A Photo (or Photographer) Can Serve Many Purposes: Sitting Down with Angela Michelle
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I scheduled time to meet with Angela Michelle on a weekday afternoon. I recently began a project to learn photography from the ground up. I’m reaching out to experienced photographers hoping to jumpstart the process.
Angela Michelle owns Raven Red Photography. She shoots boudoir photography here in San Antonio, Texas. Angela, kind enough to respond to a cold email, invited me to chat at her studio.
Before meeting Angela, I had my questions about boudoir.
Why does she want to take photos of people in the buff? And why do people want these photos taken? Also, how do you pronounce boudoir?
I decided to do my research beforehand. I spent a few hours browsing Raven Red’s site and Facebook page.
I came to find the client testimonials were raving:
“I admire Angela not just as a photographer but as a person who makes a difference by spreading love, capturing beauty and sharing that with the world!”
“Angela is also a wonderful advocate for body-positivity in a world filled with negativity and shame. Angela is the breath of fresh air everyone should experience at least once in their life.”
I could continue. Between her website and her Facebook page, there are over 100 reviews of similar praise.
And that wasn’t all I discovered. I came across her most recent blog posts. In these posts, Angela writes of her recent health troubles.
I learn that Angela suffered a stroke about a year ago. At the time, she was pregnant. She lost the baby and was left completely blind in one eye.
Angela has antiphospholipid syndrome. Her own immune system attacks the normal, healthy proteins in her blood. This can cause blood clotting which can lead to strokes and complications with pregnancies.
At the moment, there is no cure for antiphospholipid syndrome.
I learned all this a few hours before speaking with Angela. Without having shaken her hand, I’m making assumptions about Angela’s strength and passion for her work.
I became more and more excited to get the chance to ask her a few questions about her and what she does.
Sitting on the floor with Angela Michelle
Raven Red’s studio is unassuming, a bit small, but open. The studio is on the second floor of a modernized building on the corner of Buena Vista and Alazan in San Antonio.
Angela’s dog welcomed me at the door. “She’s all bark,” Angela said.
The studio is barren at the moment. Angela explained to me she’s moving to a larger space in the same building. Seems things are going well.
Due to the move, there aren’t many places to sit. Angela apologized that dog hair covered the only couch and she began sweeping it off. I assured her that between my girlfriend and a puppy, I am no stranger to shedding.
The dog took its place on the couch. Angela took a seat on the floor, and I followed.
Then we began our chat.
Our chat began with her father. A photographer in the military, Angela’s dad made her the subject of many a photo experiment.
Early on she realized she didn’t enjoy being in front of the camera. She didn’t immediately realize it was behind the camera that would better suit her.
Angela explained to me that she grew up as, and still is an “anxious person.” Later on, she told me she found that being behind the camera allowed her to be “social without being social.”
“The camera acted as a block” for her, she said. She got to be out and social. And, she still felt comfortable.
She took to this experience of being behind the camera rather well.
20 years of professional shooting, and now she’s here.
Angela runs a successful boudoir photography studio. As well, it seems she can pronounce the word “boudoir” rather well (luckily, she said it before I had to).
She takes on 8-10 clients per month working 25-35 hours on average with each engagement.
She’s looking to expand Raven Red. As mentioned, she’s moving to a larger studio. And she’s looking at bringing on associate photographers whom she can mentor.
The Professional vs. The Amateur
Angela Michelle is a professional. She knows what works and what doesn’t work.
She told me “wardrobe, lighting, and posing. Those are my tools in shooting portraits.”
She shows up and does her work. She doesn’t wait for inspiration, she has a process.
She told me, “I don’t know how the light will be, I don’t know what mood I’ll be in, I don’t know what mood the client will be in. I shoot what’s in front of me.”
She plans. In fact, she believes the planning stage with her clients can be the most fun.
Here, “you build a connection with your client,” Angela told me. She went on to say, “this may be the most important part.”
Connecting with what or who you are shooting dramatically dictates the final product Angela explained to me.
“I’m not just selling photos…”
Angela is a master of her craft. This mastery allows Angela to fulfill a much larger purpose with her work.
I asked Angela how her health troubles this last year changed how she experiences her work now.
“It made my work more personal,” she said.
Losing her child, losing vision in one eye, and being on the verge of death, Angela had some serious existential questions. Rightfully so.
Facing the reality that she won’t bear children, Angela wondered what she would leave behind. Of course, she came back to her work. “I realized, my photos are my children,” she said. And to quote one of Angela’s recent blog posts,
“My job is to empower people to accept, appreciate, and love their body.”
Knowing what it’s like to “be at war with your body,” as Angela explained it, who better than her to have that duty.
Purposelessness? No way.
In fact, Angela is one of the most purposeful people I’ve connected with in some time.
Angela likened her clients’ experience with her to a “ritual.” And she continued, “rituals are a way of symbolizing a transformation.” Like a wedding symbolizes the transformation of two individuals’ relationship status, her studio sessions with clients symbolize a transformation with their relationships to themselves.
Clients come into the Raven Red studio nervous, uneasy, and sometimes anxious.
“Everybody comes in hating something about their bodies. Through our work together, my job is to not tell, but show them how beautiful they are. By the time we are done, they’ve learned to love themselves again.”
I am deeply impressed with Angela Michelle. I admire how she runs her studio.
Her purpose and conviction in her work make her magnetic. Clients are lucky to have worked with her. And, I can only imagine how her future associates will feel to work for her.
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