PHOTOESSAY: Stunning Portraits From Portland’s Vev Studios Showcase Every Woman’s Beauty

Vev Studios, a photography studio based in Portland, Oregon, aims to provide something more than just glamour shots. Instead they seek truly unique experiences that make any woman, however she identifies along the gender spectrum, a true and honest portrait that reflects not only her beauty but her personality. Co-founder and owner Gia Goodrich describes it like this:

In starting a business that’s in service to our community of women it’s always been important that we consciously expand traditional ideas of what that means. My business partner Jillian and I have had many conversations about how to be as welcoming as possible. Asking ourselves, how we can have a business that is about women without excluding people within the queer community? We arrived at defining women as, “people who do or have identified as such in any way or at any time.” It’s not a perfect solution, but we’re hoping that combining it with reflecting queer-identified people in our portfolio that we are showing folks that we’d love to work with them, whether they want to feel beautiful, handsome, or both.

For myself, as a queer person, I am acutely aware of the limiting notions of beauty that are perpetuated in most of the images we see. It’s important for us to reflect the diversity that exists in the world, including the amazing fluidity in gender expression and identity. For our portfolio shoot we photographed my partner Sarah. For me, she is a great example of someone who’s had a hard time feeling accepted because of her physicality, making it a wonderful opportunity for us to find out what makes her feel the most attractive, and embody that in an image.

Before and After shoot with Sophie, a queer identified Portland native

Before and After shoot with Sophie, a queer identified Portland native

Sophie is the first of three before and after images that show how the models are stylized to play up the features they most want to embody. This gives you an idea of how Goodrich not so much transforms these people, but helps them fully realize the image they want to portray.

Below are just a smattering of the women that Goodrich has worked with, many of whom identify as queer. They submitted stories about their experience with Vev and how Goodrich’s vision has made them feel beautiful, without taking away from their gender or other identities. While each has their own message there is one that applies universally: We can all be models.


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Sarah

“I was really nervous sitting in the chair getting my makeup done. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a Drag King who loves some makeup, but I really wanted to appear authentic and make sure my boi look wasn’t too feminized. Kelliana redefined what I call beautifully handsome … The moment I saw my picture, I could not stop staring at it. That was me. Every shape, attitude, and emotion. Me. It reminded me the importance of authenticity and the beauty behind it all. That in my risk to be open to someone else, beauty happened…”


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Lynsea

“I hide my face in pictures usually and if someone does have the chance to snap a picture I typically look uneasy and awkward, causing me to be even more fervent in hiding myself from the camera … For young women my age we’re constantly bombarded by images of perfection. I’ve always hoped in the back of my mind that it was possible but never truly believed it could be. This shoot has completely changed the way I see myself.”


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Desiree

“As the young mother of twins I have had a lot of body identity issues, but growing up I always felt very confident when it came to my physical appearance. I always got attention for my brown skin and big curly hair and skinny but curvy body, it wasn’t until I became pregnant that I really started to struggle with the changes my body was going through and all the things I never knew would not ever be the same again … Posing was a little hard for me as I am no model and have no idea what looks good in a professional shoot but Gia took charge as I desperately was hoping she would and made me feel like a superstar … When I first saw my photos I was in shock, I thought to myself ‘ummm who is that and how can she be in my life everyday.’ This shoot made me feel beyond beautiful … ”


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Jillian

“I’ve never been one to wear much makeup, if any at all — somehow I feel trapped under a layer of foundation. Yet I’ve often felt that I don’t measure up to other women, especially those who spend the time on perfect hair and makeup … Seeing everything that goes into creating a beautiful fashion image was a bit shocking — to see that an unnatural process (lighting, posing, makeup) is able to create a very natural looking image, opened my eyes to the reality of the imagery we see everyday in media … Seeing myself in this way has been unexpectedly freeing — I have finally proven to myself that I am beautiful, which somehow feels like permission to truly be myself, and be proud of who I am.”


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Binky

“I am a tall and curvy-bodied 28-year old queer woman. Growing up in Georgia, traditional ideas of femininity were ever-present; skinny, blond, heavily made-up, always in a dress and heels. Being heavier set made me incredibly self conscious and I struggled with body image issues until I moved to Portland four years ago. I used to always shy away from having my picture taken, and when I did pose I often opted for the much-maligned “duck face” to make my cheeks look thinner and my lips look poutier … Although I felt gorgeous during the entirety of the shoot, I had no idea how stunning the outcome would be … Every time I look at the photos I can’t help but well up with self-pride and happiness … It will change the way you look at yourself in the most positive way.”


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Wendy

“I am an amateur photographer and am not comfortable facing the lens end of a camera. I’ve looked at this face for 58 years and have never been impressed with my image. Though I was posed while photographed, the finished product looks like I just turned and she snapped the image. It was very positive and uplifting to see how make up, shooting angles and pure talent create wonderful images.”


Vev is currently in the middle of their Kickstarter Campaign, going until September 14th if you want to be a part of making Vev a reality for all women.

For more information on Vev Studios visit their website and to hear some more in depth thoughts on fashion, gender, photography and more check out their blog.

Alley Hector is a writer and Web Developer based in Portland, Oregon where she has lived since the dawn of queer time. Past projects have included editing Just Out magazine and founding and editing local queer news and events blog qPDX.com. When she's not pursuing nerdy hobbies you can find her enjoying a microbrew at a vintage arcade or running around town on her little 80s Bridgestone road bike. Get in touch with Alley on Twitter or Instagram.

Alley has written 20 articles for us.

15 Comments

  1. This is great. I’m so grateful for Autostraddle, you just get it. I hope this reaches adolescents that may be struggling with feeling confident. High School was such a rough time for me and if I had seen something like this then, it would probably be life changing.

  2. I feel like this project is really well-intentioned, but needs to clarify and focus on a few points:
    1) “any woman, however she identifies along the gender spectrum” completely contradicts itself: identifying/feeling comfortable using “she”/”her” pronouns is not even an experience shared by all self-identified “women”, not to mention the “people who do or have identified as [women] in any way or at any time.” described by the cofounder.
    2) in relation to #1, the “people who do or have identified as [women]” is shown to be limited to a pretty narrow selection of individuals…
    **only critical cause i love ya autostraddle

    • I don’t want to speak for Gia but I do understand the use of the word woman and, to a certain extent, she/her. This project (and similar projects) are meant to be inclusive but also highlight the “woman” as an important aspect, however you want to claim the word. Both the word and the person are still not equal in society and I think it is important to highlight the concept of woman as who we want to empower and cater to in a project such as this.

      I am a masculine of center genderqueer but I don’t mind/embrace use of she/her (this part is a personal example not a bigger statement like the rest of this comment) because I think it is important to remember, empower and put forth the female/feminine/etc in this culture as worthy of acknowledgement and space in text and spoken language.

      Balancing inclusivity and a fem-positive language can be tough which is why phrases that don’t seem to make sense actually do such as “…women of all genders…” So in that way anyone that wants to be associated with a project for women may, but the term woman is still at the forefront. Some people who don’t readily identify as women may want to be a part of such a project, others may not. That’s up to them. But I do think addressing women, who are so often at the mercy of traditional beauty standards, is the point in a context such as this.

    • Hi charls,

      Thanks for bringing up these points. You’re right in that I didn’t expound upon the different pronouns that are used by many of the individuals that are important to showing the diversity of people that we’d love to work with. Sometimes I am more concerned with trying to get the idea across that important factors aren’t included. That’s a shortcoming that I am continually working on.

      Also, our name, VEV is derived from Genevieve meaning “of the race of women.”
      As a business our focus is working with a population that is related to at least in some part, to a female gender. It gets back to questions about female-coded spaces and exclusion, which is a contentious topic within our community. For me, I see it as a way of articulating our focus. However, I would not turn someone away who wants to works with us because of how they identify.

      Again, I really appreciate your comment. You’re bringing up great points that will help me to better articulate things in the future, and examine possible limitations that we may have set unintentionally.

  3. While I recognize the great amount of talent these photographers have, I’ve gotta ask — as a business, what kind of people do you expect to represent? Your clientele are strictly going to be of a class that would have financial and cultural access to having their glamour shots taken (in addition to professions that require headshots). I’m not really sure how groundbreaking that is.

    • yeah, I’ve got to confess I feel kinda confused here. There are people who do glamour photographs everywhere, if you have the money to pay for them. This is to build a business, it’s not some kind of nonprofit service.

    • Hi Ex-ah,

      I completely get what your saying. We didn’t get a chance to go into it in the article, but one thing that we have thought about that you bring up is access. As a business, you are completely right, the majority of our clients are in a financial position to pay for our services. That said, we have structured our pricing in a way that facilitates photo shoots for clients who can’t afford it because it’s not like they deserve it any less. It’s something that I think about a lot, because I’ve never been able to afford something like this and neither can the majority of my friends.

      This is the business side of what I do, but as an artist I also create different work that addresses gender in a different way http://bit.ly/embodied_portraits

      Sky Pistol from the Embodied Portrait Series By Gia Goodrich

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