“I like to make people smile. When I get a great shot of people who weren’t even aware that they were being captured and they are so happy about it, that’s what makes me really happy,” says Shalicia Johnson, founder and owner of ArrowStar Photography. “I feel like they are just elated sometimes that someone was there to see that and capture that moment.”
Johnson has been a lifelong lover of photography.
“I remember playing with my mom’s camera when I was little … it had one of those flash cubes and I thought it was supercool. I think I got my first camera when I was 12 and it was hot pink,” Johnson tells Madison365. Johnson is a lifelong Madisonian and lived on Bram Street on Madison’s south side as a youth. “I’ve always been interested in photography and capturing memories. I love looking through old pictures. They are so timeless. It’s a way to preserve and freeze moments in time. It brings back emotions and memories.”
Johnson was always the person with the camera. When she’s with a group of friends or family, it’s always her taking the pictures. However, starting her own photography business … that, she thought, was always just a dream. It was too big a leap.
“I thought, ‘Ya know. This might be something fun to do on the side’ but I was always a bit unsure. And then our dear friend [the late community photographer] Marcus [Miles] would always push me and encourage me to start this,” Johnson remembers. “Even still, I was apprehensive. I doubted my abilities. And he finally said to me, ‘You have a good eye. You have a knack for this. You really enjoy doing this. DO IT!’”
And Johnson did it. She launched ArrowStar Photography on Facebook on Sep. 27, 2017. ArrowStar is named after her beloved dog Arrow’s who goes by the nickname of “Arrowstar.” Marcus Miles was the first person to comment on her page – shouting out words of encouragement to her.
“And three days later he was gone,” Johnson says, pausing for a few seconds to regroup. “I couldn’t believe it. It was so sudden … but I still feel like he’s helping me.”
Since the creation of ArrowStar, Johnson has done family photos, senior pictures, Christmas photos, photos for military personnel returning from overseas. “I did the Madison Metropolitan Links’ 8th Annual Jazz Brunch and those pictures ended up in UMOJA Magazine and I was just ecstatic about that,” Johnson says. “I was just flipping through it and my mouth fell open when I saw ‘Photos by Arrowstar Photography.’ That Links’ event was a great event for me … I was referred by two people within 12 hours of each other from that event.”
Johnson has also been doing photography work for Brava Magazine. “I have photographed several of their Brava night outs that they have at different places around the city,” she says. “I also took pictures at the Wisconsin Women Health Foundation Spring Gala this year. I was hired to do the red carpet photos. The former publisher of Brava was there and she said it was the best picture that anybody had ever taken of her and her husband in her life.
“It’s been really fun working for Brava,” she adds. “I covered the Women’s Expo for Brava for both days.”
She’s also done a couple of small weddings with really close friends. Posed photography is not necessarily her favorite thing; Johnson loves to catch people in their natural state – doing what they do and being who they are. “My specialty is candid shots. Lifestyle photos. Just catching people in their natural element,” Johnson says. “I like to shoot with a big lens so I can be pretty far away so there’s no presence of a camera in their face that would make somebody act awkward. I’ve been able to get some really good, genuine moments being so far away.”
And Johnson really loves to take pictures of babies, especially newborns. She’s just been certified in newborn photography safety.
“I love people. I love babies. I love photography,” Johnson says. “I feel like I want to do everything but I have to calm down and just pick a few things that I want to really get good at.”
During the day, Johnson is currently the assistant director for the drop-in center at REACH Dane at the Dane County Job Center. She’s been working with kids for over two decades here in Madison.
‘In my teaching, I always feel like every moment that we spend with a child are moments that their parents miss and so even in the classroom I’m constantly taking and sending pictures,” Johnson says. “I’ve been teaching for almost 23 years and photography has been a big part of that. I want to always make sure that it’s a family experience.”
And photography, Johnson says, is much harder than people think. “Editing is very time-consuming. You don’t just take a picture and hand it to somebody. It takes time. It’s physical, too,” she says. “It’s hard on your neck and your back. There’s some physicality to it. Especially, if you are shooting all day. And then you spend more hours behind the computer editing the photos. It’s a big commitment.
“I just got a Nikon D750 which set me back quite a bit but I’m so excited to use it,” she adds. “I had an entry-level DSLR, so I’m making a big jump. I’m very excited to see what I can do with the new camera.”
With her brand-new camera in tow, Johnson loves the idea of being a community photographer in the same vein of the late Marcus Miles or the talented Hedi Rudd – local photographers who not only take great pride in their photography but in making their community a better place to be.
“Those two are some big old shoes to fill … and I don’t know if I can keep up with a Hedi Rudd,” Johnson laughs. “I’ve always admired Marcus’s passion and talent and I’ve really watched Hedi blossom and admire her work, too. But, yes, I think that would be awesome to have my name out there a little more and to photograph some of these many great community events we have here in Madison. I would love to be known as a community photographer. Although it’s a huge time commitment.”
ArrowStar Photography is just in its infancy and Johnson has just started to get feedback and referrals and has been meeting potential clients mostly through word of mouth. Johnson is excited about the power of photography in boosting people’s self-esteem, capturing underrepresented communities, and preserving lasting memories.
“Some people are pretty shy when they see that I have a camera in my hand and I tell them, ‘You’re beautiful. You’re absolutely beautiful.’ And I believe that. I don’t just say that. I want people to feel good about themselves so I try to capture them at flattering angles,” Johnson says. “I think the world needs so much more love and that it all starts with loving yourself. If I can do my little part in helping people to see that they are beautiful and that they are worthy and that they are loved and cared about, that’s just awesome to me. Whether or not I make a dime, that’s important to me.”
Learn more about ArrowStar Photography, available by appointment, by clicking here.