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Check Out Stephanie Leaver’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Leaver. 

Hi Stephanie, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today.
Photography has always been a significant part of my life. Ever since I was young, I can recall using any means to capture moments in time, rather it be some gaming device like a DSI, my parent’s phone or my own phone, a basic point-and-shoot camera, and eventually my own “professional” camera. I do not remember if there was a specific point in time that I absolutely fell in love with photography, but I do know the pivotal moment when I decided to make photography my career. 

When I was in high school, my now late Grandma was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She was always a huge inspiration for me and always supported me–especially with my photography which was becoming more and more professional and perfected per se. At the time–somewhere between my sophomore and junior year–I did not see photography as a viable career option, or at least as a main source of income. However, I was not content with the path I so thought I wanted where I wanted to do something in the medical field. As my Grandma got more sick, I was asked to sit with her while she got her lung drained, and of course, I happily obliged. But, as I sat there watching her get the treatment done, I found myself getting extremely nauseous and emotional. I realized in that moment that I could not witness the pain and suffering that ill patients have to go through. In a sense, it was kind of too much to handle for me. So that started the search for a new career option. 

I struggled for months trying to figure out everything–I mean, I am one who always has everything planned out, so it was foreign to me to not have a plan. I looked into other career options like studying Theology, education, or botany, but none I felt were a perfect match. Then, one day when I was visiting my Grandma, I gave her a bunch of my recent photography prints of botanical subject matter like flowers and plants and had a heart-to-heart talk about life. As we talked, she told me the best advice that any person could ever give—choose to do something that brings you joy. She then continued, that even though it might not bring you the most wealth, at least you will be happy and proud of what you do. I remember I laid in bed that night thinking of what in life gave me the most joy, and I realized what made me feel so at ease and so joyful was right in front of me—photography. 

After that night, I had my heart set on studying photography, or at least art after high school. Throughout my senior year in high school, I applied to many colleges for their art programs and I eventually decided to go to Western Michigan University to study photography and art. Throughout the 3 years I was there (I took an accelerated Bachelor’s), I got to push myself to critically think about photography and fine art. I was also able to focus on keeping my photography real and authentic, while others chose to digitally manipulate their work. I recently just graduated (August 2022) with a Bachelor of Arts in Art (so not specifically photography, but that was my main focus) and graduated Summa Cum Laude (highest academic honors). I learned so much about me as a photographer in the time I was at college, and a lot of what I learned is present in my work today, along with continuing the joy I found in photography. 

We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I wish it was a smooth road, but where is the fun and growth in that!? I did definitely struggle along the way as an artist. One major struggle was the classes and peers I had in college valued digital manipulation and heavily edited photographs/artworks more than real, true photography. Photography in and of itself is capturing moments through light, not placing an image in PhotoShop and editing it to oblivion with changing colors, tones, and the subject matter. Although I respect artists who use digital manipulation and editing (I mean the occasional “touch up” if you will is fine, but not drastic), I just think that is not photography, and moreso digital art. Anyways, since the classes and other peers utilized a lot of that, it was hard to stick to my personal values of verism/realism in a lot of my photographs while maintaining a fine art look. But, I was able to push through and grow as an artist by finding other ways to create more intriguing photographs without a digital means, such as getting a pitch-black background through the physical use of a black sheet/piece of fabric instead of editing in PhotoShop. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
Along with photography albeit my main medium, I also do installation, digital work/graphic design, and mixed media. In my personal photography and other work, I mostly focus on the environment and environmental activism along with touching on political and social issues, mental health awareness, and family history. My main form of photography is macro photography, so capturing those very close-up details that are often missed, but I also do landscapes, general nature, creative work, and portraits. 

I have my own photography company–Stephanie Paige Photography LLC, where I am set up to sell my photographs as fine art prints and works online (and soon to local craft and farmers markets), as well as doing local portraits. For portraits, I really enjoy doing newborn and families and I had worked professionally for a year as a newborn photographer in Kalamazoo at a hospital. Otherwise, I pretty much do anything and anyone minus weddings. 

Definitely what sets me apart from other photographers is that I do employ a very veristic/authentic approach to all of my work, rather nature or macro, landscape, or portraits. Also, with my macro work, I often do a lot of detail and close-up shots of bees (kind of like “bee portraits”), which funny enough, I am actually highly allergic to. One of my professors in college used to call me the “bee whisperer” since I never got stung or had an allergic reaction while photographing, and I was able to capture bees so elegantly like that they were posing for me. 

If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
Growing up, I was always interested in the sciences as well as the arts. I loved learning about the way things work in relation to like biology and anatomy but also loved being creative with music (I played the violin for 7 years), dance, and studio art (rather photography, painting, crafts, etc). Honestly, I think a lot of my love for doing macro and nature photography stems from observing the way the world works and being able to capture it artistically with the means of a camera. 

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