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Life and Work with Gianna Snell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gianna Snell.

Gianna, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My father gave me my first camera at five years old. My interest in photography grew over the years. I remember in my teens, visiting the Grand Canyon. I was so intrigued by the way the light and shadows fell and fascinated by the views that I took as many pictures as I could with my little point-and-shoot film camera my dad had given me before the trip. I remember the adrenaline rush as I looked for various angles and tried to capture the beauty I saw in front of me. It was then that I felt that initial spark and I knew that photography was life-giving for me.

In high school, I was the photographer for the school yearbook and newspaper. This was back in the film days, so I developed all of the pictures in the darkroom. There was a feeling of joy deep inside when I was developing the pictures. I loved the smell of the chemicals and I took pride in getting the blacks and whites balanced perfectly. By the time I went to college, I knew that I wanted to be a photographer. I chose to double major in photography and journalism. As a journalism major, I wrote press releases, articles and worked in the public relations department.

As a photography major, I traveled to Tanzania, Africa with 15 other photography majors to capture wildlife in the Serengeti. It was incredible staring into the eyes of lions, elephants and giraffes. But the highlight was on the last day when we visited a Masai village, and I got to capture the happy faces of the children. It was at that moment that I knew that I was called to create portraits of people. I enjoyed the beautiful sunsets and majestic wildlife, but interacting with people brought me so much joy. I knew that was what I wanted to spend my life doing.

After graduating, I worked various jobs, including working as an associate photographer at Sears Portrait Studio in Columbus, Mississippi. I remember the manager asking me one day, “Why are you here? You’re overqualified for this job. You have a DEGREE in photography.” I didn’t have an answer. I was frustrated because I had huge dreams of being a studio owner but I was stuck making minimum wage, making someone else money.

(But looking back, it was a necessary experience to teach me how to pose clients, how to make sales and the importance of good customer service, things I hadn’t learned in the classroom, but skills I needed to run my own portrait studio.)

In 2005, we moved to Lexington, Ky. My husband, Debleaire, and I began wanting to start a family. We had four miscarriages over the course of 4 years and during that time, I became depressed and stopped doing the things I love, including taking pictures. In 2010, God blessed us with a miracle, Jadon Christopher, and I’ve been told that he was the most photographed baby in the world. (LOL) From Day 1, I captured his every expression and move and shared them as much as possible.

For years, I looked for studio spaces off an on, worked at newspapers as a freelancer and did photography jobs upon request. We were blessed to be able to add to our family and I focused on my children, but I still longed to get back behind the camera and realize my dream of being a studio owner, but nothing ever panned out. While I LOVED bring a stay-at-home mom, many days I was feeling behind on the execution of my career goals as I watched some of my peer’s accomplishments.

In 2010, we moved to Huntsville, Alabama. Seeing the amount of talent in the area, insecurity and fear consumed me. What made me stand out from other photographers in the area? How was I different? I kept shooting but I was still struggling with my confidence and kept praying to discover what my unique skill set was.

In June of 2017, I did an engagement photoshoot for an elderly couple (Murphy Wilson and Lucinda Myers) at the downtown Huntsville park. Murphy excitedly held up a sign I made that read, “She said Yes!” The joy in his smile and the sparkle in her eyes captivated those who were watching the couple and people began to cheer when they saw him hold up the sign. When the family shared the image online to announce their engagement, the photo went viral! I immediately wrote an article about the couple and how they met, sending it to local news outlets. The photo, combined with the story, was viewed by millions of people all over the world.

This was the push I needed to confirm the gifts that had been placed in me by God to not only take pictures but to tell people’s stories. Since then, my career path has accelerated because I began walking more confidently in my unique gifting of being a writer and photographer. And in May 2019, I opened my first portrait studio, Gianna Snell Photography, where I offer portrait sessions for professionals, women and families. I love to capture the stories of my clients because I believe that everyone has a story that can inspire others.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it hasn’t. Some of the struggles were with insecurity, fear and doubt. It took a viral photo for me to believe in myself. My advice for other women who are just starting their journey is to know that you are unique and you are here for a reason. You have something special to offer that no one else has. Don’t compete or compare your gifts with others. Dig deep, put your head down and focus on running your race.

“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.”

― Zen Shin

We’d love to hear more about your work.
I do all types of portraits but my specialty is women’s glamour. I love helping women see themselves the way others see them and most importantly how God sees them. Several women have walked into my studio lacking confidence and not feeling beautiful. We provide professional makeup, hair styling and wardrobe consulting for each session, which helps each woman FEEL as beautiful as they are.

After the experience of having their portraits taken, they walk out with heightened confidence in knowing how powerful, beautiful and special they are! I want every woman to feel that, whether they are celebrating a milestone or capturing memories with their families, we want women to know that they deserve to feel beautiful!

Do you think there are structural or other barriers impeding the emergence of more female leaders?
Photography is a male-dominated industry so there have been many barriers. Sexism is definitely a barrier. I’ve had to deal with intimidation by male peers in my field, but as I began to walk confidently in my gifts, doors began to open for me and I am no longer concerned about getting opportunities.

There are also racial barriers to female leadership. Most photography conferences feature predominately white speakers and presenters, but there are women, such as Tomayia Colvin, Michelle Harris and others who are changing the landscape of photography education and creating pathways for female photographers of color to lead workshops and share our expertise in the field.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Gianna Snell Photography

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