South Carolina wedding photographer Jessica Hunt sees it as her responsibility to advocate for diverse representation by photographing awesome couples and publishing their images on popular wedding blogs. In 2017 she was published 75 times.
Tell us a bit about you, your values for your work, and how that is related (or not) to where you live.
My name is Jessica Hunt, and I am a wedding photographer! I have been shooting weddings for eight years, and every year, I serve twenty to twenty-five couples throughout their wedding photography experience. Not only am I passionate about love stories, but I’m also passionate about creating imagery that represents a variety of diverse communities. I studied studio art in college and learned that the intent behind artwork holds power. I believe that art shapes the way we think and feel about both ourselves and others. With that in mind, I want to make sure that my wedding photography business is not just creating beautiful photos, but also creating photos that represent love stories that the mainstream wedding industry has traditionally ignored. I hope that when people see my work, they are moved by the love within the images and that this emotion will begin to chip away at any implicit bias they may have about marginalized communities.
I am based out of Columbia, South Carolina, a city deep in the Bible Belt. This area is known for its conservative views, closed-minded ideals, and religious southern culture. I believe that living in this area has opened my eyes to just a small amount of the bigotry, hate, and oppression, many marginalized groups face on a daily basis. I’ve watched other vendors refuse to work with my same-sex clients. I’ve heard my brides of color discuss how they struggled to find makeup artists who could work with their skin tone and hair. I’ve even heard fellow wedding vendors talking negatively about certain types of clients and certain "types" of couples. These experiences were the catalyst for creating a photography business that represents and normalizes the romantic experiences of people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. In order to create change in my community and world, I decided to create beautiful imagery of those who are looked down upon by our society. The ultimate hope is that maybe just one person will connect with a person that they did not understand or empathize with before. In my humble opinion, if there’s one thing we can all understand, it’s being in love with another person.
Can you tell us about your publishing goals for 2017?
My goal for 2017 was to be published a total of 75 times in online and print publications. I am so excited to say that not only did I reach 75 publications in 2017, but I also was able to surpass that goal by a few!
There are various motivations behind my publishing goals. First, I view publishing as tangible confirmation that my work has impact. Being published is like that A+ 100 for me, so it’s always the cherry on top of a great experience with my couples.
Second, published photographs absolutely flatter my couples and enhance their experience with me. This is just one more thing that I can provide them, a beautiful and timeless online feature!
Last, yet arguably the most important, is to enhance the mainstream wedding industry by featuring work that represents people of color and LGBTQ+ community members. Too often, big publications and editors pass on work that represents diversity due to poor quality or disorganized vendor tags. Therefore, I want to be the photographer who submits stunningly beautiful images that editors can’t possibly overlook, but also have those images contribute to diverse representation.
Publishing is a lot of work! What was your approach, and what motivated you to stick with it?
Yes! Publishing is a lot of work. In fact, even using “a lot” is a gross understatement!!
My approach to being published starts with preparation before the wedding day or session. I begin by educating my client on how we can work together to create a session worthy of being published. I then approach the session with the following goals in mind: photograph beautiful images throughout that event, capture a variety of details and poses that perfectly tell a story of the day, edit in a consistent style, and finally submit to a blog whose focus and feel fits that couple or event.
95% of my publications last year were submitted via Two Bright Lights. TBL is a platform that allows wedding professionals to submit photos to over 400+ editors and helps to make the submission and the publication process easy and efficient for both the photographer and the editor. Two Bright Lights has been an invaluable resource for garnering publication and expanding my business.
In truth, it was not easy to stay motivated on this project for 12 straight months. The reasons for this project that kept me submitting were quite layered, but they were mainly focused on gaining great features for my business and highlighting my clients. I started seeing my followers on social media go up as the features came in throughout the year, and with the great backlinks I was earning, my website’s domain authority rose as well. Those things made me feel wonderful and brought new, incredible clients in front of my camera, but I always came back to my goal of showing off beautiful clients and their underrepresented love stories.
What were your hopes for this project?
When I set the goal of reaching 75 publications in 2017, my hopes were two-fold. First, I genuinely just wanted to set a big goal and accomplish it. I needed to prove to myself that I could do this. In January 2017 that 75 number seemed insurmountable, but as I continued to submit more work, I also continued to book some incredible clients. I realized that while this started as a personal goal, I was really focusing on publication because the love stories of my clients deserved to be showed off.
This sentiment leads to my second hope and basic philosophy. Basically, my ultimate goal is to show representation in my work and to normalize the love stories of every human experience. Seeing a wide array of couples featured on various sites was not only humbling, but also incredibly exciting. That’s why I do what I do; for my work and my clients’ love stories to be shown to the world. Finally, I always have the overall hope that my images can enact just a little bit of change, even if it's just one person.
What kinds of responses have you received from your published shoots?
I have received so many positive comments, emails, and responses from clients, supporters of my business, friends and family members. I have been able to bring smiles to my clients' faces by announcing that they’ve been published, and I’ve also seen an influx of diverse clientele since making publication a priority. Getting published helps to increase business revenue, but the more exciting part is seeing my couples shown off and watching these individuals get love, compliments, likes, and shares all over the internet.
I hope that my work features people of color and people in the LGBTQ+ community in a genuine way that shows off the love that they have. At the end of the day, it’s really only about them and their love story.
What is the role of representation in broader social change?
I believe that diverse imagery helps to normalize the stories of those who are seen as "other." It seems that humans mistreat those who are not like themselves because they do not understand these differences, nor can they empathize with people whom they inherently devalue. So, if society begins to show diverse imagery that mirrors the same imagery of “mainstream” couples, we can begin to go down the road of normalization. Photographers should attempt to show minority groups in a way that the mainstream person could empathize with and understand. Representation in imagery can cause people to change the way they think about others who may not look like them or believe the things they do. Representation in imagery can affect how people connect with one another, as well. Bottomline, the imagery we consume decides the normalization of our society, and every couple has a unique culture, ethnicity, experience, and identity that deserves to be represented.
What tips or advice do you have for other photographers who share your values?
I advise photographers who share my passion for representation to be fearless! Do not let the mainstream wedding industry and what is popular right now sway you from achieving your goals in this area. Do not let your fellow wedding vendors or your local peers and their harsh words dissuade you from fighting the good fight. I often hear older business owners encouraging young entrepreneurs to remove anything that could be divisive from their website and social media. I completely disagree with this! I think it is better for a business to be open about its values and beliefs so that a business’s target client can find them more easily. Often people will say “do not be too liberal” (what does that even mean, amiright?) or don’t be too this or too that because it will chase away business. I’d like to say to every photographer who has heard that — it was a lie, my friend. Being 100% who you are and standing up for what you believe will actually attract your target client like no other business action. Will some clients refuse to work with you because you decide to support same-sex couples and they do not? Yes. Will some clients not work with you because they are extremely conservative and may disagree with your stance on immigration or woman’s reproductive rights? Yes. Some people may not work with you because you’re an active supporter of Black Lives Matter and people of color. Yes, all of those things might just happen to you. Each of these things have happened to me throughout the past eight years of shooting weddings, but I’m thankful that those clients passed up on my business because, in truth, I was not the right person to create their special day. I hope that every photographer who believes in these values realizes their influence on the community, the impact of their actions upon prospective clients, and the strength of a business that operates within the realm of its own values and beliefs.
What are your goals for 2018?
I am so excited about 2018! I have a variety of goals I’d love to accomplish. My goals with regard to publications for 2018 is to be published one hundred times in both print and online publications. Out of that one hundred, I’m going for at least five features in exclusive publications. I am also hoping to begin a monthly newsletter for my business and to expand my boudoir photography.
SEE ALL OF JESSICA'S FEATURES ON CATALYST.
I’m a big dreamer and a lover of all things coffee, purple, and photography-related. Oh, and I’m a Columbia, South Carolina, wedding photographer serving wedding photography collections in South Carolina and worldwide. I’ve been shooting weddings professionally for seven years, and this job is my DREAM job.
My little family consists of one pup and two cats; I get along better with my furry friends than humans some days! I love to read novels and am always game for a good movie. Oh, and I'm also ALWAYS down for a craft beer from the tap!