It’s no wonder Heather Gallagher chose documentary photography. She was in our house for 5 minutes and I had already offered her half my coffee and exchanged breastfeeding notes. She was an instant friend. And if I had to guess, I’m not the only client that has felt that way.

Back to documentary photography and why it’s so fitting for Heather. She photographs the most intimate of family moments– maternity, childbirth, the first 48 hours, and then should you choose (and you should choose), will continue to document your family for as long as you’d like. More about her subscription service later. Heather stopped by our house on a regular Sunday morning to shoot some photos of my family. At times, we forgot she was there–quietly snapping away and letting us get lost in our Sunday routines of cooking breakfast, playing with Bowie and taking a family walk. We had nothing planned which as a wardrobe stylist and creative, every detail is always planned, especially the outfits, but we decided to give up all control and truly let her document our life as we live it and the results were beautiful, busy, and so us. We sat down with Heather to find out what exactly documentary photography is, how Heather and husband Tim (co-owner of St. Elmo Brewing and first father featured on Love Child here) manage two businesses while raising their son, and what’s next for Heather Gallagher Photography. Hint, hint…subscription photography services!

1. You are a documentary photographer. How does this style differ from other photography?

While all photography tells a story, the difference is intention and audience. In my documentary family sessions, my goal isn’t to make your life look perfect, it’s to celebrate the chaos of parent and childhood and to ultimately make people feel connected.

2. What was your journey like to becoming a photographer??

You ready? It’s a doozy.
My mom is a deaf, Chinese immigrant and has a reading and writing comprehension of the English language of about a 2nd grader. She was raised in China and Taiwan and so grew up with Chinese and Taiwanese sign language. When she moved to the US she was in her thirties and learned American Sign Language (ASL) together with my father, a hearing, white American (who does not know how to read or write any Chinese) so they could share a language and they could communicate with the greater American deaf community. A few years later, my brother and I came along and for the first few years of our life we were raised in a deaf community and within our household we signed all three types of sign language as well as “homesign” which is essentially a mash up of various types of sign, a kind of slang.
Eventually my brother and I surpassed my parents fluency in ASL and so no one ever really spoke the same language at the same time in my household. At the age of four, we moved to an almost exclusively African American and hearing community and while I had a wonderful childhood and lots of friends, I was always very aware of how “other” my family was.
Growing up in the 80s and 90s, we always had Polaroid cameras laying around (the dream, right?) and after many failed attempts of trying to leave notes that my mom could understand on the kitchen table letting her know I was at the neighbors house or that I was biking to the pool (my mom worked and I couldn’t call her) with simple English or poorly written Chinese characters that I would copy from the dictionary, I eventually started leaving a story board of Polaroids. In 3-4 frames, I would act out how I was leaving on my bike, had a jacket on, was going to be at the neighbors house (I would take a picture of either the outside of the house or of my friend) and I would be back by dinner (picture of a clock). Photography literally was my means of communication. Eventually, I started shooting on film with my dads vintage 35mm and was became obsessed with freezing and studying human interaction, starting with my family. Because I was acutely aware of how “other” we were, I was so curious to see how we looked on film, how we looked to the world.
I quickly started photographing other family’s and individuals, developing my own style and voice and eventually I started getting paid work from local papers, artists and family’s in the neighborhood. I went to college at Pratt Institute, a small but very prestigious fine art school in Brooklyn, NY. I was so intimated because I was completely self taught and my portfolio consisted of portraits of mostly kids and families while everyone else’s seemed so much more refined. Moody self portraits or landscapes, and they all came from schools that had a photography program and a darkroom. I created the photography club at my high school and was the only member for 3 years. I recruited the soccer coach to be the facilitator and we literally met in a broom closet and just looked at art books and my film through a loup.
My senior year of college I got an internship with an incredibly talented and famous commercial still life photographer, Carlton Davis. We became very close and he kept me on as his first assistant for almost 6 years. He taught me so much about photography and telling a story thru light and composition, he is extremely technical. We shot most of the jobs on large format film, Tiffany Blue Book with 8×10 land cameras. Throughout those post college years, I assisted for other photographers as well and slowly starting taking on my own editorial and privately commissioned clients. In 2008, I had the incredible opportunity to go to India for 2 months and assist an editorial and documentary photographer. We shot for Rolling Stone, a celebrity wedding, The Clinton Foundation. All of this experience and I had just turned 22. It was like a dream. 
After 10 years in NYC, almost on a whim, my husband and I decided to move to Austin. We knew we wanted to start a family soon so if we were ever going to try living somewhere else, the time was now. We moved in the winter of 2011 and didn’t know a soul here. It was a slow first year and a half, trying to establish ourselves as residents and myself as a photographer. Photography is already a really dense market and with family photography it’s all about personal recommendations.
I became pregnant in 2013 and by then we had a small but wonderful community of friends in town and I had gained a small but wonderful list of clients. Well, when it rains, it pours and at about month 5 of my pregnancy, I suddenly went from having about 4 shoots a month to upwards of 20 .
I can literally say that from the age of 10, I’ve known I wanted to be a photographer. I think about 15 year old me in that broom closet at high school and I just want to hug her and say “we did it!”. 

3. You photographed our family in our home on a regular Sunday morning. No matching outfits, dog hair everywhere, and yet, you managed to capture us perfectly. Why is it important to you to capture families as they are just hanging at home?

Well, thank you! I loved working with you and your sweet family.
Because of my upbringing and relationships with different cultures, my whole life has been spent trying to find common ground between people. With so much external pressure from everywhere to conform to a certain standard- as an individual, as parents, as a family,
I think it’s important to show people how beautiful their authentic selves are.

4. Your subscription service is brilliant. How did this idea come to be?

Thank you! It’s been a pet project of mine for some time now and I’ve been doing an unofficial version of it with a handful of clients, documenting their family multiple times over the course of a year or multiple years. I decided to formalize it to streamline everything for everybody- scheduling, payment. It’s a series of pre determined and floating portrait sessions to comprehensively document your family, at whatever stage they are in, over a year. The progression of time and how small, subtle changes can transform a person has always fascinated me. And of course, since becoming a mother, I’ve been equally obsessed and horrified with how much kids grow.
There’s a maternity to first birthday package called “the third, fourth & fifth trimester” and one for families with children of any age. I’m really excited about it!  For anyone who wants to learn more, they can do so here. 

5. What is the benefit of a family working with only one photographer?

When the right family and photographer find each other, it’s a really special relationship. Having your portrait taken is incredibly intimate, it’s an exchange of energy and trust and the more comfortable you are around each other, the richer the imagery. Also, stylistically, it makes for a more comprehensive archive of imagery if there’s only one photographer.

6. Your husband, Tim (co-owner of St. Elmo Brewery) was recently featured on Love Child. How do you guys balance running your businesses and finding time for your relationship?

Oh my goodness, every day we are just flying by the seat of our pants it seems. It’s been a challenging couple of years for sure, with my business getting busier and busier and St. Elmo going thru all the red tape of permitting and construction and finally being open for the last few months. All the while, we have a precocious almost three (ahh!) year old, became new home owners and our closest family members are 1,000 miles away. Honestly, we don’t get a lot of face time, Tim and I, but there is a season for everything and right now we are both in full blown hustle mode. We text a lot and talk on the phone a couple times a day. Just a couple minutes here and there, to say “I love you” or tell each other something funny that our son did at drop off. Mondays are our one day “off” since the brewery is closed so we do everything within our power to not work and focus on family time. Lots of walking along the greenbelt with our son and dog, trying to unplug as much as possible.

7. What does your wellness routine look like?

 
Does chasing a toddler around count? I think it should.
 

I definitely don’t have a routine, per se. I used to be more diligent about working out, going for a swim at Deep Eddy or practicing yoga, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve kept that up in recent years. And honestly I’m okay with that. Like I said before, there’s a season for everything and I’ve given myself grace since becoming a mother and stopped putting so much pressure on myself to do it all. That has been incredibly rewarding in itself, if that makes sense and I feel is really beneficial to my mental and emotional health. I go outside, walk the dog, play with my son in the yard, take a long bike ride and engage with the world whenever possible. I know this sounds so basic but I can’t tell you how hard it is to do this when I spend so much time behind a computer. I’ve always had sleep issues, never being able to nap and general insomnia. I’m high anxiety and restless so melatonin has been a really wonderful and gentle addition to my daily routine. It helps me get much needed restorative sleep. Oh, and kale. Lots of kale.

8. What’s next for Heather Gallagher Photography?

I don’t know! And that’s so exciting! I’ve been a freelancer for so long and never taken for granted the fact that I’m lucky to just be working in the field I love and supporting my family at the same time so I’m always open to new opportunities. That said, I’m perfectly happy with where I am. I have amazing clients and meet incredible new families every day. I get to document life and make people happy. I’m so, so lucky.
For more on Heather, follow her on instagram at heathergallagher.photography