Meet Photographer Anna Marie Bolet – Go Big Or Go Home
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Meet Photographer Anna Marie Bolet – Go Big Or Go Home

- edited by: Glenn Shuck

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Hi, I’m Anna Marie! I was born in Vero Beach and some time after that my family ended up in Miami. I grew up, moved away and went to college, where I grew up some more and learned about important stuff like student loans and what not to say during a corporate job interview. I’ve lived in lots of different cities (and countries), and began to realize that photos are more fun to collect than souvenirs.

Hey Anna Marie. So cool to meet you and excited to hear more of your story. Kick it off and tell us in what part of First Coast do you reside now and how long have you lived there? 

South Jacksonville – back and forth since 2000

Why did you get into photography? 

Right around the time my father was diagnosed with ALS, I decided I wanted to pursue the American Dream and start my own photography business. I at least had the sense to know that I didn’t know anything so I began to work with a mentor and local photographer in his studio. Now let me start by saying that while my father had a Nikon FE2 film camera with all the bells and whistles, he was terrible at photography. All of our images growing up are what he described as ‘In the Moment’ and that generally meant our ‘moments’ involved me beating up on my older brother with a mouth full of food. Of course, now those images are some of my favorites. While Dad was no photographer he certainly had a discerning taste. One day, I asked him to look at my ‘portfolio’ which was a grand total of 5 images. He was very intentional about looking through these photos and after a long pause, he turned and said, “Anna Marie, never stop’. I am so grateful for his encouragement and I can not tell that story without crying. Did you know, the brain immediately begins to forget what a person looks like after they die? As we scrambled through our collection of old, printed photos in our desperation to keep his image alive, I realized that my mission as a photographer was to Document Love for others. And create giant wall art of this love so you never have to lose it through the passage of time. 

What photographers are your biggest influences? How did they affect who you are and how you create? 

My biggest influences are my mentors, Peter Hurley and Sarah Petty. They are both talented photographers who’ve developed coaching programs with resources that help me develop both my skills as a creator and as a small business owner. My approach to headshots is entirely influenced by Peter. I don’t care who you are, you deserve at least ONE amazing image of yourself and the best way to do that is to align with a photographer that will banter with you to help draw out the twinkle in your eyes. Sarah is quite literally a Titan in the world of marketing. I wouldn’t be a profitable business if it weren’t for her coaching program and the community of professional photographers that make up that group. 

How long have you been shooting? How do you feel you’ve evolved since you started? 

Remember when Life Magazine was printed in that large format? My grandparents gifted me with a subscription for my birthday when I was 12 and I believe one of the 1st copies I got featured all of Robert Capa’s photos of the Spanish Civil War. My family escaped Europe during this time period and seeing those powerful images really made a lasting impression. I believe I am very much influenced by the need to capture the emotion in an image. 

Tell us about your photographic identity. You know you as a person have an identity that fundamentally makes you who you are. Tell us about that as a photographer: 

How an image FEELS is way, waaaay more important to me than what it looks like. As photographers, the more we learn, the more skills we pick up and the more we want to play and show off. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the technical aspect of what makes an image good that we may forget about our subject and how much they contribute to the creation. In the end, I can not create artwork without you. I want to tell your story, not mine. 

Tell us about the gear that you’re using. Please give us a list with reasons why you choose it. Please be descriptive. We want to know how it helps you translate your creative vision: 

My 1st love is the Nifty Fifty. I enjoy connecting with my subject and I don’t see how I can do that from 8ft away with a zoom lens. That lens requires me to lean in and be very present. For portrait work, I use a 70 – 200mm f/2.8. I like to set it at 90mm and I stand probably less than 2 ft away.

If I’m working with a dancer, I carry the 24 – 70mm f/2.8 lens because it’s versatile, fast, and relatively light enough to carry for an extended period of time.

Recently, we got rained out at a session on Big Talbot Island. If you’ve ever been there you know that the trail leading to the beach is a 15-minute hike. I had 2 assistants plus a wagon full of lights and equipment. I can not tell you how important it is to carry a few large plastic garbage bags with you and a few golf umbrellas. The sky opened up in a crazy tropical storm kinda way that only happens in Florida, and we could’ve lost it all. I’ll upload a picture of my equipment as it dried on the living room floor. 

Natural light or artificial light? Why? 

Photography literally means ‘written in light’. I like both natural and artificial for different reasons. I started off as a concert photographer – that was quite literally chasing the light! If you ever find yourself on the other side of my lens for a headshot, you will literally be engulfed in light. 

Why is photography and shooting so important to you? 

I’ve had several career changes. With each one, I was settling. I love what I do now. LOVE it.  I think Wyclef Jean puts it quite lyrically when he sings about that kind of love, …if this the kind of love that the old folks use to warn me about, man I’m in trouble…”

What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically.

It’s very important for me that you come away from a session having had a great experience. I create finished artwork, meaning my clients hire me to create giant wall art of their favorite photographs. These are meant to bring JOY every day that you look at them and become heirloom pieces that your children will want to take with them to college. Memory starts to fade but the impression we make on each other lingers on. 

Please walk us through your processing techniques. 

Ooof – here’s the most important step you can ever make in your process – have a collection of memory cards for your camera and once you’re finished with a session DO NOT format that card until you have delivered your finished artwork.

What made you want to get into your genre? 

I started a campaign to promote my studio where I am photographing 40 women in their 40s, 50s & 60s+. The idea came to me while doing a boudoir session for a client that was so shy and self-conscious that she even canceled the week before. It made me reflect upon why we as women carry so much head trash imposed on us by social media and other people. Here I had this gorgeous, talented, highly educated, and successful lady in her 50s succumbing to a complete myth. As I held space for her and coached her through, I bore witness to a woman truly coming into her own power. I knew this was something that all of us could benefit from. 

What photographer (current or historical) do you draw the most inspiration from? 

When dancers hired me as I was 1st starting out, my idea was to get them OUT of the boring studio and into the urban setting. Together we explore the juxtaposition of something as delicate as a ballerina, wearing combat boots leaping across a graffiti backdrop. Then I started taking my clients to crowded spaces like car dealerships and Jacksonville International Airport on Black Friday (we actually got asked when we’d return). Dancers are very lyrical and tell a story with their bodies. It’s thrilling to be able to document this type of storytelling and this has evolved into my brand. I draw a lot of inspiration from Jordan Matter. You should look him up and then tell me how my work compares.

What do you think is the most important component to producing great results? (camera, lens, light, editing, location, artistic vision, etc.)? 

Camera, lens, lighting, editing, location, and artistic vision mean absolutely nothing unless YOU are in the right mindset. I can not help to infuse myself into a creation. Look, in every session at least 3 things go wrong. I’ve worked with photographers that can’t handle surprises and it not only affects their mental health but it may translate into an image that just doesn’t feel right. Those photographers that leverage snafus are the ones that create real magic. It is truly a metaphor for Life itself. 

What outside (non-photographic) influences (if any) shape your photography? 

An underlying sense of humor. That and an 80’s playlist filled with INXS, Depeche Mode, Bryan Ferry, The Police, and some Hendricks for good measure.

What is the goal of your photography? (A business, just to share on social media, gateway to adventure, etc.)? 

My goal is to create dynamic, personality-driven images of you and your loved ones that you will enjoy throughout a lifetime. 

What is the best way for photographers to network? 

Where a name tag. I totally feel like a dork wearing mine but dang if it doesn’t lead to some awesome relationships. One of the first things Sarah Petty teaches in her business coaching is to raise money through our photography for a LOCAL charity. This requires a lot of door-knocking and talking to other local business owners for sponsorship. This year I raised money for K9s For Warriors through pet photography. Talk about stretching my skill set! In service to my community, I got to meet and partner with other small businesses with the same goals in mind. I’d say that was networking on steroids!

Do you shoot with your editing style in mind, or do you edit based on the shot that you got? 

That depends a lot on the type of session we’re doing. But I do edit based on the emotion I want to invoke. For instance, your family holding a group hug, laughing and enjoying themselves, looks stunning as a giant black & white wall portrait and is an heirloom for generations to come. 

Do you enjoy books? If so, any specific genre? 

Give me anything written that takes place during the Spanish Civil War which was the precursor to WW2. There’s a documentary that quite literally mirrors my life and experience as the granddaughter of survivors of this war, The Mexican Suitcase. It follows the discovery of 4000 film negatives created during the Spanish Civil War by photographers David Seymour, Gerda Taro, and Robert Capa and brings the imagery of the stories my family told me to life. 

What is your favorite photographic accomplishment? 

Okay so I’ve won some awards but that’s not why I do what I do. It just so happens that my photography helped propel a local small business owner into a different market. That was his goal. As a business owner, I get a lot of satisfaction from helping others meet their goals as I am meeting mine. Lift as you climb! 

What advice would you give someone who just picked up their new camera on how to get started?

I met Robert Hann in The Village a few years ago. His work is very colorful and whimsical. He does many landscapes and his approach is quite photojournalistic and humorous. I’ll never forget what he said to me as I purchased one of his prints. At the time I was knee-deep in a soul-sucking corporate job and had not picked up my camera in years. He encouraged me to dust off my old camera and to just ‘keep shooting’.

If you had a question you would like to ask another photographer what would it be? 

OMGOSH so many -like what was your breakthrough moment? When did you turn a corner in your business? 

What has been your biggest challenge as a small business owner?

In 2022, I experienced a tremendous growth spurt in my business. I had been implementing the formula Sarah Petty teaches and suddenly I went from 1 client a month to several, doing every type of photography you can think of. I felt uneasy with the volume of clients I took on since my primary focus is fine art print. Everything needed a rehaul from time management to workflows and as my work week began to approach a 70-hour week, I began to burn out.

And then I got struck from behind in traffic and the impact resulted in a traumatic brain injury. I metaphorically went from going a mile a minute with my hair on fire to ZERO in an instant.

I was forced to stop everything in my life as new symptoms emerged almost daily. I was disoriented and dizzy. Loud noises and bright lights made me irritated. I felt nauseated most of the time and I cried a lot. As the days turned to night, I couldn’t remember the events that transpired the day before. Even my vision was affected! Those first 6 weeks post-concussion were a blur and I slept quite a bit. My health and getting back to some form of normalcy ranked #1 as I had to stop working. I was fortunate that my portrait clients waited on me to return, but I still needed to hustle to keep things afloat. For a young business like mine, taking a quarter off from work could have been the end.

I discovered a lot about brain injuries and how they affect the entire human system. Since I had no choice but to heal, I spent a lot of time, mostly the entire month of September, in meditation. I had been a member of one of the local BNI chapters and several of these members came out of the woodwork to help or connect me with people who could. I met too many people who had experienced concussions and found that they were all too common. I made it my mission to come back in full force and become an advocate. Before my injury, I knew I wanted to raise money for injured vets and after the injury, my resolve grew stronger.

Also, I came closer to God. I had no choice in the matter. It was either I would succumb to my symptoms and lose everything I’d built or I’d believe in the power to heal and take some sort of responsibility in that journey.

I let go of the fear of losing my business. Honestly, I didn’t truly know if what I was doing was actually working but after almost 3 months away, I bore witness to the fact that my business was working on my behalf. All the networking and all the work I had put into it before the accident paid off.

The most important lesson was that this injury reminded me to be more open and empathetic toward others. Life can turn on a dime. Everything you think you know can get erased. But the true constants in this universe are Love and Gravity and that is what holds us together. 

Is there anyone you’d like to recognize?

You know, I’d also like to recognize some of our local pro photographers here in NEFL as well as some local businesses who have partnered up with me to help me along the way. These ladies provide inspiration to me in ways they may not even be aware of.  I once absent-mindedly strolled into Pompy Portrait Studios believing it was an empty studio space. The lovely owner/photographer, Angelica Pompey was getting ready to do a portrait session with a family. She was so gracious about showing me around the studio of which she indeed rents out to other photographers. Also, Sarah Heddon is a juggernaut. I have not met her in person yet but I was honored to have been nominated as Best of Bold City in the category she has won many times over. I’ve reached out to her on various occasions with a referral for a client I couldn’t take on or even just as a lifeline. Business ownership can be lonely if you let it and it’s just nice to know that I can reach out to these ladies if I need it. As for small businesses, Pelindaba is locally owned by a lovely lady named Heather who helped to sponsor my latest fundraiser and shout out to sponsor Jeanette , owner of Old City Hammocks for her love of dogs and belief in the almighty. Deb and Lisa played a big role in helping me to coordinate my Pooch Playoffs fundraiser and hosted space for me to photograph at their facility. Then there’s Bridget, The Great Connector over at Hydra Pools, watch as that small but mighty business grows in the coming years. The owner of Dream Release Consulting, Tomitchel, played a huge role in helping me win some pretty hefty commercial contracts when I was convalescing after a concussion last summer. Of course, there are countless more, but I’d be here all night listing them. It just felt weird and self-centered not to bring them up. 

What’s the best thing for you about living on the First Coast? 

We live in Paradise. Of course, this paradise turns into a humid oven in July but central air was practically invented here, no? 

How can we see your work?
Instagram – Anna Marie Bolet Photography
FB – Anna Marie Bolet

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