As a wedding photographer of color, I wanted to use my platform to explain a little about my work as a minority woman. I expanded the scope of this project to share a little more about my story, in the hopes that other BIPOC wedding photographers in the Bay Area may do the same.
I’m Zoe of Zoe Larkin Photography. I’m British and brown. I moved to the States in 2016. I’ve never really talked about race before. It’s sometimes felt like too loaded of a topic to ever really bring up. That’s part of the discussion we’re having right now.
I grew up in an overwhelmingly white town in the eighties and nineties. Maybe surprisingly, race was never really a big issue to me. I knew I didn’t fit in, sure. In fact, I probably spent too much of my childhood trying to do so. That’s actually a really deep and painful memory.
I always thought my not fitting in had more to do with personality than the color of my skin, or my culture of origin.
Plus, I never had any kind of community around me of other people who looked like me. Like I say, it was a white city in a white county. My parents were the only people from their respective families who had made the move to the western country we lived in.
Moving to the United States has been a really exciting journey. It’s also brought into sharp focus many race debates and sensitivities that I had been blocking out of my own lived experience. Being an immigrant has been somehow a massive… relief for me.
I know that sounds a little strange. So let me explain…
Living in the UK, I would constantly (like seriously, all the time) be asked, ‘oh, why did you want to move to this country?’ ‘how long have you been here?’ I felt like screaming because the country was my homeland, country of birth, the only country I had ever known.
Why could no-one see that, and just accept me as a British person, just the same as them?
It was because, quite obviously, I had a different skin color. And no-one would let me forget it! So, over time, I began to feel more and more reticent about race, praying that nothing that made me feel bad would come up. Part of my British mentality makes so many things overly embarrassing. And this was definitely one of them.
And I will add in here that I’m in no way down on my upbringing and the country where I was born and raised. My own experiences as a kid and young adult were pretty messed up due to no-one’s fault but my own poor choices… but that’s a whole other story (a multi-tome novel, lol).
Now I actually am a bona fide foreigner, it feels pretty good! I never have to get secretly really angry because people look at me and see my skin color, and guess I’m some kind of ‘other’. They know I am an immigrant because of my accent.
That’s the difference – curious people here in the Bay Area ask me where my accent is from, not where my color is from.
Plus, it’s San Francisco, so people are sensitive to race issues for which I am so grateful.
Racism exists in a very different way in the Britain I knew in the 32 years I lived there. For one thing, being able to address openly the topic of race is another huge relief.
Sure, this is no utopian society either. (As we are all acutely and painfully aware, from recent highly-popularized events.) But at least we are not sweeping anything under the rug, pretending it will just go away.
So, I am having to adapt. I’m beginning to learn for myself the uniquely American debates and issues surrounding race, color and ethnicity.
Events in our very recent history have once again stoked that fire that has been raging for decades, for centuries, forever.
Writing this little article has brought me great joy. It’s more of a personal project than one that will gain me a ton of new clients. Who knows, perhaps this story will land with someone that needs to hear it.
It may not be much. But I am doing one teeny, tiny thing that may help brides and grooms who are looking for a wedding photographer of color.
The inspiration for this blog post came because of a recent client.
This lovely bride informed me on the contact form that she had Googled ‘wedding photographers of color’. I realized that people were looking for something that I could provide them with.
And it’s my job – and my pleasure – to share more about what and who I am, without shame and fear.
Partly, I had been silent about race because I had grown up with the idea that everyone is ‘the same’. This was the old idea about equality. There is no sense focusing on what makes people different, the theory goes, you should simply be ‘colorblind’.
But it turns out, clients are looking for us in the wedding industry to amplify BIPOC voices.
To highlight our unique talents and to shine a light on our individual perspectives as people of color.
So, here is a little about me which maybe will shine a little light on what I do and why I do it.
What I love about photographing weddings
I love the unexpectedness of weddings. They are beautiful, intimate events with so many spontaneous little micro-moments that I have the pleasure of capturing. It’s amazing to be let into such personal events, typically with just the immediate family there. The mix of emotions that couples and their guests feel, is very palpable.
Wedding photography combines so many different elements. First of all, planning and strategizing well before the day. Then there’s the different types of photography – product photography & styling, portraiture, event photography, traditional group shots, architectural photography and more!
It really tests me as a creative to have to be so versatile, so physically fit (!), so personable – and all of this with a smile on my face amid the constant task-switching!
Why I got into wedding photography
Unlike many other wedding photographers, I didn’t ‘fall into’ this career. I set up a business before I’d even shot a wedding. Or if I’m honest, before I even knew how to use a camera.
My husband was the one that first suggested wedding photography as a possible career for me! He remarked that I was always snapping pictures. As soon as he made the suggestion, I knew that this was what I would do with the next few years of my life. So I made it my mission!
I started out as an unpaid intern for 11 months back in Oxford, then I eventually worked my way to building out a portfolio and working for many other photographers, over the years helping them with their businesses. Meanwhile I grew my client base slowly, raising my prices with each wedding. Inquiries were very few and far between.
So, I have no epic story. It just seemed like a good business decision, even though as a fine art graduate, I was not qualified. Basically, I didn’t want to get a full-time job when I moved to the States, after 7 years in the investment banking industry.
What I don’t like about the wedding industry
It can be incredibly pretentious. That’s the number one reason. I have very few connections, because lasting working relationships are almost impossible (my personal experience!). It can be rather fake and fickle, if you are a bit of an oddball like me. If you were the ‘popular kid’ at school, you may have a completely different experience.
Consequently, I choose to focus all my energy on my couples rather than trying to ‘be something’ in the wedding industry.
Sure, I’ve gained a little recognition with many publications and features at this point in my career. But I am really just trying to serve people as best I can. Little things like doing extra editing on pictures, even if the client will never notice. Or spending more time than I need to on a video call, if a new client wants to chat more. Responding to emails quickly!
I have never really ‘got’ the wedding industry. I say that as someone who’s worked in it since 2016, and as a marrier who had the lowest of low-key weddings. I actually can’t call it a ‘wedding’, it was a vow ceremony.
What I do understand, however, is that couples want a wedding day that reflects them. They are not interested in ‘the wedding industry’. They see through the ridiculousness, picking and choosing the bits that resonate. They disregard the massive amounts of fluff and, let’s face it, bullshit.
My favorite kinds of couples to work with
What unites all my favorite couples is that they’ve done things their own way. Whether that’s a Catholic mass, running away to City Hall, throwing a big party in their favorite restaurant, or getting married in a redwood forest with their friends.
My couples are GREAT communicators that can express themselves fully. They are respectful of me as a professional – and look to me as an expert and someone to lean on.
The clients that click the best with me understand that you get out of the experience what you put in – so they don’t hold back! They share with me their wedding vision, their story and what’s important to their unique wedding.
I work with all kinds of couples, particularly those underrepresented in the traditional mainstream wedding narrative. It’s time to shine some light on couples who fall outside of the straight, white majority.
So far, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many amazing couples of many different races, nationalities, sexual orientations and gender expressions.
Come one, come all!
While you’re here, I also wanted to shout out a few of my favorite Bay Area BIPOC wedding photographers.
OK. That’s where I’m going to leave it. Some might say I completely missed the point of this whole debate. Wading into something I know little about is a scary thing, with the internet being what it is today. I was reluctant to even post this, fearing a possible backlash.
However, I still thought it was valuable to share a different perspective, that of myself as a wedding photographer of color.
Support BIPOC businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area – buy brown!