Welcome to the latest installment of “I’m a Business, Woman,” a series of conversations with cool, entrepreneurial women I love doing cool shit. Today’s conversation is with Carey MacArthur, a photographer and all-around badass whose work is every bit as lovely and full of depth as she is. Carey has shot beautiful work for my clients and has also taken treasured photos of me and my family. I’m a huge fan of her work and simply adore the passionate, professional, and serene woman she is behind the lens and in the world.
Hi, Carey MacArthur! Tell us the basics:
Hi! My name is Carey MacArthur. I’m a freelance portrait and wedding photographer from Philadelphia. I’m currently based in NYC. I work out of my home studio in Ridgewood, Queens. When not behind the camera, I’m either practicing or teaching yoga, baking cakes, or speaking out on human rights issues on Facebook.
You’ve been a hugely successful wedding photographer for years but are just starting to offer family and professional portrait photography services. Why branch out now?
I fell back in love with photography after having lost my way for a few years. I had taken a few years off from shooting weddings, nearly a break from photography entirely. But in that mysterious, meandering way that life has of steering you down a path, despite all my efforts to the contrary, I found myself photographing a friend’s wedding. And then another, and then another. Picking up a camera again felt like a homecoming. A lot changes in a few years. My outlook on life had shifted. Something kinda sparked in me and I realized I had the opportunity to rebuild my business from the very foundation. I took some time up to set things up how I wanted. Then I had some down time waiting for business to pick up. I started taking pictures for anyone who asked me. It became a way to meet new and interesting people and to build a new community through my daily work. I started to see how portrait photography can be a sustaining lifestyle. A portrait can be like an interview, a conversation, a way of exchanging ideas. A way to study a subject and observe what they do. It’s a powerful tool for connection and that got me hooked.
What kind of clients are you looking to work with?
I want my photography to be a constant source of learning for me. Some of my favorite assignments in the last year were photographing artists and craftswomen/men at work. For example I photographed a friend who makes wallpaper by hand using 19th century techniques. I also visited the studio of a woman in Brooklyn who is making knives my hand. It’s really inspiring to learn about other artists’ crafts. I’d love to photograph more stories like those. But additionally, I’d like to photograph other thinkers and artists. I’d like my photographs to help spread ideas.
Sophia Harvey is a filmmaker, writer and producer living in NYC
What skills have you developed (no pun intended!) in your wedding photography experience that translate to your portrait photography?
I think the greatest skill I’ve learned from wedding photography, is how to take a great picture of someone who might not consider himself or herself photogenic. And I’m not just talking about the brides and grooms. Every wedding has between one and a few hundred guests who come from all walks of life. You have to be able to make all of them look good. In my portraits I photograph a lot of women who tell me they are anxious about having their photograph taken. I completely understand that fear. My goal is to make them love my images of them. But the cool thing is that the secret to doing that, is to find something I love in everyone I photograph. I look for their ‘good side’, but by that I don’t mean angles, I mean the good side in their personality, the moments when they are truly being relaxed, where they’ve finally let down their guard and are being themselves with me.
Would you say you have a particular style?
That’s a really good question. I definitely think I have a consistent aesthetic and a strong eye for good light, but I’m also very versatile in my skill-set. I’ve been working a lot on making pictures with a voice that is genuinely mine. I think that’s probably my ultimate goal as a photographer. I started taking pictures when I was twelve. I have a background in fine art photography and I consider myself a classically trained photographer. I’m heavily influenced by photographers who worked in that tradition, women like Mary Ellen Mark, Diane Arbus and Sally Mann. But I’m also heavily influenced by the fashion photography of the 90s because I grew up consuming it. It was a photography scene that produced incredible work, but one that was dominated by white men focusing their cameras on thin women. So I’m trying to honor the traditions of great photography, while also updating those traditions to reflect the views of my generation. My lens is that of a modern, confidant woman who is fighting for respect just like all the other women of my generation. I want my pictures to reflect that. And I want them to lift people up.
How do you get your subjects comfortable and/or to trust you?
With all of my work, I’ve learned that the most important thing I can do is to talk to people, to express a genuine interest in learning about the people in front of my lens. So a photo session with me feels primarily like having an engaging conversation. When I’m not taking pictures, I’m practicing and teaching yoga. Yoga has taught me a lot about how to read body language and about how different bodies make different shapes. I’ve also learned how to pay attention to people’s breath and to help people use their breath to relax. I incorporate a lot of that understanding into my photography direction, but it’s subtle. Mostly it just feels like we’re hanging out.
How do you balance your vision with the client’s vision?
If you’re commissioning photographs from me, then I see those pictures as just as much yours as mine. I have a set of skills that I’m being hired to lend to a particular scenario. So I talk to my clients and I listen closely to what their needs and goals are. I try my best to bring their vision to life. As for my vision, my main goal on each and every job is to take really good pictures. I have extremely high standards for what makes a good photograph. I’ve established those standard through years of studying my craft. I see it as my job to uphold those standards for my clients by delivering really enticing images.
What is your retouching philosophy?
I believe that people are beautiful exactly as they are. It’s my job as a photographer to know how to work with light and angles to bring out the best in my subjects. Retouching can be a great tool, but I think that a lot of the retouching work we see is mainly done on women for the purpose of upholding unreasonable standards of beauty. I photograph people to empower them. If I’ve done my job well, then doing some very light retouching as a finishing touch should be all that is necessary.
Do you think of yourself as an artist, an entrepreneur / business owner, or both? Do you think they’re at odds with each other? And if so, how do you reconcile that?
First and foremost, I’m an artist. But it’s my business that makes my lifestyle possible, so I’m both an artist and an entrepreneur out of necessity. That said, it turns out I’m not too bad at running a business, and I’m deeply enjoying the challenge of it. I’ve learned that it takes a tremendous amount of creativity to run a business. Challenges in advertising, marketing and even the super boring stuff like budgeting, can all be overcome through the creative tools I’ve learned through art making. I think the most amazing and intimidating thing about running a business is the freedom and the autonomy it affords you. I’m able to craft my life entirely as I see fit. It’s a freedom that can be blinding. It’s my art that grounds me and guides the way.
Hire Carey MacArthur for Your Photography Needs:
Portrait sessions start at $375 and Small Business Profiles start at $750. All packages include editing, color correction and light retouching performed by me personally, high and low resolution files, and an online gallery where clients can view and download their images.