Member of the Month: Dawn Shields

by Tiana Kennell

Dawn Shields

April 01, 2011 — And the first place prize in the Fusion category of the WPPI 2011 Album Competition goes to… Dawn Shields—a woman who can not only combine still images with action shots to tell a story, but also fuses her numerous roles of photographer, entrepreneur, wife and mother of two to render her own life story.

Working it Out
Dawn Shields Photography Studio (www.dawnshields.com) is a childhood dream come true. Since leaving her nine-to-five job to become a professional photographer eight years ago, Shields has become respected in the industry and known for her “simply sophisticated” images of couples, weddings and families.

However, those who have met Shields know that it is not in her nature to stop at one success. She is the editor-in-chief of the Metropolitan Bride magazine in Missouri and the owner of a wedding expo business, making herself a significant player in the wedding industry.

“I wanted to provide an opportunity for brides and wedding merchants to come together on one day, meet and see if they are right for each other,” she says. “I purchased an existing business and raised it up about 10 levels to become the business I knew it was capable of being. It just needed someone with a vision, which I had.”

Shields also hosts workshops and classes through her studio for photographers. “I’m putting together a workshop for this summer, probably in August. Because I am a working photographer and an editor-in-chief, this workshop will cover every aspect of the photography business with an insight from our [magazine/show owners] perspective.”

In between workshops, Shields stays connected with photographers and clients through her blog site, www.dawnshieldsblog.com.

She gives credit to her family for supporting her many ventures. “My husband is a workaholic, so I’m married to the right man who understands what it takes to run more than one business,” she says. “He runs two other companies that we own. Yes, we own four!”

Time management and organization makes it all possible. “I make the time,” she says. “I put it on my schedule, and it happens. When something is important enough, you don’t wait for your schedule to clear, you clear your schedule. I enjoy getting to think about multiple projects every day. Our office is always exciting!”

Rhema
It is this drive, passion and unique thought process that led Dawn Shields to her acclaim and most recent WPPI win. The idea for the fusion piece came to Shields unexpectedly while leisurely perusing a social network. “I was sitting at the computer on Facebook when I saw a video on my friend’s wall and clicked the link,” she recalls. It was a clip of a little girl singing with a beautiful and enormously powerful voice. Shields found the singer’s Web site and learned that her name was Rhema Marvanne.

Rhema, now age 8, lost her mother, Wendi Marvanne, to a battle with cancer in 2008. Her mother was known for her singing, and Rhema says she believes that her mother’s gift of singing was passed down to her. Wanting that gift to be shared with the world, Rhema began performing at fundraising events for cancer.

Shields was blown away by the voice and the story, but her photographer’s eye reviewed the Web site critically. “The photos on the site didn’t look like a professional did them,” she says. “The pictures didn’t match the voice.”

Eager to help, Shields immediately contacted Rhema’s father, Teton, through the Web site and offered her photography services free of charge. He graciously accepted and arrangements were made.

It so happened that Shields would be touring with the WPPI Road Trip and stopping in Dallas where the young singer and her father resided. In between the traveling and workshop lectures, Shields slipped away and was able to meet Rhema and Teton in person and give them the much deserved photo shoot.

However, Shields was still dissatisfied with the photo’s ability to properly display the young singer. She knew that recording was the key, but there was a problem standing in her way. “I was unfamiliar with sound techniques and we had a singer,” says Shields. “I wanted someone who was sure how to capture her singing.” The solution, Shields knew, was to contact her friend, videographer Brandon Goodwin. “When Brandon heard her story, he said he didn’t want to be paid, just credit for his work.”

After about six months under her direction, Shields, Goodwin and her friend, photographer Dorene Nash, who also volunteered her assistance, completed the perfect display of Rhema in a two-and-a-half minute time slot. It was the first fusion video project Shields had ever done.

It was pure compassion that led Shields and her friends to give their time and craft to the young singer who had done so much for others with her strength, courage and talent. Shields says it wasn’t until the shooting and filming had began that she learned about Rhema’s success as an Internet sensation and internationally acclaimed recording artist. She also didn’t expect what would come next.

 The fusion video received more attention than Shields ever imagined. It won the first place award in its category at WPPI this year, and Shields says the photos she took for Rhema have appeared in New York’s Times Square, ABC’s 20/20 and the Nate Berkus Show. “I think that in my blessing her, she blessed me,” says Shields.

Rhema and her father are beyond appreciative of Shields’ generosity and are pleased with the finished product. “I love the video,” says Teton. “I think her ability to capture Rhema’s personality, her story and communicate that so effectively is beyond my ability to describe with words.

“Dawn is incredible. Nothing I can say can truly capture who she is,” Teton adds. “I can’t wait to see what else she will produce. I think the world will be amazed.”

Judge and be Judged
Although it was her first fusion project, Dawn Shields isn’t a rookie in photography or at WPPI. She’s been a professional photographer for more than eight years and a member of WPPI for six. In 2009 she won third place in Children’s Portrait, and just last year she won first place in Event Non-Wedding Album and, ultimately, the Grand Award in the Album category.

This year during her platform lecture she talked with her audience about general photography topics and gave advice such as, “Photography shouldn’t be a job that you just make money off of. Shoot for yourself.”

Shields handed down tips on handling personal projects. She used her last year’s Grand-Award-winning entry, “Legacy,” an album focused on her grandfather’s life in Alcatraz, as an example. Although she gained praise for “Legacy,” there were some who were not fans of her work. “I had rave reviews to the harshest of critiques,” she says. “In the end it was my story, my life... period.”

Still, her decision to enter the competitions is something Shields wouldn’t change and something she encourages others to partake in. “Compete!” she says. “It’s the most amazing growing experience you can ever have. If there is any way you can come to WPPI early and go to print and album judging, come,” she urges. “I promise you will get an education you will take home and apply. Those two days are my favorite days of WPPI!”

At the WPPI convention this year Shields had her hands full with competing and hosting a platform, but still found time to speak on the Contemporary Women of Photography forum and serve as a judge for other competitions. She calls this year at WPPI, simply, “hectic.” Yet, she says, “I loved it.”

Shields is able to look back and count her blessings in her six years of membership: awards, flourishing businesses and meaningful friendships with other successful photographers in the industry.

“I have what I call my photography family,” says Shields. She was at her best friend Bambi Cantrell’s workshop when she met Yervant and Jim Garner and instantly became friends with them. Along with these irreplaceable bonds, Shields has found that being a part of WPPI and an influential network of people leads to countless opportunities and collaborations. “I learn stuff every year [at WPPI] and meet amazing people who help me when I need it. It’s a great community,” she says. “How you are able to succeed is by being great friends with people who will support you,” she says.

A Future in Fusion
After all of the past success at WPPI, Shields has a lot to live up to next year. But she’s not too worried about that. She admits she was inspired at the convention for another personal project. “I will stay true to myself and true to my craft,” she says. “Will my personal project be competition-worthy? I don’t know!”

And it is possible that another fusion endeavor may be on the horizon. “I would love to do future fusion projects,” says Shields. “I think expanding my abilities in the future is only going to open my possibilities to grow. Every day I’m hoping, thinking and praying for new ways to grow as an artist in my field.”


Tiana Kennell is a freelance journalist based in Detroit, MI. She has written for several publications, including B.L.A.C. Detroit magazine (formerly African American Family Magazine), and MichiganHipHop.com.

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