Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

This Pride month, photographers launch new studio focused on LGBTQ+ clients

A collage of professional photos
Queer Family Portraits is a new Minneapolis-based photography studio looking to provide affirming family photography.
Courtesy Queer Family Portraits

This Pride month, a new photography business is launching specifically for LGBTQ+ clients. It’s called “Queer Family Portraits” and aims to helps people in the LGBTQ+ community feel comfortable in front of the camera. Co-founders Eliesa Johnson and Mel Hesse joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about their work.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: You're listening to Minnesota Now here on MPR News. I'm Cathy Wurzer. This pride month, a new photography business has launched specifically for the LGBTQ+ community.

It's called Queer Family Portraits, and it aims to be a photography business that helps people in the LGBTQ+ community feel comfortable in front of the camera. Joining us right now are the co-founders, Eliesa Johnson and Mel Hesse. Eliesa and Mel, thanks for taking the time.

ELIESA JOHNSON: Thanks so much for having us.

MEL HESSE: Yes, thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. Elisa, give me an idea here. What was the spark behind the business?

ELIESA JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. So I have owned a wedding photography company, called Rivets and Roses, for 15 years, and Mel has been a longtime photographer on our team for the last 10 years or so.

And Mel, they're our studio manager. They are a photographer for some of our other brands too. And under the Rivets and Roses brand, we have four photographers who photograph weddings specifically for the LGBTQIA+ community.

And so it was actually through Mel's work and experiences that this idea came. And Mel, why don't you talk a little bit about your experience specifically with parents?

MEL HESSE: Yeah, definitely. So as a wedding photographer in the LGBTQIA+ community, I was getting families that were coming to me based on their experience for not being able to find any affirming photographers for their non-binary seniors during senior portrait time.

So as I was getting a lot of those inquiries and hearing their experiences, this just seemed to be an obvious gap there that was missing. So as my work with Rivets and Roses has been through Eliesa, I brought it to her.

And this just seemed to be a really good fit with our team and knowing the experience of everyone on our team to be able to give that platform essentially for us to be able to work with families and create this space that didn't really exist.

CATHY WURZER: So let me ask you about that, Mel. What does it mean to be an affirming photographer?

MEL HESSE: Yeah, definitely. So as a queer person myself, I feel like it's the visibility and being able to be seen on the other side of the camera as well. And so it feels to me it's important that people feel comfortable, they feel like they are able to really share their experience of how they maybe became a family, how they see themselves.

And so we created a platform for them to be able to share that with us so they can really allow their dynamics to be shared in a safe way. So we really want to create that safe environment for everybody and also allow our photographers to work with the families and people that might need someone who can affirm them as a queer person.

CATHY WURZER: So Eliesa, what does that mean for you to have a safe space? Because we hear that a lot, creating safe spaces. But what does it mean when you're talking about taking photographs?

ELIESA JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. So it really starts from the inquiry phase, from the intake form. So something that we were very intentional about both in our wedding work and now with queer family portraits is when people contact our studio, how does that form look?

I mean, we ask for obviously people's names, but also their pronouns, their titles, their roles in their family, how they identify. And we ask more questions about their family dynamic so we can really get a sense of who they are.

And then from the studio side, once we get an inquiry, there's another series of questionnaires, phone calls, and connection with their photographer that-- I guess, we put a lot of intention in getting to know our clients and their specific family dynamics.

So when the time for their photo shoot comes, everyone has a sense of who each other is, also our client has a sense of who their photographer is, and it just adds to that layer of them being really comfortable in front of the camera, which allows our team to create amazing moments and capture people for who they are today.

CATHY WURZER: And Mel, let me ask based upon what Eliesa just said, the amazing moments that can come in a studio as you're snapping pictures. What have you seen through your lens when it comes to that?

MEL HESSE: Yeah, I would say that often people are able to tell us what they want out of their session. So giving that whether it being in a photo studio or they're in their home in the comfort of a space that they already want to be in, that layer also gives them that opportunity to really reveal themselves in a way that they are fully able to create-- for us to also create those moments that are just naturally happening.

But also we will pose people based on things that they might feel comfortable being in a space that they can be themselves. But also we're not going to totally make them do something that they wouldn't necessarily be doing or be uncomfortable doing.

CATHY WURZER: So what have you seen so far? I mean, at least this is a pretty new business, are you getting the word out? How's business, I guess, for want of a better term here?

ELIESA JOHNSON: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we're officially launched. We are so excited to finally have this idea out in the world. And I also want to say that there are a lot of affirming photographers out there. They are largely seen in efforts of the wedding industry. And so we support all the photographers out there who are affirming.

For us to finally have a brand that can support queer families and people beyond the wedding industry, is just really exciting to finally have this brand out there. We are open for business. We are booking.

Our team has been really intentionally working towards the launch of this brand for the last year and we've been working really closely with families to go through the whole process with us, not only to help us develop this company, but everything from our intake forms, to the photoshoots, to how we're delivering the galleries and stuff like that. We've been working for this for a long time. So the fact that now the our doors are open, it's amazing.

CATHY WURZER: All right, we wish you well. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

ELIESA JOHNSON: Thanks so much.


CATHY WURZER: Eliesa Johnson, Mel Hesse are the co-founders of a new Twin Cities photography business, Queer Family Portraits.

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