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Spotlight on Pedestal Photography

There has always been a certain loftiness to photography and modeling, a male-heavy industry behind the lens that can seem indulgent and perverse to the women, often white, in front of the lens. It is expensive to buy equipment and easy to feel self-conscious, especially to those who have never been at the forefront of America’s typical standards of beauty. I am lucky enough to know two Black women who are destroying the old notions of what a photography business “should” be, and instead reaching for what it can be. I spoke to them over Zoom about their business, their inspirations, and why they do it in the first place.

Celeste O’Connor and Mecca McDonald are current seniors at Johns Hopkins University, where they met, and they found soulmates in each other, deciding to join creative forces and start a business called Pedestal, where they style and photograph clients all themselves in the comfort of their home and neighborhood in Baltimore, MD (though they plan on moving to New York post graduation and taking their business with them).

The duo created the idea for the business while visiting McDonald’s family in Florida and going thrifting. They took photos of each other on their iPhones, and suddenly it hit them. Why weren’t they doing this for other people, right now? “The inspiration just comes from what we love doing,” said O’Connor. “I love having my photo taken, and Celeste loves having her photo taken, so it was the perfect combo,” McDonald laughed.

Hearing them talk, you can tell they inspire each other. “Something that I’ve learned throughout college is that I have everything that I need right now,” said McDonald. “…The life I wanna live, I can do that right now. Why should I wait? I can’t count on the future happening to start living my life.” Thus, Pedestal was born.

One of the best parts? They do all of their shoots exclusively on their iPhones. With many photographers getting caught up in expensive cameras and lenses, they wanted to show people that there is another way to do things. By making their business accessible and portable, they are a prime example of self-starting and going after what you want right now. “Obstacles are an illusion,” McDonald stated; just imagine what the world could be if everyone thought this way.

McDonald is inspired by San Francisco-based photographer Kelsey McClellan and LA-based Jon Premosch, both of whom highlight line and vibrant color in their work. O’Connor is inspired by rapper Tierra Whack, who creates imaginative worlds with her words and music videos, altering our perception of reality.

When I asked them about the name, they said it rose from their goals for the business. They created this concept to give more people the chance to feel amazing in their own skin (and in good clothes). By uplifting and empowering people, especially marginalized people who are afraid to step outside of what society tells them they can, they figured they could put them on a pedestal. “By doing Pedestal, we are showing people you can look good, you do look good!” McDonald said. “You don’t have to wait until the future… you can just go to your local friendly photographer and feel good right now,” O’Connor added.

Pedestal recently did a collab for Black History Month with a hairstylist in Baltimore, arianascanvas, who reached out to them. They came up with the idea to work together and create four concepts with different hairstyles for each one: punk/goth, retro, royalty, and nature. A standout shoot was a retro concept based on the 60s glam popularized by the Supremes (check it out here).

The two are excited to continue their business in Brooklyn post-grad, having shot in New York a few times already and finding success there. They also plan to work on music videos in the future. “If you are a small business and you are reading this article and you want a cool music video with a fair budget… you should hire us!” McDonald said excitedly. They want to create something unique for other artists and creators in the Pedestal style and continue doing collaborations.

These two women have created something from nothing but a dream and desire to do something fun and uplifting for people who want to feel good, look good, and switch up their instas. You can check out their work and contact them through their Instagram page, and if you happen to be in the Baltimore or NY area, hit them up for a shoot that won’t break the bank and will make you feel confident, valuable and hot… and who doesn’t want that?

–Claire Beaver, Content Creator

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