An Interview with Photographer Dannielle Judd

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By Denise Marsh

“Beauty is from your nose to your toes”

 A very candid interview with Wellington’s amazing photographer, Dannielle Judd

The “Developing” stage

When I was a teenager, I learned how to develop 110mm film in a black box (yes, this definitely dates me!).  I can recall going into a Dark room and using potent chemicals to develop someone’s pictures.  At the time, I felt like I was at the movies-you know when there’s a detective and a photographer waiting on an image to develop so they could try to solve a crime?   However, my life hasn’t been as dramatic as a “Law and Order” episode.  But you do get the point… I never lost my fascination with photography and knew that someday it would resurface and touch my life again.  Well, “now” is the “again”.

At just 5’2, “petite” and “powerful” would best characterize Wellington’s prominent photographer Dannielle Judd.  She specializes in Glamour shots and Couture photos.  I had seen much of her work on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.  In addition, I had met her only briefly through a friend at Village Music in Wellington.  This interview was definitely fated!

Welcome to the Studio or the “photographer’s soul”

A studio for a photographer is a kitchen for a cook; you cannot separate the two-each requires the other for comfort, creation, and credibility.  Dannielle rents a studio space in Wellington.  From the outside, it looks like an ordinary garage/storefront with Dannielle’s eloquent “Photography by Dannielle” sign.  But when she opened the store it was a magical place like no other-a place I will try to describe with my humble words. 

The space was not small nor big, but a place that is most essential and the embodiment for all of her “artmaking”.  There are racks of elegant party dresses, assorted ballroom gowns in bright jewel tone colors and sequined cocktail dresses waiting to be touched and brought to their “glory”.  Sandwiched between the couture and vintage decorations were busts of alluring costume jewelry and tiaras; I literally felt like a kid on an unlimited and untimed shopping spree at their favorite toy store!  And, I WON’T lie, I did promise myself that I would be trying on something…anything. But at the end of the interview, of course.  

On the walls Glamour portraits hung proudly and gracefully, adorning the studio with their magnificence. Yet, one of my favorite “accessories” in the studio was what Dannielle called her “Reveal Wall” (and this has nothing do with a “gender reveal”).  This was dedicated to her clients.  Each time she does a photo shoot, she develops the pictures, displays them on this shelved “wall,” so that her clients can see themselves portrayed a la “museum exhibition” style.  “It is a way for clients to celebrate themselves”. Before this interview, I had never heard of anything of this fashion.  Now, I will never forget its self-empowering allure.  

Interview or friendly chat?

I suffer from anxiety and of course it rears its head at the most inopportune moments, especially during interviews.  There are times when I stutter or forget things while I am in the middle of something. But, aside from forcing myself to focus on Dannielle and stop looking at the racks of clothes, I felt totally relaxed in her presence.  We recorded the interview and I took notes.  Yet, it turned out that I didn’t need either; the experience was so impactful that it was practically tattooed in my brain!  The interview was definitely more like a “friendly chat” where maybe I spoke a little too much despite her being the person being interviewed.  Back to focusing…

When Dannielle discusses photography and her family her blue-grey eyes sparkle like fireworks. She truly has an infectious passion for her profession.  No more digressing, let’s get to the interview…finally.

AW: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a photographer? 

DJ: I don’t think it was a particular age…Let me think about it…I had always really loved it.  I remember taking a picture of my oldest daughter ( I have three daughters) and she was 17 at the time.  I treasure the experience but it made me nostalgic and sad for my own mom who had passed away when I was 15.  I analyzed these feelings and realized that although I had memories of my own mother, I didn’t have a single photograph to attach to those memories.  

I am 54 years old and most of my life I did the “stay at home mom”  and “devoted wife” jobs.  I adore my family but I hadn’t prioritized myself in anything and when I did, I  always felt guilty about it.  I think I was 48 years old when I “liberated” myself from this negative mindset.  I had begun to turn my passion into a dream that must’ve been on the brink of blossoming.  

One of Dannielle Judd’s Glamour shots

AW: What artists and photographers have influenced your work? 

DJ: There are quite a few, but the greatest one is Sue Bryce.  Bryce is a phenomenal Portrait photographer from New Zealand.  She is also a mentor to thousands of people in person and online because she speaks directly to you.  Sue speaks with the same confidence and care with an audience  of two, 200 or 2,000.  Everybody can relate to her.  I met her at a Photography conference in Phoenix, Arizona and have never forgotten the impact that she left on me and her influence has been my mainstay. 

Sue did her own “50 over 50” conference where she invited 200 women over the age of 50.  It was inspiring and amazing!  I am working on a similar concept series because of her wisdom and guidance.  

AW: How would you “label” your style or “type” of photography?

DJ: I do Fine Arts portraits.  I mostly do Glamour shots, Personal Branding, Headshots, and currently am very involved with my “50 over 50 projects.”

AW: Is it more challenging to be a photographer with the Covid-19 Pandemic? Did it affect your business?

DJ: Yes, it was definitely a big challenge.  I took a huge hit with no clients for several months. 
There were no shoots!  Fortunately, my husband was working and kept us afloat financially.  

AW: What has been the most joyful thing you’ve photographed and the also the most emotional?

D.J: In terms of “joyful”, it would definitely be the day I brought my granddaughter to the studio.  She was 5 ½ at the time. One of my daughters wanted her to do a Couture shot.  I must say that watching her twirl in a Couture gown and a little tiara was heaven for me.  I wanted to do more but after only 20 minutes of photo shooting, she said “Mimi” (that’s what she calls me), I’m done”.

I have not done anything emotional yet.  Although, I do have a client that will be doing the “50 over 50” series that is over 50, and is an HIV, Cancer, and COVID-19 survivor.  I am anticipating that hearing her stories will be quite emotional and impactful. 

AW: I am mesmerized and intrigued by your “50 over 50” series.  Please tell me more about it.

DJ: Sue Bryce began this same series and there have been others who have utilized it.  It’s all about “celebrating ourselves”-we just don’t do that enough, especially with the 50+ female demographic.  There is such a negative stereotype surrounding these women in the media, misconceptions amongst men and even other women.  These women are stigmatized as being “old” and no longer attractive.  But, the “attractive” part is not being beautiful or attractive to the outside world, but more so, loving your own beauty.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel beautiful on the outside. It makes us feel special and as much as people don’t want to accept this reality, it is the “lens” for much of life’s focus.  Women of all ages need to feel beautiful and empowered, especially this particular demographic.  

The series is a very emotional experience.  I run ads for perspective clients .  Then, I schedule a time to fill out forms and have a consultation.  At the consultation, we discuss what the shoot will entail.  I get to hear so many stories of personal strength; women who have overcome illnesses or other painful, life-changing experiences. I love photographing the women to let them see their own beauty “from their nose to their toes”-it gives so many women a renewed sense of self-confidence and personal empowerment.

AW: There is so much digital photography now and web-based design is a household catch phrase.  How do you remain authentic despite the competition? What’s your secret or philosophy?

DJ: I have become friends with many of my clients.  We build a close friendship when I photograph them. In addition, I’m NOT in competition with anyone but myself. There is enough room for everyone to have business and it is all about making it unique and memorable.  

AW: Please complete this sentence for me:  Photography is____________________.

DJ.: So fulfilling and rewarding.  It about sharing successes with others because life is so short.  

AW: What are your future goals?

DJ: I have an Associates Degree in Photography.  But I am working towards accreditation for Photography.  There are 3 levels to complete for this process. My mentor is Sue Bryce.  I will be judged from 7 renowned photographers and have to prove mastery in specific areas.  I love to create a make people feel good so achieving this will increase my knowledge and expertise.  

Photo by Dannielle Judd

AW: Is it difficult to maintain a private studio? How do you get your materials? 

DJ: I do my best.  I pay rent and also have to pay my Makeup Artist/Hair Designer.  I belong to different groups on social media to get ideas on where to get materials.  Sometimes I am fortunate enough to get donations.  Just recently, I had a friend close down her studio and she gave me many of the dresses I use for shoots.  I also shop at Amazon, T.J. Maxx and Goodwill.  

The “bigger” picture

At the end of the interview Dannielle asked me what my favorite colors are.  I told her that I love Purple, Red, and Royal Blue.  But as I glanced over at the wardrobe, I realized that ALL of the colors looked bright and beautiful.  However, I did manage to pick out 2 sequined, Cocktail dresses-one in Red and the other in Royal Blue which just fit.  She took a picture or two for fun. I stared at the reflection of myself in the mirror. I didn’t have a lot of make up on and my hair was not done fancy, but the dresses made me feel attractive and appealing.  I understood why women get Glamour Shots done.  I left the studio that day so inspired and told Dannielle that I’d be back one day-for my very own photo shoot.  I’m turning 50 on January 9th, maybe just maybe this might be the best present of all!

Visit DannielleJudd.com for more information.