Shannon Presti needs to be working with her hands. It is a realization that came to her while she was doing the exact opposite, “Sitting behind a desk – it made me grey.”
A photographer and artist, Presti needed to be doing what she loved, which was to create, “A paycheck is nice, don’t get me wrong – I like that – but it became a choice. Would I rather be sitting at a computer all day or actively shooting a wedding?” For Presti, the decision was a no-brainer.
“It is such a high to do something meaningful. I never got that from working on a computer.” She realizes that, for some, finding their passion is hard to figure out, and Presti feels very lucky to know what she wants to do, “I want to be a photographer,” she says with conviction, “I want to be an awesome photographer.”
“My parents have always been an advocate of doing what makes you happy and if you’re doing what makes you happy, you’ll figure the rest out,” and cites them as having influenced a lot of what she’s done toward finding and fulfilling her passion of being a working artist.
Her journey began when she studied Art Education in college, but quickly found that there were too many obstacles preventing her from doing what she wanted to do. She didn’t want to have to keep jumping hurdle after hurdle, class or test to reach that goal, “I was told I had to go back to Grad School in order to become a teacher. I didn’t want to go back to school. I wanted to work – I wanted a job.”
Seven years ago, she got her wish when she was asked to photograph a wedding, “My friend, Karen, kind of pushed it for me. I don’t know that I would have done weddings so soon if not for hers.” Presti knew she would have always done photography, but she didn’t know she would follow the path of wedding photography. Not only did she walk that path, she’s making it her livelihood.
She weaves the friend mentality from that first wedding into every wedding she gets hired to photograph, “The more comfortable the bride and groom are, the better the pictures are.” She loves to know the couple, to see their relationship and share that day with them. “Everybody’s happy,” she says and loves to be responsible for capturing that happiness.
Even though that first bride approached her more as a friend then as a photographer, Presti found the praise from the pictures to be quite the ego boost. She realized, “I am good at this – I should be doing this.” From there, she created Shannon Presti Photography and says she will go anywhere to shoot a wedding. She has already photographed one in Wisconsin and is hoping to book another in Chicago. Word of mouth is how her business is expanding.
She likes the pressure that comes with shooting weddings, “You only have that day,” and the diversity provides a welcome challenge since every wedding is different and every couple is different, and it’s never the same project over and over again, “It is so rewarding for me to get hired, to do it, and then for them to be so happy and write me this incredible testimonial. I love it – I really love it.”
Presti’s love for establishing a relationship with her subjects is not exclusive to weddings. Recently, she was asked to do a painting for her cousin and his wife. They commissioned her to do a painting that was an expression of them as a couple. They told her a couple things about where they were from and gave her a couple of elements to work with, “The painting was so awesome and so personal and so special to do because I knew them and was a symbol of them. It’s not like I was doing a painting for painting’s sake, and the result was so meaningful. I want to do more of them.”
Her mentor was the late David Frame, another Doylestown artist, and he told her that she needed to find a niche. Once she did so, the clients would follow. He said she couldn’t be a wild freelance artist who dabbles in everything, “Without even knowing it, I picked Doylestown.”
To distinguish herself, she tries to move away from, what she dubs, the ‘Country Kitchen-ish’ look that is so heavily associated with Bucks County style. She’s trying to take a more modern approach that reminds her of Doylestown. The feeling, she hopes, will rub off on her customers. “Doylestown is special to people,” she proclaims. Her prints of the County Theater are the most popular, namely a print awash in a sepia hue. The color choice is something that makes the commonly photographed landmark stand out from all the others, “I love that I capture these iconic Doylestown images that are not only important to me but other people also enjoy them.”
In addition to Shannon Presti Photography, she also created The Doylestown Store, a website featuring those iconic Doylestown images, “After travelling as much as I’ve travelled around the United States, Doylestown is special and it’s special to a lot of people.” Born and raised there, Presti says, “That subject matter is very me.”
At present, Presti is working on a series of paintings, but that project is something she finds more important to do for herself, “If I’m not creating with my hands, I’m not happy. It’s like some chemical is released in my brain.” She believes creating for herself takes priority over doing it for any job, “When it’s a job it’s a pressure; when it’s for you, it’s for your soul.”
She also works part-time to supplement her income so that the other part of the time, “I can satisfy my brain and my soul.” She finds it frustrating to read that artists like Renoir had no money and yet could somehow afford to paint all day, “Believe me, I want to paint all day, but I have bills to pay.”
Long term, though? “I want people to know my artwork. I want them to feel some sort of connection to it, and if they can find a connection with that artwork in any way, then I would be happy.”