Women of the Wedding Industry Wednesday, Amy Carroll of Amy Carroll Photography
Too loud and they call you shrill.
Too cool they call you a dude.
Too interested and you're easy.
Too uninterested and you're a b.
Too proud and you're a brag.
Too humble and you will truly be overlooked.
Too vulnerable and you're weak.
Too strong and they'll say you had it coming when you fall.
Too pretty and you'll make them feel less than.
Too ugly and you'll never even make it through the front door.
Too skinny and you're a waif.
Too fat and you're a shame.
Too good at business and you're a shrewd.
Bad at business? Well hunny what did you expect. You're a woman.
Exploring what it means to be a women in business is what drives this blog. And sometimes, I can't pass up the opportunity to get a little snark in when snark is due.
But I have a hard time feeling good about March. And every time it rolls around, I have thoughts of escaping the final leg of the Midwest winter that is second nature at this point but never really settles into the bones like you think it should by this point in our evolutionary biology.
And when cheerful propaganda about it being Women's History Month starts showing up, I really have to sit with the implications of such a designation. And try to keep my chill. Because it's a good thing. But kind of of a weird dynamic.
Because it seems like a relic. And it is.
Created as a celebration in 1981, lengthened to a full seven day week in 1982, and by golly since 1987 we've got a whole month to ourselves girls! Enshrined as an opportunity to commemorate women's vital role in the shaping of American History, this designation honestly gives me a case of the LOLs followed by the ROFL followed by a long, drawn out, exasperated eye roll and shameless sigh.
Because the rest of the 11 months out of the year are there. And in comparison to this month, they glare sometimes in how passive they are. That celebrating women is so niche, it needs a title, and a month at all is what irks me.
I live in a world and exist in an industry that celebrates women, a lot. And celebrates entrepreneurship. And creativity. And bold art and bold personalities. In fact the thing I love about this industry is that every damn week feels like a lady holiday.
So the because bothers me.
Because even after the historic midterm election of 2018, women still only make up 1/5 of Congress. 20 years ago, 1 in 10 leaders in Congress were women. If it's gonna be another 20 years before representation in our most fundamental branches of government slides into the 50/50 territory representation territory I'm gonna need more than a stiff drink. I'm gonna need a campaign website.
Because 5 of the richest 50 people in the world are females (sorry to bust your nut, but Kylie Jenner isn't in the top 50). Because the poorest households in America with the greatest income disparity are made up of single moms.
Because the national female to male earnings ratio still hovers at around 80% and all that time I spent in progressive classes challenging this issue while earning a liberal arts degree didn't solve it.
Historically, the most expensive vendor services in the wedding industry were dominated by male professions. The most costly services, traditionally are venue, catering, live musical band, and the photography.
And until very recently, an event that was orchestrated almost entirely (let's just say it) primarily by our lady brides and their mommy dearests, was handled almost exclusively by male vendors. From the caterer to the florist to the printer to the baker.
As more women have found their way to the industry, the dynamics of the industry have changed.
And so I want to point out a simple fact. The wedding industry, that thing we love to hate, was historically shaped by male dominated enterprises.
Now, before I get pegged as Northern Michigan's Most Feminist Wedding Planner, I want to take a step back and say that this series isn't meant to exclude the men we work with all the time. Collaboratively and happily and joyfully. They work hard. They support us. And we depend on their services just as much as they depend on ours. It's a truly balanced and functional relationship, one I haven't really seen in either the corporate sector or public sector where I worked prior. Here, we all feel like equals and the power structure is really horizontal. Here in wedding land, we are all at the service of our clients, they are the bosses and the holders of our paychecks.
But the changes you've noticed in the wedding industry over the past 10 years, they aren't a mistake, and they aren't an anomaly.
They are specific to the balance achieved by more females starting and establishing and running reputable businesses as owners/operators. Not partners. Not the wives club. As owners.
And the wholistic feel that many weddings have these days, the storytelling component, the personalization and connection, I feel is a direct reflection of the female energy that has infused the industry. Not only are women driving the trends, but they are delivering on them as well.
To be honest, I can't imagine what it would have been like 20 - 30 years ago, as a wedding planner, working with an exclusively male vendor team. You walk a fine line as a planner. You have to be flexible, but ensure that services are fulfilled on behalf of your client. You have to be firm, but kind. You have to maintain the dreaded like-ability, otherwise your job as the 'fixer' is blown. Being a confident woman had gotten me into some trouble in my past life, yet its required here. So stepping into the role has been such a growing experience for me.
Anyways, this month we are exploring our women in photography.
The International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers 2018 list of the 100 best photographers in the world included 10 females. 10. Out of 90. Harper's Bazaar list of the Top 40 Wedding Photographers does a little better at 15. Likely this is because experience and years in the trade are tied to achievement, and rightfully so. That work matters.
But our work here isn't done. And don't let this bubble fool you. Every time a woman starts an Instagram photography account with some photo of her baby that you think is oversaturated with the caption"Friyay!" #photog and you want to start judging her, think again. The pendulum shifts slowly.
Let's talk about my wedding photographer.
Amy was the first person I hired as a vendor for our wedding day. I saw her work on Instagram and experienced something that I know can have a profound effect on who you hire for your wedding: I was moved. Her vision of weddingry was what my vision was. And I contacted her. So dumb and so naive about how to do this. And she just kindof big sistered me through a year long engagement.
I'll be honest, at that stage of wedding planning, it set us up for unrealistic expectations of our vendors.
After Amy, I expected everyone would just get us.
I expected I wouldn't have to explain that we were having a Thursday wedding because it was the evening of the Harvest Moon.
I expected that they would understand Jewish wedding traditions and Game of Thrones references.
I expected that they would understand how much we didn't want to be the center of attention, but we did want to have a wedding that showed our guests how happy we were to celebrate this new time in our life with them.
I expected everyone to just get that even though I am laid back in my personality, I have super exacting ideas and like most brides, I was not above asking for extremely specific adjustments, changes, or modifications to get things right. When I have a vision or idea, I commit to it 100%.
That unrealistic expectation was all on me, because the fit with Amy was so good and so right. We had good vendors. But Amy was the best. How we got lucky enough to have her I don't know.
Amy lives in the graininess of imperfection. Let that sink in. Grainy. Unstaged. Unplanned. Unposed. It's not only the artistic style of her work but the artistic style of her life.
She never promised me perfect. She never promised that she could wave a magic wand and somehow give me the impression that wedding days are perfect. She never promised to give me a beautiful love story I didn't already have. She's good, but no lens can fake that.
Quite simply, Amy never promised to be the end all be all. She never promised that my wedding rested on her shoulders. She never promised to take over, take charge, and guide us into wedded bliss. And I loved that.
Amy makes art.
I feel bad, but Amy's appeal to us was so much in what she was not. She isn't tacky or cheesy. She isn't overinflated about her incredible talent. She isn't the type to insist that we do a first look or do sunset photos or do our first dance the second we stepped into our reception.
Amy isn't the industry. Or at least the one people are afraid of.
She is real. She is quiet and kind. She had command over her craft in an undeniable way. What we did or didn't do didn't really matter to her.
It's not that she's irreverent towards weddings. It's just that she respects everything that happens before and after them just as much. And doesn't fetishize what is often a hard day full of complex emotions.
She exists in shadows and light equally. Something I loved about her work.
Amy and Jeff bought a little cottage about 20 minutes from our house as a Northern Michigan getaway. Like everything Amy does or touches, it's charming and Wes Andersonesque and well curated. It isn't perfect but it's damn good.
Amy is what I want for your wedding. Amy is what I want to be to you. A kindred spirit. Not for everyone, but so right for the right ones. A longterm friend. The best companion on your wedding day. A seamless extension of the love you share. A guest at your dinner table, not just on your wedding day, but years afterwards.
Amy Carroll, of Amy Carroll Photography
What is it like working with Jeff as a team? What are your differences as photographers and what are your similarities?
While I know working with one's partner isn't for everyone, I truly love working with Jeff on a wedding day. Sure, we have our moments but working toward the goal of capturing a wedding day together is about as sweet as it gets. We hear the vows. We fluff dresses. We capture moments full of joy. Sometimes we dance at the reception. We get to dress up together and have a day that doesn't involve parenting. If we have a drive, we get uninterrupted time in the car to chat, throw around dreams, and just enjoy each other's company.
Our differences are good ones. Jeff will oftentimes photograph the guys formals and seeing what he coaxes out of guys that would rather be doing most anything other than having their pictures taken, I am truly amazed. He thinks outside of the box and ends up with these personality-filled pictures that I'm so proud of him for. Our similarities are that at the end of the day, we both know it isn't at all about us. Jeff is the ultimate helper. He is a kid-whisperer during the formals and always thinking eight steps ahead. It's been pretty great to be a team the past decade.
Amy and Jeff, behind the scenes.
You once came over for dinner after our wedding and said excitedly that you were thinking about opening up a Christmas tree farm in Northern Michigan (still hopeful)! You said after 10 years as a wedding photographer sometimes people retire because they feel like they lack relevance. Do you still feel this way?
TBH, I don't remember the Christmas Tree farm but we did for a while sincerely look around the Leelanau Peninsula for a property to turn into a venue. We searched with our poor realtor for about three years until we chased that dream away and instead purchased a cottage in Northern Michigan on Crystal Lake. We have since turned that into an AirBnB and are now cooking up a few new projects in our heads.
Retiring wedding photography is something that I know I'll need to do eventually. I'm beginning my 14th season as a professional wedding photographer and I keep thinking that eventually I'll be irrelevant or that brides+grooms won't see my work as inspiring. It's honestly one of my greatest fears. But I keep booking weddings organically. I am well booked into 2020 already. I get excited each and every time I get an inquiry and then book with an amazing couple. I look forward to each season when weddings start back up in full. I still love what I do, get nervous before every wedding we shoot and am excited to deliver a final gallery. So right now, I don't see it happening in the foreseeable future, even though I have vocalized my fears in this area in the past. I'm so thankful I get to do what I do and in the next phase, whatever that might be for us, I still feel that I will want to have the opportunity to still document weddings even if it's not in the same capacity that I'm booking currently. Photography will always be a part of my life.
I saw your work on Instagram and fell in love. You were my first vendor I hired after getting a venue and you had so many positive thoughts, ideas, and suggestions after that moment. Is this a role you typically find yourself in? Bringing people’s wedding visions to life as their first point of contact with the wedding and industry.
I always enjoy helping my clients in any capacity for their wedding day. Many have a pretty strong vision that they are really great about conveying to me. One thing I always like to ask is what aspect of the day is the biggest. The most important. For some it's being able to bring all of their loved ones under one roof and serving them with the best food and music. Some have style for miles and they love showing their particular take as a couple. Because I've now been in this industry for so long, I strongly encourage a lot of dialog regarding the logistics of the day, which can trip up even the most organized bride and groom. My favorite comments after a couple has had the chance to look through their final wedding gallery is the joy at seeing laughter and 'in-the-moment' expressions. That can't be planned. It is always my favorite thing to capture is the real joy and the unplanned moments.
The thing I loved most about you was that compared to other photographers I talked to, I didn’t feel like I had to impress you with my wedding. I loved that. What does impress you about weddings? What do dislike shooting? What inspires you at weddings?
This is such a good question. It's also a question I would have answered so differently not that long ago. There is not much physically that impresses me about weddings anymore. And I don't mean that to sound jaded in any way. I have seen a lot of really amazing weddings. Over the top, incredible venues, dresses that would make you swoon. We have traveled to Europe, the West Indies, Mexico and beyond. We have seen a lot of wedding days that are truly out of the pages of a magazine.. But it's not the things, the decor, the flowers necessarily that engrain themselves in my mind. It's the people. It's the feel. It's the joy of marrying that one human you can't imagine your life without. Don't get me wrong, I love the beauty of all of those loved details that a couple evokes into their wedding. But if a couple is kind, generous. Genuine. Those are the feels that make a day for me. Real emotion inspires me more than the most beautiful backdrop.
Ugh, your style. It’s everything. Talk about clothes. Style. Fashion. Your aura. Tell me about this part of your world.
Shucks girl...you are real kind! I'll say this...most of my childhood, going into my teen years and in my 20s, I would have categorized my style as sheep-like. In that I was a sheep. I followed the crowd and wanted to blend into it. I had absolutely no sense of what I actually liked, and instead mimicked people I thought had better style than me. Something awakened in me when I entered my 30s and I stepped out and trusted my own instinct and what I loved. I didn't care as much about what everyone else was into and found a style that designated with myself rather than with others. It's honestly been a real interesting journey and one that has been a creative outlet I've enjoyed. I love a flowy kimono or dress. I like bohemian style but with an edge. I either wear zero color or ALL the color, with a very narrow margin in between. I love searching for a vintage piece and pairing it with something modern.
Amy as a bride on her wedding day.
Who do you want to photograph, living or dead? Anthony Bourdain. That man was a bad ass and had such an interesting aura about him. I always saw him as both in charge and trying to hide behind some invisible force. I would love to see what my camera pulled out.
Question about the intersection between photography and planning: what are your thoughts on flat lays?! And has there been more pressure on you as a photographer to shoot details for portfolios? How do you balance that with your primary goal of serving your clients?
I am always always happy to arrange and photograph a flat lay. If it's something my couple wants, or even a vendor, it's something that I'm more than happy to provide. But in all honesty, I don't go out of my way to photograph them on my own. Going back to capturing emotion, I don't particularly find a lot in them. We do strive hard though in a wedding day to capture all of those little details. The table arrangements. Those pretty florals. The careful calligraphy of the name cards. There is so much that goes into a day we want to make sure it's preserved for them. What do couples need to know about their wedding day from your vantage point? What is your golden nugget to share?
This is my biggest golden nugget. One that I feel insanely passionate about. It's not about the perfect moment. It's about photographing a moment perfectly. and what I mean by that, is that I feel like many couples are really wanting that perfection. The train perfectly set in a wide swoop. Flowers straight up and down and arms looking perfectly toned. No flaws. No hairs out of place. I'll be honest. I find perfection to be over rated. Completely. My favorite shots are the ones where a bride is walking and laughing with her best girls. Arm in arm walking with her new husband. The movement of a dress or a vail gives me so much more inspiration than a stiff but perfectly posed dress. I don't mean to say I don't strive to get these for my couples. But my greatest source of inspiration is authentic moments. Not the staged ones. What was your favorite place to shoot? I feel like you have been in so many unique and interesting places before it was the thing to post your travel schedule to Instagram.
I mentioned earlier some of the amazing places we have been lucky enough to travel to. Who doesn't like a backdrop of mountains or a Portuguese villa as your wedding venue? But my favorite place in the entire world to be. The place that inspires my little photographers heart the most is the Leelanau Peninsula. I love the water there. The dunes. The feel as you wind through M22 and see the old homesteads of Port Oneida. I have photographed many days here. Small elopements and large and grand affairs. The area has a feel and a pull for me I have found in only a few places we have been. It's the reason we got a cottage near it and find ourselves returning to over and over again.
What is your favorite portrait to create on wedding days?
A moment of real, unscripted joy. I also love a moment to create some real great negative space moments. mmmmm. You also do birth photography, how is photography a meaningful part of the birth story? What do these photos mean to parents?
Oh boy do I love a good birth story. I've enjoyed documenting births and they really had incredible meaning to me after my friend Lynell photographed our own son's birth five years ago. It's not necessarily about photographing the ACTUAL birth (although we do and are happy to) but again it's those incredible emotions that surround this event. I approach these types of shoots exactly the same as I approach weddings. I pull out the beauty of the moment. Of the love and the joy and the even the moments of complete loss of control. They exist in weddings and birth. It's something I relish preserving for those that want to work with me. Describe the first wedding you ever shot, and the last wedding you shot in 2019. What are the differences in both yourself and in weddings since 2006.
The first wedding I ever photographed was in February of 2006. I had been photographing engagements and kids and was loving it so much that I really wanted to test the waters of photographing weddings. I had a friend that had a co-worker getting married and was just going to have friends and family grab photos throughout the day but not with an actual person there to be the sole provider of these images. I asked if I might have the opportunity and the sweet bride said yes. This was also completely conveyed through my friend and the bride and I never even talked before her wedding day. I didn't have a timeline, didn't know the groom's name and knew zero about the day. I showed up with my one little camera and flash and just dived right in. I was woefully unprepared but also was proud of what I got. I wouldn't put these images in my roster of greatest photos ever taken, but it started my absolute love for the creative force behind capturing a wedding. (I'll share a picture from this event!) Who is a mentor of yours?
This is such a cliche' answer but it's true all the same. Annie Leibowitz. I love her portraits of humans. They are raw and unassuming and the emotions she pulls out of her subjects are inspiring.
Annie Leibowitz is never a cliché!
What is your favorite way to display or share photos in the digital era?
Surprisingly, I don't love photographs of humans on my walls at home. We don't have wedding photos hanging up. No pictures of our family or loved ones. I just don't want them there unless they are more abstract in nature. With that said, I am a huge fan of albums. We have bunches of them. I print albums from my iPhone photos. I print a yearly album of our travels and moments as a family in beautiful linen-bound coffee table albums that I look through often. I leave them out. I encourage others to thumb through them. My son likes me to 'read' them to him often. I am obsessed with having our moments printed and bound and on display. I encourage my couples to do the same. There are so many great places to have them done affordably these days. (Amy recommended Artifact Uprising to me). Aside from shooting weddings, you shoot beautiful portraits of farm animals. I can’t get enough of this. Tell us more about working with animals instead of people.
Give me ALL the animals! I just love them. Photographing animals became a creative outlet of mine around 2012. I would just drive around aimlessly on backroads, often time after staring at my screen editing all day and needing to clear my head and help my eyes remember 3D objects. I remember seeing a herd of longhorn cows in the country and just being amazed they were there. I stopped, thankfully had my camera with me, and they all came up to the fence so we could study each other. I had a particularly lovely moment with a longhorn that came to be a signature piece and the start of a business I now call Amy Carroll Printshop. Animals have always helped me center and photographing them is a creative outlet I've enjoyed now that has also parlayed into part of our livelihood.
One of Amy's favorite beasts, Pablo.
You and Jeff just bought a new house in Grand Rapids! Which means I’m assuming Christmas Tree farm up north isn’t happening just yet - what is on the horizon?
That's a good question! We almost purchased a greenhouse retail operation in Grand Rapids last year and now that we have decided to pass on that opportunity, we are kind of back to throwing a bunch of dreams and ideas to the wall to see what might stick. We love plants. We love art. We love the city and also equally love our time up north. I have begun painting and have enjoyed that and have been considering adding painted artwork to my printshop. Stay tuned! I rarely don't have a new project in my mind. Speaking of GR, I’m so bummed I didn’t know you when I lived there. What is your perfect Grand Rapids day? Be so specific.