Oct 25, 2014

Capturing the True Woman: Tori Ava Photography

Victoria Pavlatos is a presvytera, mother and professional portrait photographer in Portland, Oregon, USA. Prevytera Victoria specializes in giving women, especially mothers, confidence and proper self-esteem through photography.

I never intended on being a working mom nor ever could have imagined owning my own business.  We live a fairly conservative life and I homeschooled our children for 10 years.  It wasn't until the last few years that we began to realize that we needed to make some changes in order to financially survive.  Father already had a Masters in Pastoral counseling so he decided to go back and get his license in Marriage & Family therapy so he could counsel at a private practice in addition to being a parish priest.  I never finished my degree because we started a family right away.  I didn't know what I was going to do.  A retail job wouldn't work with our family and church schedule.  I had always loved photography as my hobby and it seemed logical that I should explore that avenue.  Father bought me a nice DSLR camera and registered me for some digital photography classes at the local community college.  I contacted a local photographer that I greatly admired and she agreed to have me intern with her for a year.  I learned so much from her in regards to running a studio, how to handle clients and definitely improved my shooting skills.

We were transferred to Oregon in 2010 and I started my business, Tori Ava Photography.  It was a huge learning curve for me and a time of great adjustment.  Managing 9 children and being a Presvytrea was already a full time job...now I was trying to start a business in a new state, while still managing my family life. Initially I started shooting everyone and everything basically for free.  I needed to build a portfolio and really improve on my shooting.  I found myself burnt out from shooting families and I also noticed that I always was focused on the Mommy.  I wanted the mommy to shine and create a beautiful portrait for her children to cherish.  I also was getting consistent feedback from women about their photos and how beautiful I made them look and feel. When I showed women the back of the camera they would be moved to tears and all say the same thing "is that really me????"   This is where my heart was being moved.   I wanted to work with women.  I wanted to photograph mothers, sisters, grandmothers etc.  I wanted to give them back whatever it was that they had seem to lose sight of.  I wanted to make them feel like a princess for one day.

I also felt a bit conflicted.  How could I help women feel beautiful and yet still promote modesty and humility?  It took much prayer and many conversations with my spiritual father and other pious people for me to realize that God is the creator of beauty.  I think beauty has become something very distorted in today's day and age...but I also don't think that being frumpy is the definition "Godly" beauty.  There had to be a balance.  So many of the young moms that I had talked with over the years had lost their sense of womanhood.  They had been caught up in the idea that in order to be a pious Orthodox woman, they couldn't possess any earthly beauty.  They had stopped taking care of themselves because they were now mommies and didn't have time for such things.  I didn't agree.  I felt like our children should see feminine beauty in their mothers...women should be lovely...not supermodels but lovely.  Our husbands are off all day at work surrounded by the world’s bombardment of distorted beauty. What happens then when they come home to their wife who is in sweat pants, an old t-shirt, hair in a mess piled on top of her head.  The other issue was that the women I knew were no longer wanting their pictures taken.  They were avoiding the camera like the plague. Most had a very low sense of self-worth because they didn't feel like they were beautiful anymore...they had gained too much weight...they had too many wrinkles...they were too grey...too old ....etc etc.  I knew I was just as guilty.   I also knew it was imperative that as women that we exist in photographs for our children.   Before my mother passed away from cancer 10 years ago, she booked a photographer to have family portraits done. These photographs are treasures to me and my whole family.  I thank God that my mom understood the importance of existing in photographs for us.  

I knew this is where I wanted to put my focus.  I had modeled throughout my youth and never liked the actual modeling aspect of the industry.  During those years I did love watching the photographers and crew.  I was fascinated at all the behind the scenes of what was taking place to create a final image.  I learned many things about hair and makeup, posing and lighting.  I wanted to merge those worlds and help everyday normal women feel more beautiful than she could ever imagine....just for a day.  I know that any woman can look like a "supermodel" with the right hair styling, makeup and proper posing.  I didn't however want to create the taboo "glamour shots".  

I prayed for God to show me what to do with all that was going on in my mind.  I wanted to bless others, I wanted to provide for my family all for the glory of God.  He answered my prayer and has opened doors that I could not have dreamt of.   I was blessed to meet one of the most renowned portrait photographers in all the world Miss Sue Bryce.   She was someone I had admired...ok idolized for years.  Her work is known for its beauty of capturing the grace that pours forth from all women.  Not only did I get to meet her, I got to be photographed by her...then my daughter...then I began being mentored by her.   She has taught me just about everything I know in regards to photographing women and how to run a business.  I have now hired 2 makeup artists and have trained my daughter to do hair & makeup as well.  I have also built my own studio this year and hired a design team to revamp my brand and website.  God willing my blog will be up and running before the end of the year. 

I still shoot families and occasionally wedding's for friends...but my focus is primarily on women. A typical session runs about 3 hours.  You come in with no hair or makeup on and you are pampered from the time you walk in until the time you leave.  My incredible beauty team and I will go through the clothing they have brought as well as my collection of couture clothes to pick outfits for the session.  Then you will have your makeover tailored to your taste.  We have lots of fun during this time, enjoying appetizers and getting to know each other.  Once we start shooting the torture begins...just teasing, but it is definitely a workout. 

99.9% of women HATE having their pictures taken.  One of the main reasons is that they don't know what to do in front of the camera.  Unless you are a professional model...no one knows what to do...that's my job!  I pose every client down to their hand position.  I know what looks good for every body type and I pride myself on making women look their best by posing not by photo-shopping the heck out of them.  I always show my client the back of the camera to show how absolutely beautiful they look...this is where most women breakdown.  Then we have to stop and touch up makeup because all of us are usually crying!  During the last 20 minutes of the shoot we invite the hubby and kiddos to come for one beautiful portrait.  And typically they go out for a date because mama is looking absolutely beautiful!  It's very rewarding for me to give women a little piece of something that they thought was gone or maybe they believed it was never even there to begin with.  I'm not advocating that women need to put curlers in everyday and wear false eyelashes...this is a special day…a special experience...that results in an heirloom portrait for their children & family to have forever.

It has been a very overwhelming road...but it's also been full of growth and blessings. I have had to completely surrender myself into God's hands.  He is my only strength.  There is no way I could be doing any of what I am doing on my own.  My schedule is insane. I do most of my editing and business work from midnight to 2am and then were up and 6am to make breakfast and lunches for the kids to leave for school by 7 am.  God has been so good to me and my family and I am so thankful for this crazy, beautiful chaotic life that He has given me!

To see Presvytera Victoria’s work or to inquiry about a photo session, click logo

Tori Ava Photography is also on Facebook


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