When I “started” Studio 828 Photography I was bartending at 4 different bars in downtown Asheville because I’d been laid off from a management position and I had to scramble to earn. At the same time, I was getting a partnered venture off the ground that I had assumed would take me to retirement in passive income if I could hang with it long enough to distribute nationally. Basically, I was working 8 million hours a week in 6, SIX different businesses.
One of the regulars at one of the bars had known my affinity for photography and asked if I would take some headshots for he and a buddy for their dating website profiles and I agreed. Not so much because I had time on my hands but because I wanted to do ANYthing that didn’t have to do with the food and beverage industry. I was up to my eyeballs in financial reports and projections, not to mention wearing the all black bartender uniform that had bleach stains filled in with sharpie marker and smelled like fryer (you restaurant people know what I’m talking about here) and cigarette smoke. I was drinking on the daily, never sleeping, and trying to scrape enough to just get by until I could figure out what to do next.
When I was photographing the bar regulars for their dating profiles I thanked them for a fun afternoon and one of them tried handing me $50 in cash and my immediate response was “Oh no, this was fun, not work.” and his response was “Cat, if I would pay you for my Budweiser, it stands to reason I would pay you for pictures…” and a light went off. I really COULD make money doing this on the “side” and bartending while the sake brewery (my other business) was getting off the ground. I didn’t have to go hunting for a bar residency, I could just juggle the different nights at different places and shoot during the days I had free from the Kura, and BAM! We’re not behind on the mortgage anymore…
To be honest, I had no idea how to start a business. I mean, I had taken a business planning course at a local incubator so I understood the basic logistics but really, I had ZERO clue how to do it on my own other than just get up and do it. I kind of Nike my way through life and occasionally get it right.
At first I thought I’d do wedding photography and setup some styled wedding shoots, and second shot for a few local wedding photographers, and thought portrait work would be secondary. It was my favorite, even then but my philosophy was that “weddings were important” and that portraits were secondary because it wasn’t “an important day” like weddings were. Boy, was I wrong!
And then I would run “specials” on platforms like Living Social for portrait specials where…I got a LOT of experience in logistics and being a technician in my business (insert eye roll here). On the upside, it was a revealing experience for me in following through on what I gave my word on (completely unsustainable pricing and earning a negative amount of money), and learning to value my time.
As I moved along and learned day in and day out that weddings were not going to be my jam (I mean cmon…LOOK at that styled shoot above, I was all over the place!), I dug deeper and deeper into my love of women’s portraiture. Memories from my days as a model started to bubble up too. Man, did I LOVE a catwalk. But it was interesting to me. The memory that came back to me most recently was about my first folio build as a model. I was 15, maybe 16? Something like that and I was enrolled at a Barbizon modeling agency in Tampa (don’t judge) and the experience I remember being so much fun and REALLY empowering. Looking back on it, I don’t know that I understood how powerful that day was until the last year or two. Growing up I was bullied A LOT as a kid. I was the weird fat girl in the corner until about 10th grade. But this experience was the first time in my life that it not only wasn’t a surprise that I was beautiful, but EXPECTED that I was and that changed my entire life. From then on, I wanted to do that for everyone.
I wish I still had those pictures.
So, present tense, here we are. It is International Women’s Day and this business has grown from photographing families for pennies to housing two photographers, four makeup artists, and a very patient studio manager.
Y’all, I can’t brag on my team enough. We all have our good days and our bad days but I am proud of each of these women. I am proud of who they are becoming and who they already are. I am proud of the work they are doing and the plans they have for the future. I am so thankful for their support day in and day out. On this International Women’s Day I am honored to lead this team into the coming months to be more and do better everyday.