Wearing black leather pants and a cape top, she reclined on a velvet armchair under the frescoed ceiling of a 19th-century Florentine villa, flanked by a hair and makeup artist, as a photographer clicked away.The model was not a $5,000-a-day runway pro from Elite Model Management, but Gina DeVee, a 41-year-old success coach from Montecito, California. DeVee paid a photographer $3,500 to create magazine-worthy images for her Facebook and Twitter profiles, as well as her professional website. The goal, she said, is to create “personal brand buzz.”
“This stuff is isn’t only for J. Lo,” DeVee said. “I love being a rock star in my own life.”
There are times, it seems, when an iPhone and an outstretched arm just won’t do.
In an era when social media has given everyone a public persona to burnish, some image-conscious digital natives are taking online-image management a step further, sparing no expense to treat themselves to iconic portrait sessions that produce profile shots for Facebook and Twitter that could double as covers of Vogue - effectively, glamour selfies.
And why not? On Facebook, isn’t everyone a star?
“We’ve been flipping through magazines since we were 5 years old, looking up to these glamorous women,” DeVee said. “Today, we can create our own magazines through social media.”
There was, of course, a time when such portraits were the stuff of statesmen and aristocrats, and were rendered in canvas and oil. The rest of us generally had to make do with high school yearbook photos or passport shots. No more. Anyone with some extra cash can outsource the task to the pros, and present a more polished image to the world.
For Rachel Weinstein Petterson, 34, a software engineer in Los Altos, California, the iconic portrait session turned into an act of self-reinvention. For years, Petterson had been relying on a “conservative” 15-year-old studio portrait from college for her social media profile. But in an era when a social media photo is the first impression you make to the world, she said, that would not do. “I didn’t want a snapshot,” Petterson said. “I wanted something that said I was confident in my own skin and knew my place in the world.”
Petterson turned to a duo of Bay Area photographers, Heidi Margocsy and Tara Baxter, for a series of shoots in which she performed more costume changes than Lady Gaga does at a concert. One look was a wind-swept California waif traversing the golden hillsides in a white lace dress; another was an urban vamp crouching against a warehouse wall in a slinky red Catherine Malandrino number. For her Google+ profile, she wore a theatrical chain-mail top, complete with Kabuki-esque makeup and a gold circlet crown. It was her inner “dark princess,” she said.
“I wanted to convey power,” Petterson said. “I wanted something that makes people stop and say, ‘Maybe I want to look at that a little closer.’”
An exquisite glamour shot can do more than that. It can inspire envy and copycats. “People see images of their friends on social media, on Facebook, and think, ‘God, I want to look that good,’” said Margocsy, whose Petaluma, California-based company, In Her Image Photography, offers “empowerment photography” for women. The company, she said, typically books four or five clients a week and charges up to $1,050 for each daylong session.
“Social media has turned us into this world of approbation,” she added. “I have literally hundreds of clients who say they get the best self-esteem boost when they post one of their images and get over 100 comments. ‘Oh my God, you look like a supermodel.’ Who doesn’t want that?”
Wendi Koble, a video producer in Petaluma, certainly did. After she posted a glamour shot of herself in a black tulle dress, the comments on her Facebook page exploded: “Do you have to post such beautiful pics? I want to see one where you are wearing sweats”; “This is the coolest selfie ever”; or simply, “Va-Va-Voom.”
“That makes it worth every penny,” she said.
Like a tattoo, a glorified head shot can mark a major life transition: a breakup, a milestone birthday, a dramatic change in career direction.
For Amy Wall, who runs a spa in Mendocino, California, a professional selfie was a gift to herself on her 44th birthday. She commissioned four pinup-inspired sessions, including a series of Depression Era-style black-and-white photos (calling to mind the film “Paper Moon”), which she is uploading to her Facebook page one at a time.
“I’ve been hoarding them,” she said. “I leak one out every couple of months, so I can get a little bit of attention at regular intervals.” Since she started posting them, she said, at least 50 Facebook friends have had their pictures professionally done.
This has proved a boon for photographers like Wendy K. Yalom, who was hired by DeVee in Italy. A wedding photographer by training, Yalom has forged a lucrative parallel career in so-called personal branding photography. Since 2010, she said, her business has blossomed from the occasional job for friends to about a dozen shoots a month.
Many clients are entrepreneurs seeking a more sophisticated head shot.
When Genavieve Shingle, a lawyer in New York, started a legal-training program for entrepreneurs this year, she did not want a bland corporate photo to represent her. Instead, she spent multiple days traipsing around New York with two photographers - Laura Volpacchio and Michelle Hayes - camping it up for the camera, including shots with glitter and a blossom of pink balloons, to market herself on her professional site and her Facebook page.
“People buy you, more so than your exact services or goods,” she said. “My business is truly and authentically me, so I wanted to make sure that this came out in my social media presence.”
Indeed, an impact photo is more than just a vanity statement these days, since it’s hard to say where “personal” ends and “professional” begins on Facebook and Twitter, said Sean Behr, a tech entrepreneur in San Francisco. Behr, who started an on-demand valet parking service called Zirx, recently hired Yalom to shoot breezy magazine-like photos that featured him laughing in a V-neck sweater by the Embarcadero waterfront. In tech circles, he said, it’s bad for business to have the wrong profile shot, even on a personal Facebook page.
“Social media is a place where real business is actually happening,” said Behr, 38. “Customers of our business follow me on Twitter, they’re friends on Facebook. If they go see the profiles of this guy in this fake photo, wearing a suit and tie, they’re going to think, ‘Ugh, that’s not who we thought he was.’”
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