The happy couple is in a canoe, smiling, lovingly holding on to each other as the sun sets in the west. In the river beside them is their photographer, Sharon Coker, wearing jeans, holding on to what appears to be a black trash bag with holes in it. Inside is her camera. Coker will tell you she’s not afraid to get dirty — or, in this case, wet.
Self-taught in photography and creativity, Coker brings that daring attitude to Fondren’s Mitchell Avenue this month where she’ll be right at home among funky, hip and fun. It’s also a perfect description of this fiery, bubbly red head who says she’ll pretty much do whatever she has to get what she needs to get.
A Brandon native, Coker came home after two years at Ole Miss to help care for an ailing family member. She had taken one film photography class there and knew she would focus on art — somehow, some way.
Her brother, sports photographer Robert Smith, gave her her first “real deal” camera as a wedding gift in 2007. That present — and husband Adam’s prodding — was the encouragement she needed to leave her medical billing job and follow her dream.
Coker started shooting portraits and weddings very traditionally to get hired. But over time, she has developed a style that can be described by the photos themselves: freeing, modern – beautiful.
When it comes to weddings, Coker says people are trying to get away from same old-same old. “My clients are more open-minded, especially as it comes to weddings that are tied to ritual,” she explains. “Everything is changing, from what you wear to the music. As couples get younger, so does the mindset. I’m fun and most of time, they like my approach to being fun.”
It also helps that Coker sees love for what it is and doesn’t have reservations about the shape it takes. “Love is love. I don’t have a judgmental view and I’m not scared of anything.” She already has 18 weddings booked for 2014 — and that’s before this weekend’s Premiere Bridal Show at the Jackson Convention Complex. She says, “I’m busy and blessed.”
Coker is detail oriented. From flowers to lashes to tips of shoes, people love that she captures the often missed moments of a very special day. “Being a bride (just five years ago), I never got to see anything on my wedding day,” she laughs. “It was a huge blur! People are shooing you from the cake to the dancing, so I try to document everything you might miss.”
Having a studio has been a dream for years. Her new digs on Mitchell, in the former Shoebar at Pieces location, will give Coker freedom to explore another side of her business, something she calls “out of the ordinary.” “I want it to be so out of the box,” she says of her conceptual fashion photography. “I want it to be more than standing around modeling clothes. I have so many ideas and I’m itching to get them out.”
Helping her to flesh out those visions will be long-time pal, stylist and makeup artist Kate McNeely, co-owner of Coker’s next door neighboring business, Trim Salon. Models will go through hair and makeup and simply walk across the parking lot for a shoot, something Coker says was a no-brainer when deciding on a location for her studio.
It also helps that Coker says she already feels at home here. “With Kate at Trim, Jamie (Ainsworth) at Mulberry Dreams, the baristas at Sneaky Beans and Jason (Thomas) at Electric Dagger, there’s a group of people here just like me,” she says. “I love this little place.”
Tentatively opening the studio the first week of February, Coker says her walls will be a revolving display of local art and other photographers’ works. Counting Josh Hailey and Robby Followell among her influences, Coker says she wants to extend her arms to folks in the area to see if they want to collaborate. “This town has become a hubbub of good people. I want to embrace them because I want to be in this community a long time.”
A grand opening block party is planned for spring with food, a band, photo sessions and more. Visit www.sharoncoker.com or follow Sharon Coker Photography on Facebook and Instagram to see more of her work.