By Ashley Claire Simpson
Chances are, that if you were a young girl in the 1960s and 1970s who regularly watched Bewitched, you imagined what it would be like to be Samantha, the young and beautiful witch who could make magic happen with an endearing wiggle of her nose. Manassas photographer Dawn Gardner was not one of those girls. Instead, Gardner would watch Samantha’s husband, in awe of the creative job that the character held.
“I thought Darrin Stevens had the best job ever,” Gardner said. “He created slogans and ad campaigns combining imagery and words. I began using a camera at around nine years old and would photograph my own ‘marketing’ shots. I then moved onto photographing people because I loved telling stories with my photographs. I was part of the yearbook staff in high school and then photography editor my last year of high school.”
Gardner, the Founder of Dawn Gardner Photography LLC, has since moved beyond capturing images of her teenage peers. She is a popular event photographer and also takes contemporary portraits in her Manassas studio.
While she’s always been a professional artist of sorts, it was less than five years ago when she finally decided to take a risk and pursue her passion full-time.
“I started my photography business in 2007,” she said. “I was doing photography part-time and graphic design full-time. I saved money and bought photography equipment, knowing that one day I would make photography my full time career. In 2013, I left my full time graphic design career and went full-time photography.”
She’s racked up accolades, too. Her rating on the popular all-things-wedding resource, Wedding Wire, is five out of five stars.
While Gardner likes photographing events – usually with her husband snapping shots next to her, her favorite works are the portraits she takes on her own, in her own studio.
“Most of my photography work is just me,” Gardner said. “I only do a limited amount of wedding and events a year. What I love most is photographing contemporary portraits, portraits of women and marketing and branding imagery.”
Simply put, recognition and exposure aren’t what mean the most to Gardner. She’s in it for creating memories and empowering women.
“My work has appeared on magazine covers and I’ve had photos used in marketing campaigns and been featured on blogs,” she said. “That’s all been great for recognition and I’m always honored to have my work shared is this way. But, I will say the most meaningful accomplishments in my photography are when I produce a picture that inspires a woman to say, ‘that is the best picture I have ever seen of myself.’ Another example of what is most significant to me is when I’ve photographed a bride’s grandma out of the dance floor, and it’s those photos that the bride will cherish when grandma is gone. I also love photographing multi-generations, knowing that these portraits will be heirlooms passed down. That is the most meaningful to me.”
And, her growing clientele tells her that her photography absolutely does justice to the inner and outer beauty of those whose images she snaps. Earlier this month, she relocated her studio to a larger space in Manassas to accommodate the expansion of her business, which focuses on contemporary portraiture.
“Going full time into business was the best thing for my photography,” Gardner reflected. “It is a challenge sometimes being a small business owner, but I have learned so much and met some amazing, inspiring women entrepreneurs along the way. I can’t wait for 2018- the new larger studio is going to allow me to serve more women and corporate clients.”
As Gardner continues to develop her business, she keeps women’s interests at the center of her practice.
“We women are typically so hard on ourselves,” she said. “When we look at ourselves in a mirror, we bring to our reflection all the things we don’t like or have been told we lack with us and we instantly start to criticize ourselves. I think today’s culture, people and imagery on social platforms create an untruth of what beauty is for women. This untruth is what women measure themselves against. I want to stop this. We are all uniquely beautiful and it is time we realize this! My hope is that each woman I photograph can see herself as beautiful. I find through my photography I am able to get past that untruth that woman are carrying and get to the beauty that radiates within them.”
One form of photography that Gardner specializes in is boudoir, which by definition means ‘in a woman’s bedroom or private room.’ These photos of women, often clad in intimate clothing and amidst a personal setting, are a popular request for Gardner.
Gardner said her clients that opt to pursue these boudoir portraits find confidence in the process of creating these images.
“I find that boudoir photography has grown,” she said. “I think more women are becoming exposed to the possibility of their own beauty through society’s shift toward encouraging body acceptance. But just because they are more open to the idea of their own beauty, they fight allowing themselves to really believe that they are beautiful. I can’t tell you how many times women say to me, ‘I can’t believe that’s me’ in their portraits. I tell you something magical happens while we shoot. Women stop judging themselves and that beauty radiates. Then I capture it! That’s why I’ll never have a mirror in my shooting space for women to second guess themselves.”
To visit Dawn online, go to dawngardner.com/.