Meet Athena Pelton. I first contacted her when I was writing up The Blush Bride, in which some of her photographic work was featured, and I was so taken with her images and ethos that I asked to write about her in full. Athena is a lady who keeps it real while also seeing and revealing the beauty in life. There are black sides to life at the same time as there are shining bright white light sides, and you know what? It’s all amazing. It’s all part of the experience. It should all be embraced and, if possible, captured on camera for you to enjoy and reflect upon at a later time. I love this way of looking at photography. For Athena, it isn’t about boring snaps or posed dullness, it’s about really, really living life and seeing it treasured in your pictures.
I love that when you read Athena’s ‘about me‘ page, you feel like this is your best mate you haven’t met yet: you know, the one who’s full of life and leads you into adventures you might have been too chicken to have by yourself. Everything she sets out here shines through in her photography. She’s the real deal.
Her images are little windows into the soul of a situation. I really haven’t seen one yet that’s yawnworthy or clichéd. Picture woodland scenes, brides walking away from the camera so you can see her shoes and the train of her gown, big wide grins of true love from a bride and her groom to one another locked in a private moment, and, my favourite, the photo of Catie and Tim
holding a placard citing the very realistic phrase ‘don’t give up’: marriage not wedding, life not poses.
I asked Athena all about her way of photographing and living life:
WOW: What’s your tip for getting great wedding pictures?
AP: I guess my answer is two-fold: to the bride and groom, my tip is to choose a photographer whose work you connect with, and who you cannot imagine not being with you on your wedding day. Someone you feel comfortable around, and have no trouble being yourself in front of. Only then will you get truly authentic images. For the photographer: shoot the story. Shoot for the couple, not for your blog or some magazine. Capture the essence of the couple and their love. These images are their legacy – and they matter, because the people in them matter. Remember that, above all else, every single time you click your shutter. See with your heart, and shoot from that place. What results will be magic.
WOW: I love your passion for getting the story of the couple and not just identikit wedding pictures. So, how should people go about choosing a photographer who’ll live up to this ideal?
AP: Easy: Go to www.athenapelton.com … kidding! (Sort of!) I think it goes back to what I said in the last question: you should choose someone who you truly resonate with. Whose work makes your heart beat faster; makes you gasp. You should have that nervous excited feeling when you look through their images – the same feeling you got when you found THE dress. These pictures will be what remains of the memories made on this day. They matter. Pick someone who will make sure they are exactly perfect for your story – and not just some version of what they think your story is.
WOW: What made you get into photography?
AP: I had a child – and I hated the big box portrait studios, but couldn’t afford custom photography. So, I bought an entry level kit DSLR from a big box store (the irony of which is not lost on me) and worked my butt of learning how to use it. I wanted to capture the essence of my daughter, and portrait studios only gave me super cheesy, cookie cutter, boring posed photos of her looking like any other one-year-old who ventured into their waiting room. That wasn’t how I wanted to remember her childhood. That’s a big part of why I am a photographer still, and why I shoot the way that I do. I am blessed to document peoples lives. That’s not some trivial undertaking, and I never, even in the smallest measurement, take that for granted.
WOW: That’s a great reason to get into photography, and I bet it keeps you empathetic to what is precious for others because you’ll know exactly what people want, i.e. the essence and magic of a wedding day and not just a formulaic image that would appear in hundreds of albums the world over. What’s your favourite thing to shoot other than weddings?
AP: The obvious answer is my daughters, but aside from them, I have a severe obsession with photographing women. I am obsessed with the flawed beauty we all possess and am desperate to show women how remarkable they – we – are. Despite what the television and/or fashion magazines may have us believe. We are all so incredibly beautiful. It’s breathtaking really.
WOW: I find that so indescribably important in this day and age of the bombardment of body image non-realism and unattainability. What on Earth are we doing to our young and impressionable women (and men now)? Definitely need people like you working against that because beauty is everywhere, and we’re in danger of becoming blind to it because of some in the media who’d seek to say “you’re ugly” just in order to sell you something that would only sell in a culture of dissatisfaction. I love asking the next question of photographers because even as a casual snapper I can’t do it: are you able to leave your camera behind or do you always want to capture images?
AP: A little bit of both. I love bringing it on adventures with my family – my girls are growing like weeds! – but I also like to leave it at home. When I have it along, I live with my face behind it, and sometimes it truly is nice to unplug and simply live. To make memories by being a part of them instead of simply documenting them. I enjoy both equally (insert something about balance here. ;) But no, in all seriousness, I think it’s important for everyone to take a step back and experience. We’re all so social media Instagram/Facebook/Tumblr crazy that our automatic response is set to “photograph this now!” when it used to be set to “holy amazeballs this is incredible!” I try and harness both in equal measure as best I can.)
WOW: I totally agree with that. I feel like I’m constantly wanting to capture every last little thing on my iPhone camera of all things (i.e. not the most amazing quality, even!), but it’s actually lovely when you physically can’t do that: forces you to just live life. So, whose work do you admire?
I absolutely love Sean Flanigan
and Jonas Peterson
; their use of light and shadow makes my heart stop. The Parsons
are my good friends and the best photographic storytellers on the planet, and I will live and die loving their body of work – and who they are as people. Sally Mann
‘s work moves my soul. But mostly, I admire every single creative soul on this planet who is brave enough to just put one foot in front of the other every single day and make work. Good work. Mediocre work. Even shitty work. It doesn’t matter what
it is, what matters is that people do
it. It’s incredibly difficult to do just that, and each of us fights a struggle sometimes just to pick up a camera, or a pen, or a brush, or an instrument, whatever it may be. It takes an immense amount of courage to go out into the world and be exactly who you were born to be. And the world needs more courageous people.
WOW: I try to do art, and I’ve made some shockers. You’re so right about the fact it takes courage just to make that first mark on the canvas (or page, or whatever creative endeavour you’re engaged with) and keep going even if the end result is a stinker. Creativity isn’t a finished masterpiece, it’s a process. You just keep on keepin’ on, as they say. What words or inspirational phrases do you live by?
AP: I have a tattoo on my left forearm of a ship at sea at sunset with the words, “Be Brave” as a reminder of the immortal words of Mark Twain (that have sort of become my mantra): “Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
WOW: I so, so want a tattoo…that’s another story! If you could photograph anyone, who would that be? Past or present.
AP: My grandparents. I wish I had been a photographer when they were still alive so I could have taken their portraits. So I could have etched their story in my family’s infinity. I miss them both terribly, and often.
WOW: What books/magazines/websites/art inspire you?
Athena, thank you so much for your beautiful and inspiring answers. I’ve loved reading your words as much as looking at your pictures. You’re a true creative soul and a natural.