Written by: Samantha Stemmer
Location: Wilmington, NC
In March of 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic and life as we knew it would never be the same. The world received orders to stay at home, isolate ourselves, wear masks, and anything an individual could do to slow the spread was prioritized. Most Americans moved work to inside their homes (virtually), frontline and essential workers risked their lives daily, and thousands struggled with job loss. Yet from this tragedy, something beautiful emerged like a phoenix from the ashes: connection.
Being unable to experience touch and physical connection, people began to connect with one another in other ways. Social media provided the most common way to relate and communicate with others. The widespread dependency on social media offered a huge opportunity for growth. Throughout quarantine many artists have not only been discovered but gone viral, such as singer and songwriter Mxmtoon with the hit song “Prom Dress.” Tatiana Bruening, who by organizing photo-ops with well-known TikTok stars, earned over 1.5 million followers and the story doesn’t stop there.
In Wilmington, North Carolina, local photographer Stow Kelly, the first featured guest of “Arts Freshest Faces,” decided that the pandemic was going to work for him, not against. Stow Kelly has around five thousand followers on Instagram (@stowkelly) and describes himself as a “career centered person.” The young artist decided that, as a result of being in a pandemic, he was going to push past his normal comfort zone to discover what he was truly capable of.
Born in Nassau, Bahamas the 21-year-old photographer moved to Charlotte, North Carolina when he was around 8 years old. Six years later, Stow Kelly found himself behind his grandmother’s old camera taking photos of all his friends. After high school, Kelly chose to attend University of North Carolina Wilmington because of their Film Studies program. He is currently taking a gap year and looking to potentially transfer to The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising or The Fashion Institute of Technology. Kelly wants to expand his artistic abilities and his current method for connecting with possible clients is direct messaging through Instagram setting up photo shoots with them. “I’m not really a people person, which comes as a shock for most people, but through photography I’ve really come out of my shell. I just started [direct messaging] people saying, ‘Yo I’m a photographer, and I would love to take pictures of you, would you allow me to do that?’” said Kelly, and direct messaging potential clients has proven to be successful for him.
Kelly landed a shoot with TikTok and Instagram influencer, Riley Hubatka, who has over 8 million followers between the two platforms. A shoot with Polina Sladkova, a Russian YouTuber with half a million subscribers, produced some of Kelly’s most liked content. While these photo-ops generated lots of traffic to the photographer’s page, he explained that his favorite shoots “are the ones where the models are also invested and our creative energies meld together, creating a weird harmony that makes the pictures turn out ten times better.”
During the pandemic Kelly started doing studio work and he finds that complying to COVID-19 guidelines is easy because of the intimate setting. He is working on building his portfolio and forming his team which currently consists of his stylist, Julia Wettreich, who has gained a following of her own with half a million followers on TikTok, and his lighting specialist, Imad Jackson, who is also an aspiring rapper and Kelly’s best friend.
Moving forward Kelly aims to transition into the film industry. Although Kelly has a love for photography, he does not see it as his lifelong passion. He plans to move to West Hollywood within the next five years and work toward being a director of photography for films. Ultimately Kelly said he would love to be a producer, mentioning that he aspires to a career similar to Bob Iger.
As for now, Kelly is staying busy taking photographs, building connections, and developing his brand. For those just starting out Kelly explained that “my best advice is consistency and communication. Connections are everything however, the more people you get to know the harder it is to stay connected, but as long as you keep track of them, your network will grow.” Stow Kelly is truly a force to be reckoned with and we look forward to seeing everything this promising individual will accomplish.