Omaha Fashion Photography Gets Exposed
The door opens for a moment, two worlds colliding at its threshold. Outside: another cold Omaha night blows down Maple at 66th Street, a few blocks west of the Benson strip, and all is dark and quiet. Inside: lights flash and delicate laughter fills the room, friendly directions audible above the whistling wind. The mechanical sound of a camera shutter clicks out time like a metronome.
And in that second while I’m crossing out into the night, cold and dark meeting light and laughter, only one thought seems right:
That was fun.
It’s another Monday evening at JD Gerber Photography (6572 Maple Street), but for a few girls, it’s much more than that. It’s a few more steps on the path to making it in the fashion world. It’s Omaha, with a dash of New York, and a sprinkle of Milan. Call it the Expose Project.
It started in the fall of 2008. Photographer Jason Gerber and model Amy Wieczorek came together to shoot the Goodwill Project. The concept was simple: take five outfits purchased from Goodwill and turn them into something beautiful. It was a chance to “keep the knife sharp,” as Jason says.
The pair soon realized that these shoots were an opportunity to include more Omaha talent and hooked up with hair and makeup stylist Lindsey Balkovec, of Garbo’s Salon and Spa in Village Pointe. The threesome began taking advantage of Jason’s newly acquired studio space in August of 2009, giving birth to Expose.
The Project’s idea is simple: take three unique talents and open the rest of the space up to area models, hair stylists, and makeup artists who want to practice their craft. Jason, who has been involved in fashion since 1992 and regularly shoots in LA, really stressed that the night was about helping new talent and doing it in the right way.
“I know what this means and I love it and respect it,” the normally affable photographer said seriously as he pointed to his wedding band, a reference to the seedy side of the fashion he’s seen in his years in the industry.
A former volunteer in youth ministry, he’s a perfect foil for Amy, who at 22 already has three years of professional modeling experience (fun fact: her name means evening in Polish). Amy graduated from UNO, and splits her time between modeling and raising awareness for community causes, like the Fashion Victim show she put on to benefit Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Amy admits that it’s hard to support yourself as a model in Omaha. She supplements her income by coaching younger models at Agency 89, but says it’s “easy to network here.”
On the night I observed the Expose Project, that network extended as far as Lincoln and as wide as Memphis, TN.
Michelle O’Donnell, a freckled, 5’ 10” senior at Pius X High School in Lincoln won’t be able to vote for another year, but she’s already been modeling for two. Her large almond eyes stare deeply into the camera with a professionalism that belies her age, and she speaks of “building up her book” in anticipation of a modeling trip to Chicago.
Michelle said that Jason “knows what a killer shot looks like,” and that he was “not afraid” to give the models direction. This was echoed by Desiree Moss, 21, the evening’s other model. With a year of modeling experience in her past, freshly moved from Memphis with her boyfriend, Desiree was hoping to work on perfecting different facial expressions (apparently sharing her beautiful smile, which she does just about all the time, is not a good thing in modeling. Who knew?).
While she admits that her height, 5’3”, might be a problem, she feels she learned a lot from working with Shawntelle Kuhlmann at the recent Fashion in Salvation event.
Events like Fashion in Salvation are what link the Omaha fashion community together. Lindsey, finally done with Desiree’s hair, mentions names like Jackson Artworks, Nicole Brown’s Runway Boutique, the Be Yourself boutique, and Omaha Nightlife’s Beauty Bars as the people she really sees driving the community forwards. “But there’s just so many,” she says. Others nod in agreement, adding name’s like photographers Amy Lynn and Stan Jones (an up-and-comer barely out of his teens).
It’s the essence of Omaha, a city just big enough that you still might seemingly know everyone.
Elisha Smith, a makeup artist who splits time between her skincare/makeup studio (4281 South 144th Street, inside Boss Studios) and teaching classes across the Midwest for Mirabella, said she only realized how big Omaha was once she had traveled to many smaller, fashion-backwards towns across the state. Still, she called Omaha “constricting,” and wished she could integrate the exciting things she saw at events like the Oscars into her work more often.
I estimated that the green rhinestones meticulously placed around her eyes took two hours, though she claimed it was only a matter of minutes (fun fact: her favorite makeup artist is Mario Dedivanovic of Makeup By Mario fame).
Ricki Rockwell, who works with Lindsey as a cosmetologist at Garbo’s, was also working with Jason and the Expose Project for the first time. She said she wanted to use the time to “push [her] creativity,” as she worked Amy’s hair into loose blonde curls. She has worked as a cosmetologist for seven years, and loves the Old Market scene, wishing only that Omaha was more into fashion (fun fact: Ricki claims that’s her real name. I’m skeptical. Then again, I’m still waiting for definitive proof on JFK).
The beauty of the Expose Project is that each one is a themed event, meaning that the monthly Monday session can run the gamut from clothing designed entirely out of packing material to a shoot housed in an abandoned art shop on the verge of being demolished.
They are not intended for the public, but working for Omaha.net does have its rare advantage. Sometimes, when Jason calls you up and asks you to interview models for a few hours, you just have to suck it up and do it. You might blow off How I Met Your Mother for the evening, but you’ll learn this:
There’s some pretty special stuff going on inside the studios of Omaha.
Yet, it’s just prepwork for the Big Moment. Check back with these talents as they schedule fashion events around the city in the future, and you just might see something special. You might find yourself saying, that was fun.