August 01, 2011 — Carina Romano is a young woman with a vintage soul and an eccentric eye for beauty.
You can find her scouring the flea market for treasures. She will be dressed in the finest threads found in Philadelphia's best thrift stores. If she's not there, try looking for her at the nearest Native American pow-wow. She will probably be the only person of Caucasian-Asian descent there, half hidden by a camera. If that search fails, simply go to www.lovemedophotography.com and you will see the essence of Carina Romano in every photograph in her portfolio.
The 27-year-old Philadelphian with a laugh as sweet and petite as her frame is no doubt cast from a unique die. She has a modern mind for technology contrasting with a hearty passion for history and culture, which she incorporates into her art to make unforgettable pieces.
Romano channels one of her inspirations, Walker Evans, to help her get across her message clearly through her photographs. Nearly a century ago, Evans worked through the Farm Security Administration to capture real life during the Great Depression. Now, during a recession that has impacted Americans once again, Romano strives to capture a similar air.
"I love how everything is pristine about [Evan's] pictures, but it's not posed," she says. "Working in a situation where there's people who may not be comfortable having their picture taken, you're trying to document without exploiting."
Romano takes this into account whether she is on her own snapping candid shots during a personal project or surrounded by hundreds during a wedding celebration. She has an inclination for fine arts that crosses over into her wedding work.
"As weddings go, I really like the fine arts aspect of the portraits," she says. "I'd say if anything, my style is more documentary. It's documenting with fine arts techniques."
To get the right ambiance, Romano may use distressed brick walls, antique furniture and props, and many of her wedding clients come with their own retro wardrobe.
"A lot of weddings we shoot are DIY (do-it-yourself) weddings, which is right up our alley," she says. "I think the people who book us are people who see our Web site and see our style. Not that we don't do traditional weddings, but that's what we gravitate towards."
Romano and her partners at Love Me Do Photography, Amanda Jaffe and Nadine Rovner (who usually go by first name alone), share this style and it is reflected in their office decorations. "I don't buy new things unless it's a necessity," say Romano. "I try to fix old things. The furniture in our studio is handmade, repainted and rebuilt. I like that lifestyle."
Taking a Chance
Just a short time ago, life for Romano was much different. About 10 years ago she was a college student majoring in computer information and science and information technology at Temple University. Photography was only a budding hobby. But a fateful enrollment in a photography elective class changed Romano's perspective about her future.
After a discussion with her photography professor, who supported her aspirations, Romano braced herself to reveal to her parents her desire to transfer to Temple's Tyler School of Art to major in fine arts. Their first reaction was not very welcoming to the idea.
"My mother went to art school and worked for an advertising agency in the '70s, but everything fell apart when graphic design started with computers," Romano explains. "All of the hand illustrators lost their jobs, and she was a part of that so my going into a career of art was kind of scary for them. I had a lot of long talks with my mom about if it was worth it, and if I would be able to find a job. I kept reassuring her that I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't think that I could."
During her sophomore year, Romano landed an internship at Littlewing Studio, a Pennsylvania-based wedding photography studio. She gained field experience, and by her college graduation in 2006 her mentors launched her into the real world, assuring her that she was ready to work on her own.
Romano stepped into the art industry with an advantage. With her knowledge of computer technology she was able to build her own Web site and was already accustomed to working with software and programs.
She began freelancing in commercial and wedding photography. In 2007, Romano's career was propelled even further—by a crumpled letter. A lab technician at her college absentmindedly handed her a printout of the submission guidelines for WPPI's Hy Sheanin Memorial Scholarship. Never having heard of WPPI or Rangefinder before, Romano had no idea what doors were about to open for her.
She says she entered the contest on a whim and was surprised when she won. Her prize included a one-year WPPI membership and a trip to Las Vegas for the 2007 WPPI Convention.
"It was my first time going to workshops and working with professionals who weren't my professors," she says. She met some of the industry's greats and soaked in information that would lead her to the next echelon of her career.
"It was WPPI that made me realize that I needed another person to help me tackle this," says Romano. She was accompanied to the convention by Amanda, her college friend, and shared her revelation with her. The two agreed to become business partners for weddings.
A couple of years later, Nadine approached Romano and Amanda about expanding their alliance. She had the idea of creating a sort of "co-op" studio where they still had separate businesses, but would combine their forces to produce more clientele.
"We share a studio name, Web site and advertising," says Romano. "But when you book the studio you pick your photographer."
They also sometimes share equipment, which puts them at a financial advantage as they have three people to invest. It is for this reason that they can take pride in having the newest and best tools of the trade. Romano's tool bag includes: Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 40D, 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens, 16-35mm f/2.8 L lens, 70-200mm f/4 L lens, 24-105mm f/4 L Lens, Canon 580EX II flash, Hasselblad 503C series medium format camera with a 50mm Carl Zeiss lens, Calumet Travelpak 725 light kit, and a Lowel ID-light (for video).
"As new things come out we make the decision on whether or not is best for us to invest in it," says Romano. The older models they trade in for an upgrade. "We try to keep everything as up to date as possible."
The partnership has worked in a way that may baffle some, including Romano. "It's a strange dynamic that I didn't think would come so easy," she says. "It works because we respect each other and are fans of each other's work. We learn from one another and are happy when one gets a job."
The People vs. Romano
The trio has gained more success than they imagined, becoming highly referred and regarded photographers in the Philadelphia area and across the country. Romano has won many awards since winning the Hy Sheanin scholarship, but she stays humble and remains true to herself and her personal craft.
She keeps on a few corporate and architecture clients for solo work. She benefits from staying active in these styles, as she has to think differently about composition and architecture around the frame. "I take the technique side and apply it to my [wedding] photography," she says. "I think of what's going on in the background and lining up my subject matter."
Romano finds ways to unify her love for weddings and fine art photography, but they have their own place inside her heart. She loves wedding photography because of the gratification that comes along with it. She loves seeing the bride and groom with their family and friends having a good time, and the client's delighted reaction when reviewing their album for the first time. "I'm not just doing this for the money, it's not just a job, it's making people happy."
The fast pace of a wedding shoot is another factor Romano takes pleasure in. "I have to be on my toes the entire time. I may only get an hour to take pictures of the bride and groom and in that hour I'm going try to use as many different angles and locations and poses as possible to have a good variety of images. It definitely keeps me active physically and artistically."
She tries to stay away from what she believes is a growing trend of commercial-style engagement shoots. "We want the shoot to tell a story about the couple—without the glittery props. You should be able to see that they're in love by how they interact with each other."
While all of her focus is on others during wedding and engagement shoots, Romano finds that it's okay to be a bit selfish at times in her personal fine arts endeavors.
"When I'm shooting for myself, that's my time. It's the pictures I want to put on the wall," she says.
She occasionally takes road trips to find new and interesting landscapes and people. And when she's on her own time, she sets the pace. "I spend time making sure the picture is exactly what I want it to be. For my personal work I shoot [medium format] film and it's a much different process. I might shoot 12 frames, while in a wedding I might shoot 2500 frames.
"My wedding photography tells a story about the couple, but my fine arts photography tells the story about me."
See more of Carina Romano's story in her portfolios at www.lovemedophotography.com and www.carinaromano.com.
Tiana Kennell is a freelance journalist based in Michigan. She can be contacted through LinkedIn.