Madison professional portrait photographer Shalicia Johnson was recently among the 15 portrait photographers selected to exhibit their artwork at The Pharmacy Gallery Art Space in Springfield, Illinois, during a one-night-only display.
“I was elated. I felt so valued and seen and accomplished to see my artwork up in the gallery with international works and national works of art and local works of art,” Johnson tells Madison365. “It felt really really good to have my work seen and chosen on its merits. So I’m super happy.”
Shalicia Johnson, owner of ArrowStar Photography, is a well-known photographer in Madison who is highly visible at many community celebrations and events. Her photography artwork was chosen from over 200 images submitted by photographers hailing from the United States and Canada. The images were selected by a panel of seasoned professional photographers based on the level of excellence they demonstrated.
“I was stunned by the quality of submissions for this prestigious event. That Shalicia’s was chosen among so many outstanding applicants is a true testament to the excellence she has achieved as a boutique portrait photographer,” said Sarah Petty, photography business coach and host of the event, in a statement.
The Pharmacy Gallery Art Space is a premier art space in the capital city of Illinois, featuring a wide range of contemporary artwork from local, national and international artists. Over 100 photographers attended the formal reception on April 12.
Johnson’s exhibit photo was of an adorable dog named JoJo whose picture came from a competition that Johnson hosts every year where she raises money for a charitable cause. It’s called the Pooch Playoffs 2023, a March Madness-style tournament fundraiser for dogs and dog lovers.
“Very few pet portraits are chosen for this particular gallery exhibit. But, yes, she was one of the 44 dogs that I photographed for Pooch Playoffs 2023,” Johnson says. “I raised $4,400 for my charity, which was Not One More Vet, Inc., a nationwide organization for mental health support and suicide prevention for the veterinarian community because the suicide rate among veterinarians is very, very high.
“I love the photo of JoJo because she just has this really wistful look on her face. And I actually did an oil painting effect in Photoshop on that particular image and so you can see it when it’s up close,” Johnson continues. “I randomly chose JoJo just because she had this gorgeous longing look on her face.”
The opportunity to be featured at Pharmacy Gallery Art Space arose out of a coaching community that Johnson has been a member of for quite some time.
“We have an in-person training with our coach …we call it immersion. So there’s a spring immersion and a fall immersion,” Johnson says. “And for the last night of our spring immersion this year, our coach said, ‘Hey, guess what? We have this idea and we are going to have your artwork exhibited at this gallery. And so they’re going to be a few people selected. And so if you’re interested, submit up to three images.'”
Three people from the coaching program assessed each piece of artwork on its technical merits without knowing who submitted the image.
“Out of 200 submissions, they chose 15 works of art. And the gallery was going to allow space for 15 pieces of artwork to go up for a one-night-only showing,” Johnson says.
Each image featured at least one person or pet and exemplified the skill and creativity of the artists selected. The show was sponsored by White House Custom Color (WHCC), a leading provider of photographic printing and professional photography products.
“We were able to tell White House Custom Color, which is a professional lab we use who actually sponsored the event, the size we wanted, the material we wanted, the kind of paper we wanted … that kind of thing,” Johnson says. “So I chose a bamboo panel with fine art photo rag metallic paper. It’s something I haven’t had before. And then White House [Custom Color] took care of it.
“And so this was a really cool experience for our class. We’ve never gotten to see everybody dressed up and all fancy because we see each other on Zoom every day of the week,” Johnson adds. “Because with our coaching program, everything is virtual, so we only get to see each other twice a year in person and this time we all had heels on and the guys had ties on … and so this ended up being an amazing experience. The president of the gallery was there and she said that we were the most fun group that they’d ever had at the gallery.”
Johnson’s incredible experience being featured in an international art gallery exhibition came just a few days after she officially launched herself as a fully self-employed, full-time photographer. It was a little scary because that meant quitting her day job. So while ArrowStar Photography began as a side business back in 2017; now she is delving into photography full-time. It’s a tribute to how far she has come in just six years.
“It makes me really proud of myself for making this leap. I never really thought of myself as an entrepreneur, even in the last almost six years I’ve been running my business, but I am now embracing the fact that I am a full-time entrepreneur and that I can live out my dreams and live my life the way I want to,” Johnson says. “I’m so excited about it.
“I’m very excited for my future and what I’ll be able to do through my portraiture because I do a lot of philanthropy through my portraiture, so I’m really excited to see how I can help the next organization through my work and I’m excited about being able to travel and do the things I love with the people that I love,” Johnson continues. “So I couldn’t be happier for where I am in my life right now and I appreciate all of the people who have supported me on this journey.”