Shawnee- A lovely human being

Shawnee (she/her/hers), the brilliant lady boss behind A Lovely Photo, is one of my absolute favorite photographers. I've followed her work for a while now. She has this really unique way of capturing her client's in a really beautiful way. Sitting down with her, it was easy to see her passion for her art and her love for all people. Check her out at: Shawnne C

How do you identify?

I’m a very very liberal queer intersectional feminist. My partner is queer as well. They are a lovely person! 

You sound passionate about politics! 

Ideally I wish we could live in a place where everyone was taken care of, had access to the same things, and was treated the same way. You know equality for everyone is the dream. So for me, this political season has looked like a hot fucking mess. I feel like I've involved now more than ever. But there’s so much stuff happening every single day. So I think it’s really important to be involved, use your platform, and elevate the voices around you who may not have access.

When did you realize about your identity? 

So I grew up in a pretty conservative small-town right outside Richmond. I was very very sheltered and I didn't have any exposure to gay people. I honestly didn't even really know they existed until like my early teens and happened to pick up on some things on Will and Grace and was like “Wait, what?” When I got older I remember my mom seemed totally fine with gay people and thought they should be able to get married. And I was like, “Wait. What’s happening? Ok, cool.” 

Later I dated this guy for four years and I ended up realizing when we were together. I have always had these feelings and thoughts, but I kept shoving them out of my head. Until one of my friends invited me out to Babes. I hadn’t heard about it and thought it was just a girls night out with dancing and I loved dancing I had no idea! I remember telling my boyfriend, "Im going to this place called Babes.” He looked up and laughed and said, “its a lesbian bar! Have fun!” He didn't care at all! When I got there, this whole new world that opened up before me. There were some many beautiful queer people just being themselves and I was like “Oh my god. This is what I’ve been missing!” Two months later my boyfriend and I talked and broke up. I told him that I thought I was gay and he was amazing about it! 10 years later, he’s still my best friend.

At first I identified as bisexual. And then I was like “No I’m definitely a lesbian.” The more people I got to know and love different people I realized “No. I’m definitely queer!” and come to love of different identity and expressions I realized, “No I’m definitely queer. I love all people.” It’s been a process but I’ve had it very very easy compared to other people.

Do you have any coming out advice for the people that are having a harder time?

It can be very scary but it doesn't have to be and it’s totally worth it! The best advice I can offer is to find people that affirm and support you. People who like you for you is a big thing! So if you’re queer and having a hard time coming, try to hang out with queer friends. And honestly, make the best decision for you. Some people you just shouldn't come out to if it wouldn't be helpful for you. Just be yourself and hopefully you'll get the chance to come out to everyone you want to in your life.

How did you and your partner meet? 

We met on Tinder. I didn’t think anything good would come of it, but I met the most the most amazing human being. So yay tinder! I think Tinder worked out in a way that nobody anticipated. I think it took the pressure off because it was just a hookup app. So people just showed up who they were and took down the barriers. Which worked out really well for a lot of people.

Talk to me about your photography company A Lovely Photo.

Photography is one of the very few things that I’ve latched onto without getting bored with. I feel like its something Im supposed to be doing this and I like doing this. It’s surprisingly not stressful for me even though its my job. I love going to work everyday. I love taking photos of beautiful people. I love my clients!

I’m a body positive, inclusive photographer and I don’t believe in awkward poses! I try to approach my business by just being authentic to myself. Like I would never want to ask my friends or clients to do things that I would never want to do or feel awkward doing. I try to make every session relaxed like I’m hanging out with a friend, having fun, and we’re just casually taking photos.  Every now and then it can get awkward because its like “I don't know you!” But it’s been working pretty well for me and my clients. I would never pose people and make them stand still with a frozen weird stale smile! 

When has your career as a photographer looked like?

It’s honestly been a process. I started off going to a community college with an incredibly photography program then I transferred to BCU and thought “This is what I’ve always wanted to do! I’m going to go to photography school and it’s going to be perfect!” Less than a year and a half into the program I hated it! Everyone was telling me “You’re not going to make it as an artist unless you do it this way.” The took the creativity out of the process. It was really disheartening.  They wanted all of our portfolios to have skinny white straight heteronormative couples and individuals. I really struggle with that but I didn’t think I could get clients outside that model. 

I actually had a photographer look over my portfolio, which by the way, he mansplained everything to me the entire time!  But, the first thing he said, “Well, you have a great eye, but you need some pictures of prettier people.” I was indignant! “What do you mean I need prettier people?” I asked,  “Look at them, these people are gorgeous!” And he responded, “Mmm, you need people that are skinnier, and get their make up professionally done. Hire models.” That was his critique and for a little bit I believed him and my teachers! Finally, finally, I feel very comfortable. I don't care what anything think about my portfolio. I love my clients! The are amazing incredible human beings, and I am so incredibly lucky to work with the people that I do.

I've noticed that you don't retouch your clients, tell me about that. 

I don’t retouch clients at all anymore unless someone has a zit on the middle of their forehead or something. People are just so beautiful! When I first started off  I did heavy retouching on people because I thought that’s what people wanted. The further along I’ve got, I’ve moved away from it. I honestly think everyone is beautiful just the way they are and I’ve never had anyone ask to change their pictures. It’s important to me that I can help affirm people’s beauty and help them feel really good about themselves.

Is that what started Love Yrself?

Love yourself started because I knew I wanted to start a project on body positive boudoir stylized photos that created space for queer and gender nonconforming folk. At that same time, my parent and I signed up to be a fundraising team for our local abortion access. So I put the two ideas together and dreamed up Love Yrself. Everyone who participated donated $100 dollars straight to the organization. I wanted to keep it affordable for everyone. I reached out to amazing vendors and got incredible responses. We had a venue, an event coordinator, a make up artist, products! I was only anxious about people signing up. But almost within 12 hours almost all of the slots filled up! Altogether I did 17 sessions that day. It was a giant collaborative effort that was an incredible experience! It was wonderful all around. I made people feel really beautiful about themselves and raised money for abortion access.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with insecurities? 

So many things! Just know that you are amazing and worth it and it doesn't matter what other people think or say! That whatever makes you happy or whatever you need to do to be happy is totally ok.  That you’re beautiful just the way you are! That it’s ok to time to be alone with yourself! 

Most importantly, find people that can celebrate you for who you are. Society doesn't really let us tell affirming ourselves without feeling vain. So find a group of friends that can just sit around and compliment one another! It truly truly helps. It’s so great when people can affirm, love, and celebrate you! 

Finally, fuck what everyone else thinks. It honestly doesn't matter. I wasted so much time trying to make other people happy. It was so unhealthy. Just be you and embrace it!

Leslie Cox