PositiveVibes Magazine had the opportunity to sit with the creator of the photo series “#WinWithLove.” Anne Calamuci is an experienced photographer who is using her passion for creating awareness around anti-Asian hate through the power of connection and love. Learn more about the cause behind the social media movement and its creator in this feature!
PVM: Tell us about yourself. What is your story?
Anne Calamuci: I am a photographer, wife, and mother. In school, I studied commercial photography. But, right after graduating, I found out I was pregnant with my son. In the field of commercial photography, shoots can last anywhere from ten to twelve hours. So, I decided to focus on doing portraits, weddings and being a mom. Once my son graduated high school, my hours could be much more flexible.
I then started working at a large commercial photography studio and now manage it in Maryland. One of the perks of the job is that I can use the studio as a photographer. I have the space to shoot what interests me. I started to collaborate and experiment with wardrobe stylists and makeup artists to just have fun.
I’ve always been interested in people who take ordinary skills and make a huge difference in the world. I came across a story about a basketball player who wanted to help people in Africa. I heard another about a girl whose mom is a chemotherapy nurse and does fancy nail designs for women during their chemo treatment sessions.
As I was driving to work one day, there was a lot of talk about hate crimes against the Asian community. It bothered me that this was going on in my community and that every Asian person I knew had their own experience with this. It was heartbreaking to learn that they didn’t feel safe enough to speak up prior to bringing it up.
Then, the hashtag #StopAsianHate started to trend – What does that do? Telling a hateful person to stop doesn’t stop their behavior. It does tell the world that there are people who don’t approve of the behavior, but I feel that there should be more than just the hashtag. If I create a photo series, people will stop and engage with it more with the hashtag “#WinWithLove” because when your heart and mind are open, you enrich your life with people who could be your mentor, colleague, or life partner. You’re cheating yourself of that life experience if you’re close-minded.
Another issue I ran into was timing; it took a long time to find casting for some of my specific shoots, so once it was done, no one wanted to publish it or do anything with it because it wasn’t popular anymore. But that’s exactly when we needed to do it.
PVM: Yes, that’s exactly when we need to do it. There was a time where discrimination and violence against the Asian community was ongoing, but didn’t receive media attention. It took a tragedy for this all to be in the news.
Anne Calamuci: It was interesting for me to learn that people I knew had experienced this. The Asian people in my life don’t talk about these things and are hesitant to revisit this. I didn’t know that some of my dearest friends had experienced discrimination. Despite living in a diverse area, I maybe didn’t bother to think about that aspect of their lives. Since it’s affecting your neighbors, peers, colleagues, you should be vocal about that.
I would love it if people would use the hashtag #WinWithLove and pose with someone of a different sexuality or ethnicity to show others what they’re missing by excluding these marginalized populations. If you hate any type of group, you will lose. You’re missing out on these amazing relationships. #WinWithLove focuses on spreading love and optimism.
PVM: How did you start the photo series behind #WinWithLove?
Anne Calamuci: The first idea was to find different pairs of people, one Asian person and one non-Asian person. It would be different types of pairs, teachers, couples, etc. To bring this together, I really had to network. Wardrobe Stylist Pascale Lemaire, Makeup Artist Patti Nelson, and Makeup Artist Anita Bahramy donated their time.
I chose red and black for the color palette because I thought it would be easy, but it really wasn’t! Red represents passionate love and passionate hate. You can choose which way you can go. Every time you meet another person, you have a conscious decision to make. Do you wanna be open to that person, or do you want to be closed off and hateful to that person? And what does that mean? If you’re hateful to that person, you lose.
I made a community of people through this project that was uplifting. Originally I wanted the images to be hanging in a physical space, but due to COVID, they were closed. I then went searching for platforms talking about positivity through social media and other magazines to get this out – which is how I found you.
PVM: What was the first photoshoot like? Were they able to share their stories?
Anne Calamuci: One of the first photo shoots was a couple. Mrs. DC America and her husband, who she originally met in a bar. He had lived overseas, and when they met, she was impressed by his knowledge of her culture. They connected over their creativity. To this day, he is still smitten by her and shocked that she was willing to talk to him then. They brought their son, who was adorable.
Word started spreading, and we got more people for the photos. Now I need to get it somewhere. My vision was in a physical space, but I am uncertain if I can do that now. Possibly a library, but I’m unsure of what’s possible right now.
PVM: How many groups have you been able to photograph?
Anne Calamuci: I’ve been able to photograph twelve groups so far. One of which was my close friend that I’ve known since junior high. It was interesting to hear their stories as they are all Asian, but their heritage is from different cultures.
A lot of the Asian hate was directed at Chinese Americans due to misinformation about the initial spread of the COVID-19 pandemic but with an assumption that all Asians were Chinese. My friend’s Filipino and the other pairs are Koren, Taiwanese, and Japanese.
PVM: From your perspective and those you’ve spoken to, how can people who are non asian be present for those that are? What can they do to support Asians at this time?
Anne Calamuci: First, just talking to them. I had, prior, never heard my friends speak about these experiences. I was happy to be able to console, support, and spread awareness. Be more aware of what’s happening. Just because they aren’t telling you or marching in the streets, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
PVM: What initially drew you to photography?
Anne Calamuci: My dad used to say, “The world would be a boring place if we were all alike.” When you’re doing portraits, you’re capturing an individual’s uniqueness. Everyone’s sort of intriguing to me. When I did wedding and family photography, I felt like I was capturing something special to that person, and I loved that.
When people’s houses catch on fire, one of the first things they grab are the pictures. They’re important. They can tell you your history. Growing up, If your family has old photos of family members on the wall, that tells you your history. Portraits can be really valuable to a family. I felt I was doing something really worthwhile. But, really, I just enjoyed capturing unique people. Now I think that since I’m getting older, I want to capture something with more of a message. I was thinking, “Gosh, I wish I had studied photojournalism.” I don’t have the nerve to run into a war zone, but I’d love to tell a story with a message. I’ve done the wedding thing, I’ve done the portrait thing.
PVM: What is the art of photography?
Anne Calamuci: Before I went to school, someone asked me, “Are you going to take pictures or make pictures?” and I loved that question. You should have to learn how to take a picture technically. But when you are making a picture, and you’re really thinking about what you’re saying or why you’re doing it, it’s a lot more fulfilling. It’s a lot more fun. I love ‘making’ pictures.
I photographed a dancer, and she wanted to be painted in gold body paint to look like a trophy. It was really challenging because when you light someone in gold body paint, it can be tricky. So before we did the shoot, I went to my friend who’s a makeup artist and said, “We’ll test shoot someone else first, let’s hash it out.” We know a model who’s a professional mermaid! She’s in a traveling show where she performs in a large tank. So we invited her to the studio to do the gold paint test shoot, and she said yes. She’s been photographed underwater a million times, so we decided to make it worth her time. We painted fishing nets and shells gold. We did something to test the gold paint, but it was also interesting for her that it resulted in a different take on the mermaid vibe.
It was really fun, and It all turned out pretty cool! I like to think of what I’m doing when I ‘make a picture.’ I think that when you’re taking portraits, if you can connect to your subjects, that should be the main goal: To get an emotional response. I love ‘making the picture’, not just ‘taking’ it.
PVM: How does photography help with your mental health?
Anne Calamuci: I work in the biggest studio in the area. It’s huge. It’s fun, but sometimes I can be the only one there. During the pandemic, I felt like I was in a loop. I would leave my house, then the studio, then back home, and maybe venture out to the grocery store on the weekends. The only thing keeping me going was coming up with new concepts for photoshoots and doing them. It gave me something to focus on. It was a huge studio that allowed us to spread out with a small crew, plus a garage door for fresh air. It gave me something to focus on.
PVM: What is your experience as a mother?
Anne Calamuci: What is my experience as a mother? Well, I love it! I’ve realized that I look at and deal with adults differently now. Because sometimes, if you’re dealing with an adult, people may get really annoyed at that particular adult. But I can see that that person may have ADHD. Everyone’s mind works differently.
When you learn that and then work with adults, you can kinda see, ‘No, that person is not being a jerk, that person is showing what most people with ADHD have, and there’s nothing wrong with that’. So, I have a different reaction than most people do. Within the past few years, I’ve noticed that I had a different response than what I would have had when I was younger. I now know people who have Asperger’s. I know if someone can’t make eye contact with me, they aren’t being rude or dismissive, they just literally can’t make eye contact, and that’s fine. When you’re a mother, you’re around not just your own children but other children, and you try to learn those things. It’s really helpful when you’re older.
PVM: What is your advice for those first starting photography?
Anne Calamuci: It’s very hard because when I was in school, it started with everyone using film. When I was graduating, everything was digital. Digital photography is great, but since everyone nowadays has a cell phone with a camera on it and they’re taking photos 24/7, they think they’re a photographer. So, I’ve noticed, too, that there are young graphic designers who don’t hire professional photographers anymore because they basically like bad photography now. They don’t like that anymore, or they don’t have the budget for it, so they sort of “wing it” and do stuff on the computer.
So it’s a really hard time right now for a photographer to start out. The best thing is to just join a local photography association and network. Network, network, network. If you’re interested in commercial photography, you can do assisting for a while. When you assist, you can work with people and see how photos are done in a business. Whether you are a portrait photographer or a commercial photographer, you need to know the business end of photography. You need to learn how to do an estimate, how to write an invoice, and what the industry standards are. Look for resources in your area; do you need a hair and make-up person? Can you rent equipment in your area? – Those are all things you need to know to start. When I was first starting, you needed to hire someone to make you a website, but now you can just whip one right up. It’s very different now.
PVM: What is the future looking like for your series? What are your hopes and wishes for it?
Anne Calamuci: I thought if you featured it, I would start posting it on social media and have other subjects doing it. That way, it’s out there, still circulating. I want people to start taking their own pictures. I want people to take their own pictures and use the hashtag. I want this negative myth narrative to end. I want people to stop and think for a minute.
I won’t give up on trying to get these photos displayed in a physical space. We spent a lot of time thinking we were going to get a display in a specific location, but that never happened. That’s okay. We’re not going to stop looking for one. At least it’s out in the universe now, and others will do the same.
Written by PositiveVibes Magazine Staff