How is everyone adjusting to their ‘new normal’ in these unprecedented times?
I wanted to check in and offer support, share resources, and give you all an air-hug. Please don’t hesitate to send us a message if you’re in need of food, shelter, business help, or any other resources. I am here to serve.

Sending love and health to you and your loved ones,

NYC Jazz Musician photographed by Gwendolyn Mercer Photography, a St. Louis Photographer

A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Musician Lauren Lee’s Branding & Album Art Portrait Session

Sitting down for my initial consultation with jazz virtuoso Lauren Lee went a little differently than most of my consults. Lauren was a thousand miles away in Jamaica, Queens, NY. And thus I, like any sensible businesswoman, was excited to wear pajama bottoms for our Facetime meeting. Greeting me with a big, shy smile, Lauren bubbled with excitement as she shared details of her music career, life in New York, and her dreams of being photographed for a huge project that she had been working on. Lauren had just finished recording a new album.

In explaining the backstory behind the title of her new album, Windowsill, she recalled how she combated the loneliness and boredom of her childhood in rural Illinois. Once Lauren described her childhood daydreams to me, I knew that I wanted to work with her on this project. She remembered sitting and looking out her window and imagining that she was anywhere else. Immediately, I saw myself in her place, looking out past my backyard and into the cornfields that surrounded my childhood home. We had that in common. The feelings of wanderlust began early, and as soon as she was old enough to move, she went to New York and spent the next decade laying down new roots. It was there that Lauren began developing her sound.

As Lauren longed to put distance between the days of her past and the streets she walked daily around Queens to her musical tutoring jobs, her performing career was taking her overseas. The daydreams were coming to life. 
After accepting an Artist in Residence appointment in the Alps, the inspiration for new music soon poured out of her and onto the page. Song after song, the words reminiscent of Queens and Brooklyn, mixed with new surroundings, the melodies matching the mountain peaks surrounding her in Switzerland and the rhythm of the New York City streets… Her heart was full. Lauren spent the next few weeks touring across Europe, visiting Bormio, Milan, and eventually Berlin. The album was born.

Musician Lauren Lee photographed by St. Louis Portrait and Personal Branding Photographer Gwendolyn Mercer, Gwendolyn Mercer Photography

In preparation for her session, Lauren sent me a pre-release copy of the album so that I could get a feel for what I needed to create in the photographs. This meant sitting down with headphones and a notebook and writing down my own first impressions, track by track. I wanted to close my eyes and see the music and what it evoked. I pressed “play” and was instantly transported, a passenger on Lauren’s transcontinental journey.

“X-Berg”, (one of my favorite tracks) floats on the inspiration of walking around Berlin’s trendy neighborhood, akin to Bushwick and Williamsburg in NYC.
“Get Off Me”, is Lauren’s second single release, reminiscent of a jazzy Amanda Palmer feminist anthem, but in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It’s so uniquely Lauren, and fresh.
“So Long” was written about Lauren’s fiance, Andrea. “I have everything I’ve ever wanted right here in front of me, I know how lovely life can be“– she sings. It was effortless to picture the two of them holding hands in the street in a montage of beautiful moments, with “So Long” playing in the background.

“She likes the song and she’s been serenaded,” Lauren quipped.

So much of the album felt wild and full of possibility. With every song that passed, I shared in experiencing Lauren’s wanderlust, feeling the heartbeat of the city, the breathtaking glory of the Alps, the love of her relationships, and the strength and defiance of daring to be a queer woman in an industry and a culture that can seem so vastly unwelcoming. 

Photographed by Gwendolyn Mercer Photography, St. Louis, Missouri. NYC Jazz Musician Lauren Lee heralded as a new breed of singer-songwriter in review by Suzanne Lorge
Jazz Musician Lauren Lee heralded as a new breed of singer-songwriter by critic Suzanne Lorge.

After consulting on the feel for the photographs and matching up the vision with the sounds of her music, Lauren and I created a mood board for her session to inspire us and keep us creatively on track.
Lauren looked at examples of my work and pointed out the facets that she loved most– the greens, the nature, the dreamy attributes, the power poses. To this mood board, I added wardrobe choices that Lauren loved, already owned or could purchase local to her. 

Lauren’s branding needed the delicate balance of intentional variety with a cohesive tone.  We wanted to showcase the duality of her provocative, bewitching power as a woman, but also the androgynous fashion of being cloaked in menswear-inspired long coats. She needed headshots and portraits that captured the genius behind songwriting. The captivating strength behind performing and leading a band. The gracefulness and beauty of nature, inspired by her travels, but also a snapshot of the bustling city that started it all. And we had to capture all of this in the Midwestern city of St. Louis, Missouri.

NYC Jazz Musician Lauren Lee having her hair and makeup done for portraits taken by St. Louis Photographer Gwendolyn Mercer

The day of Lauren’s session was seamless. She’d flown in to St. Louis a few days earlier to prepare for a gig she was playing that weekend and we spent extra time looking at the locations I’d chosen that fit the aesthetic she desired. She was thrilled. The weather was cold but everything was planned out perfectly.
When I looked at Lauren’s wardrobe, one specific piece jumped out at me– a bateau-neck, plunging-back, black velvet jumpsuit from the now-defunct American Apparel. Lauren was open to my suggestions, trusting my vision, and when I asked if she’d humor me and try the jumpsuit on backward, she didn’t hesitate. The plunging-V now in front, she channeled the ghost of David Bowie or Freddie Mercury. These ended up being some of her favorite portraits.

Sometimes, the creative process leads artists to choose different images for album artwork than they had originally intended– but Lauren was very deliberate in her choice. We set out to create one specific image to be used as her album cover, and thus the creation of the image was that much more involved. To create a vast landscape, I instructed Lauren to hold her pose as I photographed the scene around her. The resulting image was therefore created out of a composite of 35 full-sized photographic captures, giving Lauren and her label the ability to print a billboard-sized image with unparalleled clarity. A piece of this scale takes planning, communication, and trust. I am so thrilled that Lauren put her faith in me and I was able to create the album artwork that she dreamed of.

 Lauren Lee's Windowsill Album Cover Artwork as photographed by St. Louis Photographer Gwendolyn Mercer, Gwendolyn Mercer Photography
The original album artwork, as created, a combination of 35 full-sized images to create this one portrait.
Non-toxic fog-effect was added using Atmosphere Aerosol and enhanced in post-production.

Working on Lauren’s album artwork has given me a renewed appreciation of the work behind the creation and production of an artist’s music before it ever hits the airwaves. Lauren and I stayed in contact regularly over production updates and deadlines, which enabled me to keep creating content that was relevant to her vision and needs. It’s not often that we get to see behind the curtain– that music we hear and love was sometimes created years before releasing it was even conceived of. Lauren began writing the songs in 2017 and finally sat down to begin recording in her Brooklyn-based studio in August of 2018. Once tracks were finalized, we began planning her session. While I was culling and editing Lauren’s portraits, she was busy getting signed to Ears&Eyes Records, a label based in Chicago, run by creative Matthew Golombisky.

Lauren Lee musician reviews Gwendolyn Mercer Photography, a St. Louis Personal Branding and Portrait Photographer
The kindest words from Lauren about choosing me for her project.

Today you can find Lauren playing gigs around New York with her bandmates Brad Mulholland, Marcos Varela , and Andy O’Neill and preparing to travel across the country on a tour promoting Windowsill.
To hear Lauren closer to home (St. Louis), Lauren will be performing December 4th at The Dark Room.
Pick up a copy of Windowsill on Apple Music, and be sure to follow her Facebook for upcoming gigs.

Do you have a story that you want to share, or a project that you’re working on that needs creative images? Head to Contact now to send me a message and begin planning the session of your dreams.

I want to take a moment to credit everyone involved in the production of Windowsill,
as well as Lauren’s photoshoot:
Photography, Retouching, and Creative Consultation by Gwendolyn Mercer (Hi there!)
Hair and Makeup provided by Alyssa Jean Jordon
All Music composed and arranged by Lauren Lee (BMI)
Performed by Lauren Lee (piano, Rhodes, voice)
Brad Mulholland (alto sax, clarinet, flute)
Marcos Varela (acoustic bass)
Andy O’Neill (drums)
Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Chris Bentham at Big Orange Sheep in Brooklyn, NY.
Album layout by Matthew Golombisky
Album released by indie label Ears&Eyes Records

I deserve to be photographed because it reminds me that I'm worth itI’d like to kick off this blog by sharing about my own personal experience of being in front of the camera. What? A plus-sized photographer that wants to be in photographs? There’s a little more to this than meets the eye, and I’ll walk you through it below.

True Confession: Flashback to just a few years ago, my husband and I were happily married in 2014 in a lovely ceremony surrounded by a few close family and friends… And until last week, those were the most recent portraits taken of my husband and myself. I know, I should be ashamed. Despite being a professional photographer, we’ve had little more than a selfie taken since our wedding.

When I proposed my desire to have updated portraits to my facebook friends, I got a mixed bag of responses. Some of my friends said something along the lines of,  “Eh, it’s just been a few years, it’s not that big of a deal.” The other half nudged encouragingly, “…But look how much you two have changed in all that time. Go for it!” One lovingly misguided relative even hinted that losing weight before having portraits done should have been more of a priority for me. Ouch. Right in the self-esteem.

So which half is right?

The surprise answer is a bit of both. I know, I almost lost you there. Don’t worry, I’ll explain!
Sure, three years isn’t forever. But it very well could be. And okay, I’m physically the heaviest I’ve ever been…. but I am so much more than my weight (can I get an amen?)  I know that I wasn’t put on this planet to lose and gain the same 50 pounds over and over again until I die.  And since when do milestones and special occasions get to be dictated by anyone besides those celebrating them?

When I dream about having portraits of myself and my husband, I’m dreaming big. I imagined wearing some epic, flowing, sequined gown, with my hair up in some amazing style, with my husband looking just as dapper and handsome as ever. I’m a perfectionist, and I don’t like to start things I can’t finish, don’t like to do things that I can’t do exceptionally well, and frequently get in my own way if I anticipate that the end result won’t be flawless… and so for these past three years, I’ve hesitated to put myself and our marriage out there to be photographed. When the possibility for portraits came up, I quickly pushed it away because I definitely needed to lose at least 50,000 pounds before I could let another human point a camera in my general direction. I wasn’t in love with my hair-cut. Well obviously, I told myself, I can’t have portraits done until my hair grows out and I become some kind of land-dwelling mermaid… or until I more closely resemble the famous paintings of Lady Godiva, where she maintains her modesty solely because she’s enrobed in hair. (I mean, that is kind of epic, right?) I realize I’m getting a little too wild here, but I think you get the point. Hearing someone point out that I should lose weight before having pictures done is a clear reminder that how I feel on the inside and how I might appear to some on the outside can be two very different things. If I’m healthy but I don’t look like an athlete– is it worth the trouble of standing in front of a camera? I’m not perfect. So why memorialize the imperfection with pictures?

I asked this question to myself, and the answer echoed back from deep within my soul: Embracing the imperfection is both freeing and necessary. I deserve to exist in photographs because I’m amazing and I said so. The end.  *throws hands up in the air* What if I just ended the blog like that? Wouldn’t that be funny. But for real, you don’t have to debate with yourself whether you have all the prerequisites in order to deserve a day of pampering, beauty, inclusion, and feeling like “everyone else”. You’re here, reading this, because you questioned your worthiness in the first place. Please, trust me when I say– you don’t need to live like that anymore. You’re worthy right now.

If you’re thinking to yourself “I don’t even feel amazing, or confident, or ready,” I want you to know, it’s okay.  I don’t walk around feeling confident in myself all of the time…. but I realized that even on days where I feel like the gum stuck to someone’s shoe, I still get lit up inside when I find other women of any shape or size feeling too self-conscious to allow themselves the freedom to be photographed.
We are always told “Your loved ones only see your smile, your joy, your personality when they look at you!” But the reality for many people is that their loved ones aren’t that supportive or accepting. When that ‘ol relative of mine said I should lose weight before being photographed, it was an important moment because it reminded me that their opinion about my body was completely irrelevant. Hearing them say that was the reality check that I needed to snap back into control of how I feel about myself. Every time that relative or co-worker or aquaintance makes a comment about your body that’s not encouraging or helpful– I want you to use that as a reminder that their opinions don’t matter.

It’s also important to remember that in a lot of ways, it isn’t about me at all. I finally realized, it wasn’t just me that was missing out on having beautiful portraits of my husband and myself. My husband didn’t have those heirlooms of his wife. My parents didn’t have those images of their only daughter. My in-laws didn’t have pictures of their first-born son’s family. My own anxiety about getting on the other side of the camera was causing a ripple effect. It finally occurred to me that I was cheating my loved ones out of what could someday be a priceless family heirloom… A portrait of our little family. And I was cheating myself out of the experience of feeling beautiful, important, and seen. Seen as my best self. Seen for who I truly am on the inside.

Life is not perfect. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And it makes no sense to wait for a day that may never come. I may never transform into a petite, Godiva-esque goddess. I know that someday, in the future, I will want to look back on these portraits and cherish them, and remember the early years of our marriage when we still had so much more to learn about ourselves and each other. And I think being able to look back on these precious moments together, as if I could just turn back time and remember our first formative years together, is absolutely priceless. As an anxious, recovering perfectionist, let me go ahead and assure you: sometimes doing the thing melts the fear away entirely. I’ve lived with this artwork on my walls, looking at our smiling faces, holding our panting dog, holding each other… and I think to myself “What was the big deal, anyway? I’d do this again a million times over.” Sometimes the most rebellious thing you can do is choose to live and love yourself.

Check out our 5 tips for choosing the best photographer for -all- body types, below!

So, are you in the same frame of mind that I was? Can you identify with my story? Maybe I can help.
Here’s some tips that I want to share with you to help you choose a photographer that helps make you feel like a million bucks!
1. Does your photographer do a consultation? Getting to know my clients and how they dream of being photographed is essential to creating images that they love. I wouldn’t dream of going to a photographer that couldn’t make time to speak to me on the phone or in person, discuss my curvy concerns, and assure me that they were experienced with posing plus-sized clients. It’s non-negotiable. As a photographer, I won’t schedule a session until I’ve had a consultation with a new client. This is your chance to word-vomit all of your photo fantasies to me, get my gears turning, and begin creating something incredible together. Why would anyone want to miss out on that?

2. Does your photographer assist with wardrobe styling? It doesn’t take a designer wardrobe to look amazing. When searching for a photographer, I have to know that the person taking my photos has great taste to help me make sure that my portraits don’t look dated or tacky, and can give me an honest opinion about my wardrobe choices. I offer my clients completely personalized wardrobe styling help to fit their body type, portrait style, or brand. Don’t own something you love? I can help you pick something out, rent something amazing, or you can borrow something beautiful exclusive from the studio wardrobe for your session.

3. Does your photographer offer Museum-Quality printed images? Having printed pictures has wholly developed into an essential part of the experience, to me. Walking away from being photographed without knowing that I’m going to have my memories preserved is like going out to dinner, ordering an amazing meal, and immediately throwing it in the trash can. I want to savor this moment. I want to remember this day. I want to keep these photographs forever. That’s the whole point.
My moments are worth photographing, worth remembering, and worth keeping– because it reminds me that I’m worth it, too. 
Before becoming a professional photographer, I spent a lot of time in high school and even early college getting my first prints done at W*lm*rt and W*lgr**ns. I look at those prints now– purpleish black and whites, faded orangey-blue skies…. with a brand new set of eyes. The paper is thinner, cheaper, warped, discolored. In just fifteen years, it’s faded. The quality is no comparison against what I can create now as a professional. Can you imagine getting something truly important printed only to have it deteriorate in such a short amount of time? Your family is worth having a legacy. Your family is worth having your images last for a lifetime or more.  I spent more than a year ordering samples of paper and matting from around the world, discernibly picking and choosing. I can say with confidence that my paper and my mats are Museum-Quality, and the best in the world. Your framed portraits will live on in your family for generations.

4. Does your photographer let you only buy what you love? Spending money on filler images that you’re not in love with is as frustrating as a bag of chips that is 90% air and 10% chips. Choose your images and only take home what you fall in love with. It should be that simple.

5. Does your photographer know how to accentuate the positive? Are they body-positive, encouraging, and experienced with different body types? Let’s face it. Professional quality portraits require the know-how of someone experienced in posing, accentuating your beauty, your curves, and most importantly, making sure you feel as comfortable as possible. Whether the images are for personal or professional purposes, all bodies deserve the attention of kind eyes and a gentle heart to guide them.
Let me say that again– all bodies are WORTHY. You are worthy!

I love my clients and helping create reminders of your strength, beauty, and worthiness gives me the utmost joy.
Make sure that you work with someone who makes you feel seen and important.
Because you are, and because you absolutely deserve it.

Thanks for reading my story, and I hope my tips help you find a professional photographer that gives you and your family the best service and portraits worthy of being called your family heirlooms.



Phone: (314) 384-6501
Instagram @GwendolynMercerPhotography
St. Louis Body-Positive Photographer

Welcome to the newly updated and spiffed up! Updating the website took a few months because everything was switched over from an old tumblr account to my own hosting site. Thanks for your patience during the transition!

On this site, we will be able to host a shop where you can buy limited edition, signed, high-quality prints of original artwork. At this time, visitors can submit queries, request information, or book appointments, after taking a look at the portfolio.

Thanks for checking us out!

Don’t forget to check updates on Facebook here.