Friday, April 13, 2018

After The Pretty: My reflections on the Closing of Style Me Pretty.

The surprise news of Style Me Pretty shutting down this week has rocked the wedding industry and I don't think we've even scratched the surface of the full extent of what it means to have this incredible resource and archive be wiped off the internet.  My career in wedding photography and Style Me Pretty are so intertwined I can't imagine working in the wedding community without it.  I remember in 2012 when my cousin's wedding was published there and I discovered the blog and said to myself, okay if I can shoot weddings like this, I can shoot weddings.  I had been so adamantly against shooting weddings for my entire time in art school, having never actually been to a wedding as an adult, it was my belief that wedding photography was still the F8 super posed, very cheesy portraits from my bat mitzvah or my parent's 1975 wedding.  Discovering the amazing artists many of whom have become friends and who continue to inspire me today on the pages of Style Me Pretty showed me that there was a space in the wedding industry to be an artist. To have a voice and to make beautiful images.  I will never forget my first Style Me Pretty feature.  It was an engagement session in Central Park and it went up in December 2012. I was in Buenos Aires on my way down to Antarctica and I remember telling my family I needed to be by my phone all day because potential clients would be bombarding my inbox after I was on Style Me Pretty.  I was a little mistaken, but after having my first real wedding published there in 2013, they did have a major role in my career and my first few wedding seasons were booked because of them.  Shooting Melissa Bilodeau's wedding (the former editor of the Little Black Book) in 2015 was a defining moment in my career.  I was so honored she chose me, having so many amazing photographers at her fingertips, and more then that she became a dear friend.  As did many of the editors at Style Me Pretty and I am heartbroken for them, but know how incredible they all are and know they are all on to amazing things and I hope I get to be a part of some of those things.  I remember having my first feature accepted for the front page in 2014 and feeling that my hard work and non-stop working at what I loved doing was paying off.  83 features later, 57 of which were front page, I can't imagine my professional life without Style Me Pretty.  I want to thank Abby for founding SMP and creating the most amazing platform and I want to thank all of my editor friends who have come and gone- Melissa, Gabrielle, Liz, Courtney, Lexi, Stephanie, and many others for being so supportive and for nurturing this amazing community.

So the question is what happens next?   What happens after the pretty?  I've been humming Hamilton all week and thinking of Jonathan Groff's King George singing "What happens next? Do you know how hard it is to lead?"  Who will take up the lead and fill this space?  And more importantly what should?  I feel that the closing of Style Me Pretty, for whatever reason it may have closed, is a wake up call to our industry for some change.  I am not placing any blame, I am very much a part of this, but when did everything become so much about the pretty and so much less about everything else? Weddings are not about just the pretty details, they're about the moments.  They're the celebration of a new family coming together and a love being declared to the world.  They're intensely joyful, sorrowful, anxiety producing, crazy, loving, beautiful and wonderful moments all jam packed into one little day so why is the only adjective we focus on right now pretty?  I talk about this quite often on my social media platforms- I think the need to be "pretty" is starting to interfere with being authentic.  I am in the middle of writing my detail flat lay styling course, and I say about 100x throughout to style MINDFULLY and THOUGHTFULLY and PURPOSEFULLY.  It may be about details, but it goes so beyond that and teaches the compositional theory and why we see things the way we see them.  I want to help people create beautiful images not just for the pages of a magazine or style me pretty, but also for their clients wedding albums, because that's why we're doing this.  I think that end game has gotten a little blurred.  I was so excited this year to finally put out my course More Than Pretty Tones and publish a mini e-book of my Behind The Frame series, which is an intro to semiotics and aesthetic philosophy.  For years I told everyone I would never teach because I was feeling discouraged by this onslaught of styled shoots and the same content being made over and over again with every portfolio looking similar.  I had no interest in adding to that space.  I stubbornly said everyone wants to pad their portfolios and no one actually wants to do the hard work and learn.   Who wants to listen to me lecture about Sontag and Plato I asked? But you know what- a lot of people do.  And that excites the hell at me.  It gets me so excited about what could be next, because I do think people genuinely are craving more than pretty.  Getting into the teaching space these last few months has made me so inspired and so excited by our community and all the amazing voices I've met who are so passionate about what they do and wanting to create amazing imagery for their clients and for themselves just as much as for the publications.

I feel right now the wedding community is so segmented.  The photo-journalistic photographers capture emotion and the fine art ones capture details. Well I call bullshit.  I have collections in my lightroom catalog, which for any non-photographers is what I use to store my photographs, and I make one for each couple's slideshow, one for their album and one for my submission to whatever publication I'm submitting to.  In making this blog post I went straight to the slideshow or album folder and ignored the submission.  I knew none of these photos would be in the submission folder.  I didn't include them because I knew they wouldn't be chosen or used.  That's on me.  I think whatever comes next needs both.  Show the pretty- brides and grooms crave and want that inspo, but lets also show them those emotional, gut-wrenching, make you laugh till you cry or cry till you laugh moments that wedding days are really all about.  Lets have a space for better content! Articles written by photographers and wedding planners, fashion for all types of brides and grooms and more inclusiveness of all types of weddings!  There can still be a space for the most gorgeous of weddings but lets show more photos from them! And photographers lets rise to the occasion to care more about those photos.  I've looked through hundreds upon hundreds of portfolios in the last few years through my mentorship program and while looking for second shooters and assistants and time and time again I see portfolios full of pretty images from styled shoots that fall apart on real wedding days.

Photographers and stylists are bringing in items that have nothing to do with the wedding day, creating fake invitation suites for weddings that didn't have one, setting up scenes with fancy chargers or stemware that weren't part of the wedding day, just to get published.  This astounds me and I'm hoping this comes to an end.  I'm all for making what you have in front of you look its best and I teach these tactics, but lets keep it to the authentic! Lets make sure when our couples and their friends and families look at their photos they don't say wait is this the same wedding?  I've been saying for years it would catch up to the industry and I think it finally has.  Style Me Pretty's readership was down and I think it's because it created an echo chamber of the same work being created in styled shoots, copied in weddings and back and forth.   This is a wake up call for us all to do better, to be better and to show that better work.

At least 60% of these photos are ones I haven't posted online in my blog or portfolio.  I used to post much more of these but I cut back because I didn't see my colleagues doing it, but I'm done with that, I'm showing what I love from now on and I love these photos!  I'm changing the way I blog and share my images and I encourage you to do so as well.  I use my full galleries to sell myself and prove I'm worth what I'm worth through these images, but I hardly ever show these images publicly.  I'm ready to change that.  Remember that your couple's favorite image probably isn't that posed portrait with the pretty tones, it's most likely that slightly out of focus photo of them on the dance floor feeling pure joy and a champagne buzz.  So instead of investing in all these workshops- invest your time in learning to use light in all situations- including artificial light since a lot of the wedding day happens after dark! Learn how to capture the decisive moment! Learn how to be thoughtful and how to create a narrative with your images.  And you can use the pretty to create a narrative, that's what my whole details course is about.  This is what I think comes after the pretty.  More real life, more real moments.  Real moments can be really pretty too.  I think its a shame the photojournalistic photographers look down on detail styling because its "inauthentic" and thats because there's too many people approaching it that way.  We need to get back to using these tools to tell a story.  It can most certainly be a pretty story, but there should be a story in there!  This is what sets us apart as photographers, as artists, as storytellers and I think the revolution of showing these alongside all the other pretty details is coming.  I hope you join me in it.  Style Me Pretty, you will still be incredibly missed. I truly am mourning losing this resource and am heartbroken and wish I could do something to bring it back or at least keep what's already there online.  But I'm trying to see a silver lining and I think that silver lining is the push we all need to be more mindful. More purposeful and show off a little more of what we're capable of than just pretty pictures.

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