Upon entering Lady Luck Photography Studio, it’s easy to feel instantly right at home.
That’s because of Jennifer McCready’s vibrant personality and the electric energy she brings to any room she’s in.
She greets her clients, who become her fast friends, with a warm smile as tunes—usually McCready’s favourites from the ‘80s—pump from a speaker.
There’s an older-looking but comfortable sitting area to the left of the large room, hundreds of 1950s-inspired props neatly organized to the right, a growing collection of vintage outfits hanging from several racks that would make fashionista’s heart flutter, and rows upon rows of heels to choose from.
A consultation is held first to get to know each client, discuss wardrobe and props, and a theme is agreed upon.
On the day of a photo shoot, the magic begins the minute a woman steps inside the studio. As she slips into clothing carefully selected by McCready, her business partner, stylist Deanna Spencer-Walker steps in to do her hair and makeup in such a way that accentuate her best features.
The results are the 1940s and ‘50s-inspired photographs that McCready hopes will serve as a reminder to these women they are beautiful, whether they are a size two or a size 20.
The struggle to find confidence and self-worth in a society filled with self-doubt, where it feels like being skinny is considered the only beautiful option is one that McCready relates to all-too-well.
“I was put into a corner, beat up, tormented and told I wasn’t good enough. I never commanded enough respect, even though I deserved it and I let people walk all over me,” she explains, adding she experienced emotional and physical abuse during her school years because of her size.
It’s these years that shaped McCready as a person, and ultimately led to her decision to use her camera to help other people—other women like McCready.
Over a decade ago, the photographer who is often recognized in Niagara for her blue and black-styled hair, started her own business with the intention of helping women of all shapes and sizes from all walks of life feel good about themselves by transforming them into pin-up girls.
The term pin-up girl was coined during the Second World War. As the soldiers went off to war, they often clipped and pinned up photos of movie starlets such as Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, and Betty Grable.
The photos, known for their tasteful, bright and cheeky tone, gave the soldiers a brief distraction from the gruesome war they were fighting day after and day.
Years later after her experiences at school, McCready was given her own opportunity to be a pinup girl for her photographer friend who asked her to model. The experience completely changed her perspective and gave her a goal.
“My life literally changed when I did my own photo shoot,” McCready explains that she finally saw what she really looked like.
“I wanted to change the lives of other women like mine had been changed, and so I kept dreaming about it.”
Capturing the most vulnerable moments
McCready has a knack for making women feel comfortable in their own skin, and that is evident in the hundreds of photos she has taken, capturing many women in their most vulnerable moments. Sometimes that’s dressed up like a pin-up girl, and other times it’s covered in paint, or stripped down in underwear and a tank top.
Behind each image, there is more than a beautiful face. There is a story to tell, and many of those stories are shared on McCready’s photography website.
McCready has recently begun offering what she calls special therapeutic photography sessions for people who have dealt with mental health issues.
While she doesn’t have a proper name for the types of sessions she does, McCready says she will do anything she can to help end the stigma surrounding mental health, anxiety and depression.
Not long ago, she photographed a young son, and his mother, a woman suffering from postpartum depression. The photos are meant to serve as a reminder of the battle the woman overcame with depression, and more importantly, capture the endless love between mother and child.
Another woman, Natalie, diagnosed with Body Image Dysmorphia, Binge Eating Disorder, and Anorexia bared her wrists, and protruding bones in what is honest but beautiful images McCready shot during another session.
These sessions have been life-changing, McCready says, and gives people a chance to talk about their mental health in a safe environment. To be able to talk about their problems, McCready says it helps them in a way that can never be measured.
“I’m happy I can do this for other people. It sounds kind of cheesy, but I just know I was put here on this earth to do this,” she says.
I’ll do anything I can to help people feel better.”
What McCready has learned during her time in the business of helping other women is that life can be a struggle. But what heals her is the ability to help and give hope to others.
Starting her own business
The Smithville resident recently celebrated her third anniversary at her Greater Fort Erie studio and the daily grind to turn a passion for photography and helping other women find self-worth and turning it into a business wasn’t easy.
She opened her first studio in Dunnville, and later moved to St. Catharines before she set up shop in downtown Ridgeway at 296 Ridge Road North.
It was the right decision because the business community there “is very supportive, and everyone supports each other,” McCready explains.
“What really makes a difference in running a business is working with other local businesses and I found that here. Everyone is willing to help each other, and I love Ridgeway.”
McCready does anywhere from one to two pin-up style shoots a week during busier months. While women and promoting female empowerment is her focus, she also does engagement, glamour, maternity, business and family photography during the slower times to ensure she can keep her business going.
There’s little free time for McCready, who considers her job to be 24-hours a day. She generates most of her business through word-of-mouth. Her constantly buzzing phone demands an immediate response because if she delays, McCready may have lost a customer.
Not only is she a photographer, but McCready is also her own marketing expert, and social media guru, with more than 7,500 followers on Facebook, and countless more on Instagram.
“I wouldn’t change any of it,” she says.
“If you take it away, it would be like chopping off both my arms and ripping my soul out of me. This business is my baby. It’s literally my life.”
If she could offer advice to anyone wanting to follow his or her dream of owning a business, McCready says it’s important to work hard, be persistent and have faith.
There were many times where the threat of failure was “shoved down my throat,” McCready says.
She knew she didn’t want to keep working jobs as she had in the past—a cosmetician at a drug store or sitting at a desk answering calls inside a call centre. Those jobs weren’t inspiring and weren’t worth waking up and getting out of bed for.
“I don’t think anybody everybody ever wants to go through life not doing what you love and regretting it.”