can be. The grit is us rolling up our sleeves. We don’t take our work lightly. We are in it for the long run.

MAE: I remember our first brainstorming session in Stevi’s living room. We were just word vomiting. She already had dust in her mind. After talking about it, we saw that there was depth to it. We realize that we are soft and approachable, but get shit done. We work hard.

Can you share some of your highlights?

STEVI: Working with another female creative has been one of the biggest highlights of this work. We are extremely vision and mission-aligned. I’m so lucky to have a person who lights that fire of creativity within me. We have this insane potential together.

MAE: I’m also grateful to be our own bosses. When you’re working for someone else, everything you do is for that person’s dream. But now, when you wake up as a freelancer, every action you do is to make your dream come true. The fact that we are creating something from scratch is extremely empowering. Sure, most of the time it feels like a total shit show, but it’s our shit show.

Mae Frances and Stevi McNeill | Co-Creators of  Dust + Grit

Mae Frances and Stevi McNeill | Co-Creators of Dust + Grit

Any lessons you’d like to share with aspiring photographers?

  • Take baby steps. Learn how to put one foot in front of the other. I oftentimes feel like I’m zigzagging around, but I need to remember that making any movement is better than nothing. Sometimes, your vision seems unattainable, but remember that your vision isn’t going to happen over night. You have to put in the work. Send an email. Make a call. Any action is movement. It may not be perfectly straightforward, but it’s movement.

  • Don’t compare yourself to others. My biggest challenge is trusting in my skill. It’s so easy to do the comparison game on social media or the people around you. Don’t compare your chapter 3 to someone’s chapter 10.

  • It’s okay to pivot. Be comfortable changing your company’s vision or services down the road.

What’s next for Dust + Grit?

STEVI: We’re constantly learning and evolving as a business. Everyday, we are building and strengthening our cofounder relationship. Logistically, we’re aiming to improve our behind-the-scenes systems. Most importantly, we’re learning which stories we’re seeking to tell. After completing our first few photoshoots, we realized that those shoots didn’t align with our company vision; so right now, we are in phase 2 of Dust + Grit’s vision.

MAE: Our goal for future projects is to tell authentic, relatable stories. We’re aiming to work with people that have positive environmental and human impact; humble folks who are shifting things, thinking differently and working towards positive change. We’re interested in the grittier side of life and want to make those stories widely available through photo essay storytelling. We started combining forces at the best time in our lives. It’s been great organically growing and not forcing anything. We are still in the process of developing our own style, and we’re seeing where it takes us.

Dust + Grit  | Photoshoot

Dust + Grit | Photoshoot



Marushka Hirshon is a Tahitian-American nonprofit founder, community organizer and freelance journalist. She graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in Science, Technology and Society with a focus in Environment and Sustainability. Follow