When Love Meets Photography: Inside Love Pic Love Studio

An Inside the Studio feature with husband-wife duo Erick and Alyssa Johnson, owners of Love Pic Love Photography.

Brittany Griffiths | 9 May 2018


      A steady rain falls down in Deep Ellum as I approach Love Pic Love to meet up with owners Erick and Alyssa Johnson. The studio is situated at the far west end of Elm Street just a few doors down from the Prophet Bar, and standing street side looking up, you would never guess that discretely tucked away behind that iconic red front door is a beautiful second story studio. Up the stairs, the room spills out into a wide-open space fit with its original wood flooring, exposed brick, and a flood of natural light pouring in through four large windows overlooking Elm Street. It’s been a little over eight years since Erick and Alyssa first moved the office out of their home and into the studio. “I feel like this place has morphed a few times. Like thinking about when we first walked in here… it’s an amazing space but it did not look anything like this,” Alyssa reflects on the various configurations the layout has existed in over the years. Where a large closet once stood blocking the line of sight through the front windows now unfolds a shotgun style room. “We literally moved walls,” she tells me. The back of the studio has since been separated into an office and a bathroom and the front of the room opens up into one big, sweeping space.

      In the front is where you’ll find Alyssa styling and shooting boudoir. When the couple first decided to give boudoir photography a try almost six years ago, Erick took his place behind the camera while Alyssa styled the shoot. However, all of that has changed since the early days of its inception and at Erick’s behest, Alyssa has taken over boudoir. *“Only in the past couple years [do I] really feel like I’ve found my thing, my look and the way I like it, and that it’s okay for me to be like – this is my style of photography. This is the way I like to do it. I know what works and what doesn’t work. I just didn’t have that confidence before. It’s been a build since we’ve started.”

     Boudoir photography dates back to the early 20th century. The word boudoir is derived from the French verb bouder: to sulk or pout. The term more or less expressing the withdrawal of a woman to her private bedroom. Prior to the manifestation of boudoir photography, early forms of boudoir art existed as a shade of voyeurism viewed by many through a pornographic lens; and here, I’m reminded of E.J. Bellocq’s infamous Storyville photographs in which he captured numerous shots of several prostitutes in Storyville posing in unique, almost haunting, home settings. However over the past 10 years, boudoir photography has grown in popularity. It is more frequently found included in wedding photo packages, but new trends show that an increasing number of women have not sought out boudoir for a significant other but rather for themselves. The philosophy behind the style has undergone subtle changes over time and has developed into a way for women to feel empowered and to feel good about their bodies just as they are.

     This is precisely Alyssa’s approach when shooting boudoir. Her main concern is that the women that come into her studio feel comfortable and leave feeling good with a sense of self-esteem. “As women we’re so hard on ourselves and so insecure about our bodies, and that is what this session is about. I mean physically it’s about photographing the female form in a flattering way, but it becomes such an empowering thing… when you take a step back and appreciate the beauty of what you actually are.”

     Reading through some literature on the history of boudoir and how it has changed up to present day, I came across a phrase that I immediately latched on to specifically for its relevance to the current cultural mood: shamelessly feminine. In the context of boudoir photography, women are allowed a space where they can be shamelessly feminine and express themselves without the worry of being judged or chastised for embracing their sexuality. It’s not hard to imagine how Alyssa’s laid-back personality creates a zone of comfort for women to open up and explore that side of themselves while in the studio. After three years doing of boudoir, she has honed in on her style and developed a preferential method for shooting, “I’m all natural light. I used to do half-natural/half-studio, and I never personally really liked the studio light images. I just didn’t think they were as pretty. So it took me three years to be like – no, I’m just going to do natural light. This is the way I like it, and I just think it’s better this way.” Alyssa begins to chuckle as she reflects on that maturation process, “And I do, I stand by that.”

 

     Outside of boudoir, Love Pic Love specializes in shooting weddings, engagements, bridals, families, portraits, and music. They are constantly busy, which comes as no surprise since they’ve been steadily building their clientele over the last ten years. In the early days before they’d really dug in their heels, Erick and Alyssa decided to use Groupon to advertise and promote their business, and as Erick recalls, they saw a ton of success with it. “That’s really how it started, we ran this Groupon back before it was completely saturated… it really laid the groundwork. We instantly had hundreds of client.” In fact, they were so busy after that first Groupon went live that Erick would be cramming 10-15 shoots into one day, all lined up back to back to back. “I would do certain days at certain locations – so one whole day would be in Deep Ellum and one whole day would be at the Arboretum.”

     With the work coming in, Erick was able to quickly up his chops in the field of photography and refine his style and process. Groupon was also a wonderful supplement in marketing boudoir because as Alyssa notes, it can be a delicate subject to advertise and promote. Though business was great, there was always the flipside of the coin - Groupon requires businesses to sell their services at an extremely discounted rate. While it was a blessing in exposure for Love Pic Love in the beginning, Erick had reservations about using the platform as a springboard. “I have very mixed feelings about Groupon. I know Groupon has made some businesses go out of business because essentially you sell something discounted and they want it to be at least 50% off… and they want to take 50% of that so you’re really only making a quarter of what you’d normally make.” After some experimentation on that initial go around, they were able to learn and negotiate better deals with Groupon in the future to make it more worthwhile for both parties.

     Erick and Alyssa have come so far since they first met ten years ago while working at The Door just down the street. “The idea for Love Pic Love came so quickly after we started dating,” Alyssa explains. As they think back on just how much they’ve grown over the last decade, it comes as a hell of a surprize to me to find out that they are both self-taught in the field of photography. Erick had some prior experience in graphic design before purchasing his first amateur camera and Alyssa’s younger sister was into photography which in turn piqued her interest, so the idea for a company of their own evolved naturally out of those influences. The name they had originally decided on was Love Photo Love, but in one of those strange strokes of synchronicity, someone swiped the domain name out from under their feet. “He had told me about it one night, and was like ‘I’ll buy the domain tomorrow morning.’ We woke up the next morning and it was gone overnight… it was so crazy!” exclaims Alyssa, but in retrospect Love Pic Love seems like the perfect fit for them. They immediately dove into shooting weddings, and kept the price low learning as they went. They eventually found their footing along the way, and at this point in their career, Erick and Alyssa relay a humble confidence in being able to take on any project that comes their way.

     While Alyssa has found her niche shooting boudoir, Erick discusses his desire to explore more artistic projects where he, as the photographer, has more freedom of expression. “I mean that’s the biggest reason I started shooting with Brandon [of Epocha Shoes & Apparel] I was kind of at a point like really questioning whether I was an artist anymore because I do think there’s a difference.”

     Epocha Shoes & Apparel, which has since closed its doors, was located right beneath Love Pic Love. Erick and Epocha owner, Brandon Ayala, met in the rear courtyard that their building shared and over time began to collaborate on styled shoots. Brandon would come in to dress the models and then let Erick take over from there allowing him complete creative control in the studio. One project Brandon and Erick collaborated on with Medicine Man Revival stands out in particular. It truly displays Erick’s talent as an artistic photographer and showcases his ability to implement techniques like multiple exposure to create the effect of movement within a frame. Looking forward into the future, this is the type of project Erick hopes to be more involved in; projects that allow him the freedom to experiment with new ideas.

Epocha photo shoot with Medicine Man Revival [photos by Erick Johnson]

     When it comes to photography on the whole as an artistic medium, the dividing lines between skill, style, and amateurism have the tendency to be blurred. “It’s very subjective…”Erick explains,“I think the biggest issue especially with what you’re talking about is that cameras are so readily available and even smart phones now can take incredible pictures… so with the ease of shooting in auto… you don’t necessarily have to have an eye. You can put it in auto and shoot it in burst mode and if you shoot 5,000 pictures you’re probably going to get a least one badass picture.” While the developing technology behind cameras has made them more accessible to the average person, it has also oversaturated the field and turned everyone on the street into a mass photographer.

     This is where Erick and Alyssa have built something few else have, a strong community of friends and clients who return to work them not only because they are talented but because above all else, they are wonderful people. As Deep Ellum continues to undergo its current phase of rapid development and gentrification, both feel that a move might be inevitable in the future. Alyssa describes the uncertainty of what moving to a new space may mean, "something is going to morph and change if we can't stay in this space," however despite having grown very attached to their current studio, they don't feel like Love Pic Love is defined by this space. Love Pic Love IS Erick and Alyssa Johnson through and through. It is a beautiful representation of who they are as human beings. No matter how many years pass nor what changes this city happens to cycle through, I can't picture that relationship between them and Love Pic Love ever changing.

 

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Brittany Griffiths is a writer from Dallas, Texas. She is the founder and editor of Spontaneous Afflatus, an independent publishing house that specializes in poetry and short story collections. She is also the editor of Wavelength Magazine. Last year she released her debut poetry collection titled, Ebb & Flow.

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