I can’t work with Mom anymore

From construction worker to fashion photographer

Photographer Matt Petranovic is grateful for the women in his life, starting with his mom and his sister.
  • Photographer Matt Petranovic is grateful for the women in his life, starting with his mom and his sister.

Shea Marie’s mother didn’t plan for her daughter to become a fashion icon any more than she planned for her son Matt Petranovic to become a fashion photographer. It definitely isn’t what they studied at UCSD. “She’s always stressed,” says Shea, “because nothing is guaranteed for us. She wanted me to be a doctor. She says, ‘You didn’t choose a very stable career path.’”

Their mother should know. “She was a model in L.A. when she was young,” says Matt. And later, she ran a senior portrait business in Valley Center. When Shea started posting photos to her blog showcasing her personal style, “I would wear my mom’s old cowboy boots or a crochet dress that she had, mixed with my own newer stuff — things I found at the Rose Bowl Flea Market and vintage stores. The look was 24/7 Coachella boho festival chick, and it was the right style at the right time.” And at first, it was Mom behind the camera. “But we’re mother and daughter. We’d bicker too much. Matt was still living in San Diego, working construction, and I would tell him, ‘I can’t work with Mom anymore. I need you to practice your photography and move up here full time.’”

He did just that. “We used to go all over the place to find cool locations for her blog stuff. Today” — three years was long enough for him to make shutterbugging the day-job — “I just do her brand stuff. We shoot it together, and I do the editing — which is, like, 50 percent” of photography in the age of the digital tweak. “Most of the time, we get along.”

And that’s the real trick. “A lot of the business is word-of-mouth. There are a lot of great photographers in L.A. who are just as good or better than me. But I’m easy to work with, and I still go the extra mile for everyone.” Done right, over time, a community forms. “There are some other photographers I know on Instagram — Alex Rosenkreuz, Victor Valencia — and we always comment on each others’ photos, because that makes the photos show up more and get more likes. I get jobs for makeup artists I like working with, and even models.”

With models, “my approach is to make sure they’re super comfortable,” which can require some finesse when you’re a guy and she’s a pretty girl in a bit of lace. “A lot of photographers won’t show the models the unedited photos during a shoot because they might get self-conscious about stuff. But I explain exactly how I’m going to edit everything, what I’m going to sift. I think it’s helpful if they can see how they look, maybe see an awkward position they might want to change. Once they’re comfortable, we can maybe get those crazy or cool-looking shots.”

He especially admires Doyenne of Dishabille Ellen von Unwerth, “the way she gets her models to do crazy stuff they wouldn’t do with another photographer. Because of the way she handles it.”

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