Behind the Lens - BET Womens History Month

Incase you guys haven't guessed, I LOVE shooting/filming stories on powerful and inspiring people. After the Body Issue of Women and the Body Issue for ESPN , I was assigned to direct a series of commercials for BET Network's BLACK WOMENS HISTORY MONTH. Right. Up. My. Alley.

The tag line was 'WHO'S GOT NEXT?' . It was a call to action from three inspiring and successful African American women to the younger generation of dreamers/thinkers/doers.

The first was an ex-principal ballet dancer from Alvin Ailey, ALICIA GRAF MACK

Stunning. Graceful. Eloquent. I can't say enough about her. We shot in an authentic ballet studio downtown and I wanted to keep the camera moving at all time, so the Cinematographer, Jack Shanahan was working with a MoVi Rig to really feel like we were with her, dancing and feeling her movement. I wanted to emulate a spotlight feel, especially with her beautiful hair halo, so overall I think it worked out pretty well! I wanted her to dance forever.  

Director - Sophy Holland / DP - Jack Shanahan

Next we filmed African fashion designer Kelechi Anyadiegwu who founded Zuvaa, an online fashion marketplace, for African textile prints and fashion. Zuvaa (which means sunshine in the Shona language from Zimbabwe) was created while she was still a student and at the age of 26 has ended up on the Forbes 30 under 30 in 2016.  She was great - her boldness really shone through the camera and we used a creative office with lots of light to really emphasize the color pops and bright patterns that surround her daily workplace. 

Director - Sophy Holland / DP - Jack Shanahan

I started Zuvaa because I wanted to see change in the fashion industry. As an African-American Woman of Nigerian Heritage I grew up with African textiles, they were always an integral part of my culture. Growing up, I often found it difficult to find modern and trendy African Inspired pieces. I created Zuvaa to fill this void.
— Kelechi, Zuvaa CEO

Lastly, and by no means least, we filmed Nadia Lopez. AMAZING.

She founded a middle school in Brownsville Brooklyn (the poorest neighborhood in NYC) named Mott Hall Bridges Academy. She mentors her students in a unique and inspiring way, and started a fundraising campaign to send her students to visit Harvard and Stanton and help with scholarships, raising 1.4 million in just 3 weeks. The success story hit the media and she consequently received the Medal of Distinction from Barnard College, visiting Obama at the Whitehouse, wrote the book 'Bridges to Brilliance', and being honored alongside Michelle Obama with the Change Agent Award at the Black Girls Rock show (also on BET Network),

Director - Sophy Holland / DP - Jack Shanahan

Why open a school? To close a prison
— Nadia Lopez, Educator

It was great, I got to observe (and film) a small group teaching session she did with some young girls, and her coaching sessions with another larger group, and lastly her Cheer Squad practice. As a Brit, I have no idea what a Cheer Squad is, but they were apparently champions at it, and I loved the shouting and stomping in unison. The one thing that struck me most was the politeness and eagerness of the children. Every single kid held the door open for crew members without teachers being present, and the rooms were full of smiles and questions. It was probably the most engaged and inspired I've seen any groups of Middle School children and it definitely moved me. 

Watch her new TED Talk about her education ethos here. She continues to inspire in every way possible. 

The three pieces were written by an awesome female writer named Rosa White, and Creative Directed by Roderick Beltran. Produced by RipCord Creative. 

See the BTS video below, narrated by Rosa and produced by Ramon Peasant. 

Interview with NEVERLAND MAGAZINE

Neverland Magazine and blogger Virginiya Yancheva contacted me last month to interview me about my photography and art. Its always humbling to be approached to talk about my own POV and artistic methods but I dont really like hearing myself speak, so podcasts are especially stressful to me. 

It was pretty early in the AM for me due to the time difference with Europe but I was heavily caffeinated so i *think I got through it ok...

Listen to the interview here.

Alternatively, you can go to Neverland Magazine.

My time with Viktor

One of my favorite things in NYC is to look back upon my time here and evaluate the evolving relationships we have formed. This city has such a fast turnover of residents and dreamers, and the ones that are here for decades earn their stripes. When you form tight bonds with people in the creative industry, and grow together, it makes it so much tighter and more special to the respective people... Viktor Luna was someone who I've had a long and evolving relationship with.

Within the first few years of my time in NYC, I was moonlighting as a young (and pretty green) Art Director, building my book to try to get good enough to work at the ad agencies (which I later did). I was working with a young photographer and we were shooting for a mexican magazine named Blink. I wanted to do a punk story with a red-headed beauty who's name completely escapes me. My long time pal Elsa Canedo made these Mcqueen-Inspired braid sculptures and the shoot was pretty great - and at the end of the shoot I saw on the clothing rack... a fringe body suit. When i say body-suit, imagine everything covered ,even the face. You could see (kind of) through mesh panels in the eye area but everything else was covered in black fringe. I loved it instantly. 
We shot it , the model moved really well in it, and subsequently the magazine ran it on the cover. The fringe body suit was designed by a young Mexican-American designer, Viktor Luna. He and I both loved the cover and stayed in touch...

Viktor Luna bodysuit on the cover of BLINK

Viktor Luna bodysuit on the cover of BLINK

Over the years, I pulled/rented his clothing for many shoots, we became great friends, and I watched him get cast for Project Runway, and later Project Runway All-Stars. He was delightful and I loved watching him shine on this platform. Here was a fabulous, sweet-hearted guy who rocked shiny shoes, bowties and a fan, and had the most unique outlook on life. How can you not connect with him?

Viktor Luna on Project Runway

Viktor Luna on Project Runway


Long after I had made the transition to shooting and directing full-time Viktor and I decided to collaborate on his seasonal look book / online campaign. He had presented his SS15 sketches and samples to me back in winter of '14 and I was SUPER inspired to creative-direct and shoot it - we called the unfinished collection Alien Queen. We shot the seasonal online campaign with Ruby Rose (sans-eyebrows) and the look book with Sarah Bledsoe against white with a background glow and reflective acrylic floor - I wanted it to feel like they were on a spaceship and was inspired by the music video SCREAM by Michael/Janet Jackson.

(Photo - Sophy Holland / styling Newheart Ohanian /  Makeup Robert Greene / Hair Elsa Canedo)

(Photo - Sophy Holland / styling Newheart Ohanian /  Makeup Robert Greene / Hair Elsa Canedo)

SS15 was such a success, we repeated the same collaboration set up for FW15, this time with androgynous beauty Ashley Kolodner for a very Mad Max Apocalypse inspired collection. Unfortunately the day of the shoot happened to be right on the tail end of the worst snow storm we had that year, (yay :/ ), so we were shooting in snow drifts and puddles, and luckily I had scouted the location the day before the snow fell and had to use clean plates of the streets from that to composite into the dirty slush-filled backgrounds of the shoot day... tricks of the trade come in handy when you're in a pinch. 

(Photo - Sophy Holland / styling Newheart Ohanian /  Makeup Mikel Renner / Hair Elsa Canedo

(Photo - Sophy Holland / styling Newheart Ohanian /  Makeup Mikel Renner / Hair Elsa Canedo

Things leveled up further when we collaborated on SS16 - by this point I was creative consulting on the collection from the moment he started sketching. We were working together really closely, and for this collection I felt strongly that photographs wouldn't do it justice - the collection was about movement and fluidity. I wanted to direct a short fashion film, and was totally inspired by the circle of celebrity personalities that were all wearing Viktor's clothing and felt it more authentic to have them feature in the video... Laverne Cox said yes instantly - she has been a long-time wearer of VL and I had previously shot her for Interview Magazine September issue, so we were all comfortable working together. Others who featured were actress Jackie Cruz, choreographer to Beyonce - Jonte, saxophonist Leo from TooManyZoos (who played on the soundtrack), Artist Jessica Mascetti, and models Trevor Shapiro and Ashley K (from FW15). 
We filmed at Pier59 and worked with Industrial Color on post/cinematography, and Ghibli Media on production. 

(Photo - Sophy Holland / styling Christina Pacelli /  Makeup Shirley Pinkson / Hair Keiko Hamaguchi / LC hair & mu - DDPro / JC hair - Marc Mena / JC Makeup Alyne Halvajian

One of the many press articles on the video

One of the many press articles on the video

Viktor and Jonte swinging it for the video

Viktor and Jonte swinging it for the video

Viktor and I

Viktor and I

For the same season I introduced him to two of my friends who are geniuses in their respective fields - Joshua McKenney who makes the fashion doll PIDGIN and Kerin Rose Weinberg of A-Morir. They both collaborated with Viktor for the same season, making a Pidgin doll wearing tiny versions of Viktor's fashion (which is for sale, btw) and A-Morir made a custom collection that Laverne and Jackie wore in the SS16 collection video. 

PIDGIN wearing Viktor Luna

PIDGIN wearing Viktor Luna

Tiny hand-made VL dress for Pidgin

Tiny hand-made VL dress for Pidgin

A-Morir for VL eyewear

A-Morir for VL eyewear

Since that season, Viktor and I both interviewed for Marvel Comics podcast and we have collaborated on a few smaller projects together - I always try to shoot his clothing as much as possible in editorials and consider myself one of his biggest fan. 

I dont know what is next for us both as collaborators, but the future is bright and I will always consider him fashion family. Here's to you Viktor! 
check out his work at viktorluna.com

Behind the Lens - Estelle

From my experience, moving to another country (or continent) produces some element of homesickness for the 'motherland'. It took me about 2 years to acclimatize myself to NY way of living and now returning home to London feels so odd.. As if I'm familiar, but don't belong anymore. A tourist in my own country. 

That being said, there are certain elements that I refuse to let go of, and will always bridge the "atlantic gap' for nostalgia and familiarity. Food and snacks, rain, and of course... pop culture. Music is one of those things that no matter how old you are, you remember the first time you heard it, and there are few artists who can bring back such strong memories from my days in London... Estelle happens to be one of those artists. 

'1980' blew up in 2004 which was the year I moved to USA and I fell in love with her music. Her reggae tune 'Come Over' with Sean Paul still makes my best of playlists for shoots. 

I was introduced to Estelle in 2014 through our mutual friend Kerin from A-Morir, an eyewear brand that Estelle wears frequently. E told me that she was about to launch her new album and I jumped at the chance to shoot her with a concept I had been wanting to do for some time.. She loved the concept (shooting her with a nostalgic vintage nod to her musical heroes, showing where she came from - no longer a young girl, but a grown and elegant performer) and I was thrilled. 

I wanted to shoot in an authentic location and we ended up shooting at the Slipper Room in the LES, NYC. Creem magazine loved the concept too, and used the photographs and wrote an article to promote the album - read the article here , written by Greg Mania. 

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I found Estelle to be one of the most elegant and sophisticated women I've met. She has a really softly spoken voice, which was never raised except when she laughed. She had a very strong sense of style, and an iron will, with unwavering opinions on her looks. I respected her instantly for that. ;)

She was a pro - she knew her angles, she knew how to move her body, and she was a dream to direct. Our producer Carly Jane Chappell, an ex DJ, played some old school British funk and reggae and Estelle vibed on set, and sang along under her breath when she thought I wasn't looking! 

I am thrilled to see all of her amazing success and her cameo on Empire made me smile, she reminds me of Dion Warwick in character and voice. So nice to see some of the photos from our session be used in interviews for Paper and Oprah magazine! I hope I did her proud... 

Interview with MIC.COM

Writer Marcie Bianco from www.Mic.com interviewed me last month for their arts feature, and I was flattered to talk to her about my journey as a female photographer working in a male dominated field. 

the article can be read here . Marcie is a great writer, and such a wonderful voice for the modern day woman. 

I never really saw myself as a traditional feminist, but as i continue to work with more and more women, (especially non-celebrity), I find that i've developed a weighted sense of responsibility to show their beauty in an un-objectified light. 

Its interesting that in my career i've had 3 mentors and all of them were men...  alpha men, to be exact... 

An excerpt of the Q&A session with Marcie is below - 

How/Why did you become interested in fashion? 
I have been enthralled by fashion for as long as I can remember, almost obsessed: way more than a child should be about these things.  I used to stack towers of my mother’s Vogues in my bedroom, and as a young teen I would sketch exact copies of the photographs from the magazines and collage them on my walls. I guess i have always found the female form to be the ultimate beauty.  Until I started in my first year at St Martins Art College in London, i had always thought I would be a fashion designer, but my passion for painting and illustrating took over and the stitching and cutting part of my life was left in the dust. 

b) What's the move from creative director to photographer?
Some art directors are type-driven, graphically trained. I came through editorial routes and had no care for type, my art direction was driven purely by photography and I was unapologetic for it. For over a decade I worked both freelance for fashion magazines, and later at advertising agencies, specializing in fashion and beauty accounts. During that time I was fortunate enough to work with some incredible photographers in the industry and it was magical to see my concepts and sketches be brought to life by them. I have only ever shot with one female photographer in my entire career as an art director, but countless illustrators, editors and stylists. Many of my peers were already established photographers some of whom I collaborated and made great art with, but it wasn’t until I worked as Norman Jean Roy’s In-House Creative Director that I wanted to pursue my own photographic voice and I made the leap into shooting full-time. Annie Leibovitz had a painting background like myself, Steven Meisel was a fashion illustrator before shooting, and Fabien Baron continues to straddle both worlds, so I didn’t feel it was an impossibility for me. My experience as a Creative director enabled me to work on my own concepts, edits, and even retouch the work... It was the perfect companion to the newly-found love of shooting. 

How would you describe the importance of the photographer to fashion and in creating fashion as art? How does the photographer inform the shot/shoot? 
Watching and working with the best in the business for so many years allowed me to study how a professional shoot should be conducted. In some ways, thats what a photographer is - a conductor. He or she sets the pace of the day, the concept, the energy. It is his or her responsibility to not only meet the needs of the client, but to represent their own artistic vision and that of their team. A strong creative voice is what pushes the world of editorial photography forward by exciting art directors and photo editors. The fashion designers are the creative catalyst, but the editorial photographer is bringing that fashion to life, giving it a narrative and expression that can inspire and also sell the clothes. Fashion, by definition, should set trends and inspire… sometimes its a swing and a miss, but at least its brave and I respect that process greatly. 

How would you describe your particular photographic method? Or, is there one method or approach to each shoot, regardless of the content/advertorial? 
Every artist is different, and I am by no means a master, so I am continuing to evolve my own style. I treat fashion shoots and portrait shoots very differently. With fashion shoots the concept, and obviously the clothing, drive it forward. The models are used to the drill, and are more malleable to the process of the day. With portraits, especially ‘real people’ (I hate that term) versus celebrities, the shoot is really about them. The photographers job is to not only get what they need, but more importantly to make the subject feel comfortable and beautiful (or handsome!). I am way more interested in them feeling great rather than just looking great, as it will always show in the final product. Showing that one laugh of a person who never smiles is the most simplistic illustration of that methodology. As a woman who despises almost all photographs of herself, I find it easier to relate to women’s hangups and insecurities. I go out of my way to make sure they feel their best. Trust is key. If the subject trusts you and your confidence in leading the shoot, they will relax quicker and your product will be inevitably more honest. 

I once received two really great pieces of advice from NJR that I always try to remember- 1 - shoot women as subjects and not objects. and 2 - no matter what the situation/location/subject, there is always a great photograph to be found. Its your job to find it.

What is the atmosphere like for women in photography and specifically fashion photography? 
The industry of fashion photography is both flooded with contenders, and also fiercely cut-throat. It is not for the faint of heart for anyone. There are so few top-tier female fashion photographers out there right now, but many who are trying to break through which is great. I hope in the next decade we see much more of a balance between the genders. To many, editorial photography still has that Good-Old-Boy mentality and some might say that the male voice in fashion is more provocative or even objective. I disagree, clearly. 


Have you personally experienced sexism? 
Much like other ‘isms’  in the world today, sexism still finds its ways into all kinds of industries and photography is not exempt, unfortunately. Often with females in any role of independent leadership, if you are sweet and soft you are seen as weak, and if you are tough and outspoken then you’re a bitch. I don’t believe that the same characteristics in a male photographer would be viewed in the same way. Im working on finding a balance. 

Why are there so few women behind the camera in fashion? 
There of course have been many prolific female photographers over the years who have produced iconic work still revered in the industry, but few of them were purely fashion photographers. Two of my heroes in the field today are Annie Leibovitz and Ellen Von Unwerth. Annie is undeniably, especially to the layman, the most well-known photographer alive today. Whether her work is to your taste, you cannot deny what an inspiration she has been to others who follow, especially women. Ellen was a pioneer in fashion portraiture, sexualizing women from a woman’s perspective in a fun yet provocative way. I love a lot of photography by men too - I love the way Avedon and Helmut Newton both shot women as heroes, even when they were nude or sexualized. There are, of course, other excellent female fashion photographers working today such as Inez from I&V, Paola Kudacki, Emma Summerton, Yelena Yumchuk and Pamela Hanson and I think there are many more emerging, which is fantastic! 

What is your career highlight? 

As a creative director, it was working with Norman Jean Roy on the Vogue 120th anniversary issue. That was a really exciting time for me and we were given such freedom, being able to collaborate with amazing people and I am really proud of the final shots and video. (see below)

Vogue 120 portfolio, all photographs by Norman Jean Roy

Vogue 120 portfolio, all photographs by Norman Jean Roy

... As a photographer, the highlight so far has been the Body issue project I shot of 12 totally naked ‘real women’  together to celebrate all different kinds of body shapes, sizes and colors. There was such an intoxicating energy on set, devoid of ego, hangups or drama which is so unusual when dealing with nudity and mixing non-models together. It was a complicated shoot with a lot of set ups but its apparent to me in the shots how happy and confident the women were with themselves. That makes me happy. 

What is your career dream? 
Its just the start of this journey for me. To be successful without compromising creative integrity would be amazing. To be consistently hired in this current marketplace is hard enough for any artist, but to withstand a full career of shooting and still be relevant in fashion for years later is something very few accomplish. That is the dream for me... 

A Woman's Worth

The female body is a very complicated and paradoxical subject for me. I don't think I've ever met a woman who is entirely 100% satisfied with every single physical element to themselves and I have battled most of my life with insecurities about my own physicality. 

When Diva magazine told me they wanted me to spearhead their Body Issue for them, and create a nude portfolio of real women, I found this to be not only an amazing platform for these ladies, but also therapeutic for myself, and to learn a huge lesson in self-acceptance. 

Diva asked me to cast New York women with a range of bodies, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds. Casting was actually a really fascinating process, and I found 12 amazing women all in the tri-state area who all happened to be some how in or attached to the arts. 

In total, I ended up casting a producer, RnB singer, ballet dancer, celebrity cake-maker, bellydancer, contortionist, burlesque performer, lawyer/activist, Dj/yogi, stylist, comedian, and model.

I made the decision to shoot them all on the same day and although i staggered the call times, i wanted to make sure they were all on set together at some point during the shoot day. This was either going to go great or blow up in my face in a major way. In the end, it was a great call, as the women fed off each other's energy and ended up bonding in a way that I wasn't expecting. 

photo by Madison Shields

It is rather hypocritical of me, but I don't know if i would be able to come on set and pose naked for a photographer and place my trust in his or her hands.. That is the control freak in me i suppose, mixed with my own body issues. To have these women leave all their insecurities at the door and succumb, trusting my direction was an amazing experience. Many of these ladies had never been shot professionally before, let alone sans-clothing. Every detail was planned to try to make them feel comfortable, and one of these ladies writes about her own experiences at the shoot here . 

One of the women I photographed was the singer and star of RnB Divas, Monifah. Mo was insanely amazing on the day of the shoot, and one of my favorite memories of the shoot, was her belting her well-known songs live at me while I was shooting. The entire studio went quiet, listening behind the curtain to her singing, with full range, seated naked in front of me. I will never forget it. 

20140816_HOLLAND_DIVA_19_113_MONIFAH copy.jpg

Another special story was that of Omyra, who was so unbelievably shy about the shoot, and even backed out twice before finally committing. She told me on the day of the shoot that she had struggled with her weight her entire life, and finally made a life choice to get healthy and fit through diet and exercise, and in the past year or so had managed to healthily lose over 100lbs. She had never posed naked and carried with her a lot of body image baggage, but in the end her photograph remains one of my favorites. I covered her in black lace, to make her feel more comfortable, and when she lay upside down, the lace slipped on her body slightly and I asked her if she would like me to cover her up again, and she said "no". She felt liberated and beautiful in that moment, and that is the photograph I ended up choosing. It was her completely comfortable in her skin and for that I am eternally grateful for her time posing for me. 

Omyra

Omyra

Monifah , Omyra and Carly

Monifah , Omyra and Carly

This remains, in a decade of working in the industry, my absolute favorite shoot to have been on as either a photographer or creative. The only reason for this is really the women themselves. They created everything that was genuine and beautiful on that day, and I will remember it always. 


Photography - Sophy Holland

Makeup - Shirley Pinkson

Hair - Keiko Hamaguchi 

Studio - Pier 59

Behind the Lens - A-morir

Kerin Rose is an official bad-ass. She is the designer and creative director of A-Morir, a line of high-end bejeweled eyewear frequently worn by the likes of Gaga, Rhianna, Katy Perry, Snoop Lion/Dogg and many others. 

© Sophy Holland / Portrait of Kerin

© Sophy Holland / Portrait of Kerin

Kerin and I met when I painted her for a personal series (oil on canvas) of female fashion designers in NYC. Stay tuned for more of that later.. 

Kerin knew I had a background as an Art Director, working on ad campaigns such as Swarovski and Gilan, and we spoke about her new line of hand-crafted Mazzucchelli acetate eyewear frames that she wanted to launch for 2015 SS. 

©Sophy Holland / Kerin Rose (oils on canvas 5ft x 4ft)

©Sophy Holland / Kerin Rose (oils on canvas 5ft x 4ft)

She hired me to shoot the photographs for the campaign and we collaborated on concept, that was to still speak to her originality, but also at prestige level.

We cast the very beautiful Hannah Vandermolen @ Trump Models as the face of the campaign - I love her face, her short pastel hair, and of course her gold septum ring. 

It sounds bizarre... but I was totally inspired by the 'hall of heads scene' in the movie Return to Oz. I wanted to create a weird-looking floating head silhouette for the series, allowing the eyewear to remain the focal point and not to compete with any other fashion. Kerin used a lot of opal tones and rose gold in the seasonal collection so I wanted to use a very hard light, but with lots of rose tones on the skin and hair, with the matte pink lip mirroring trend from runway SS15.

Photography - Sophy Holland

Makeup - Shirley Pinkson

Hair Color - Aura

Studio - Pier59, NYC

Behind the Lens - Lea DeLaria

As a huge fan of the Netflix TV series Orange is the New Black, I was thrilled to be ask to photograph the hilarious and outspoken comedic Actress, Lea DeLaria for Diva magazine in UK. 

I remember her role in The First Wives Club, asking the ever-fabulous Goldie Hawn to dance, and in episodes of Friends, Law & Order and Will & Grace. 

I do a ton of research before I shoot anyone, especially celebrities. What i loved about Lea was her vivacious energy and unapologetic individualism. I didn't want to shoot her as anything other than herself, so I decided to give her a glamourous 'dandy' look while allowing her personality to overtake the photograph, rather than a fancy concept or location. 

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DeLaria has all her suits custom-made by Saint Harridan, but I worked closely with Stylist Newheart Ohanian to pull vintage pieces and fun accessories to make sure the look was modern and fun. Shirley Pinkson did the grooming and gave her a slick dandy look to go with her styling...

©Madison Shields

©Madison Shields

My favorite look was a pair of metallic copper Duckie Brown brogues and a Vivienne Westwood handkerchief with her signature 'buddy holly-esq' specs. 

©Sophy Holland / Lea DeLaria

©Sophy Holland / Lea DeLaria

Lea was not afraid to try things out of her comfort zone, and I showed her a sketch of her arm wrestling herself, which tickled her to no end. With concepts like that, you really need everyone to commit, or it will look tend to look forced. She committed to the moment 1000% and I'm so happy with how it turned out...

Sketches and references on set

Sketches and references on set

©Sophy Holland / Lea DeLaria

©Sophy Holland / Lea DeLaria

On set with DeLaria and team

On set with DeLaria and team

My absolute favorite shot of the day was of DeLaria peeking from behind a wooden table in an Ellen Christine toadstool hat. It was a gem of a moment for me, and one that really showed her silly and sweet side. 

©Sophy Holland / Lea DeLaria

©Sophy Holland / Lea DeLaria

To date, I don't think I have been made to laugh that much by any talent on set. She deserves every success she gets on OITNB. 

©Madison Shields / End of the Day Antics

©Madison Shields / End of the Day Antics

Photo - Sophy Holland

Styling - Newheart Ohanian

Grooming - Shirley Pinkson

Assistants - Bradley Ennis and Madison Shields

Studio - Pier 59

Full story below -