Michelle Terris always felt self conscious as a child. Growing up in Southern California, Michelle was fed images from the media that convinced her that her loose arms and extra body fat were something to be ashamed of. Then in 2008, Michelle’s father was diagnosed with ALS – a neurodegenerative disease that causes you to lose control of basic bodily functions. The disease completely changed Michelle’s view of her own body.
“After watching my father lose his ability to do everyday things, and then all things, I gained a new perspective on my body image,” Michelle said. “Instead of seeing rolls of fat that needed to be diminished or jiggly arms, I started thinking about all the amazing things my body lets me do everyday. How my jiggly arms are helping me eat, brush my teeth, get dressed, drive, hug people, take photos, reach my goals, and so much more.”
It was a turning point in both Michelle’s personal and professional life. After graduating from college in the Bay Area, Michelle moved down to Los Angeles to pursue fashion photography full time, with the goal of representing all kinds of women.
“I want to capture images of women of all sizes and share how beautiful they are regardless of what their weight is,” Michelle said. “I want people to be thankful for what their bodies do for them. It’s damaging and unfair all the pressure that is placed on women to look a certain way, and it needs to change.”
Last month, Michelle did a futuristic wedding shoot at the Marine County Courthouse, featuring a lesbian couple. The shoot was for an “Out of the Box” wedding competition for the feminist magazine Catalyst. Michelle and her creative partner decided on the theme “Moving Towards the Future of Equality,” and thought the Frank Lloyd Wright designed courthouse would be the perfect fit.
“Once we got to the location, we all fell in love,” Michelle said. “It definitely felt like a space ship in there. We were so excited with the building, and inspiration was flowing from all of us.”
The photos show two women decked out in a variety of vintage and futuristic sunglasses and high-waisted silvery bottoms. The pale pink and blue tones of certain images give the shoot a vintage look, but the interesting angles and creative posing give the overall series a futuristic twist.
“It was an all ladies team, and we were working on a shoot that was different from what we normally see in the wedding industry which was a fun challenge,” Michelle said.
Michelle’s team ended up winning the competition, and the people at Catalyst were so excited about the shoot they ran one of the images as the cover of the third issue of Catalyst Wedding Magazine.
“I want all women that I work with to feel beautiful and empowered by the images that they take with me,” Michelle said. “I want to help represent peoples of all shapes, ethnicities, and genders. It’s time for a world of equality.”
Michelle would describe her style as classic with a touch of edginess. She loves to recreate looks from decades ranging from the 30s to the 70s. Many of her shoots take place in rundown or vintage locations. Her images feature women dressed in colorful outfits reminiscent of decades past, but with a modern touch. Her work plays a lot with color, whether those tones are bright and bold or washed out pastels. She also has a strong understanding of light and contrast, which is clear through her location selection and her models’ poses.
One of Michelle’s other series shows two women dressed in long dresses, with bowler hats and feather boas – a popular look of the 1930s and 1940s – but the vibrant colors, strong contrast and the interaction between the women gives the images a more modern feel.
Michelle loves the LA fashion scene for its never ending combination of colors textures and styles. One of her biggest sources of inspiration is to simply go outside and people watch.
“I went to a street fair at the end of last summer and my favorite part was eating tacos and watching all the well dressed, half naked, and tan people walking around,” she said.
Michelle admitted that watching Donald Trump get elected president was a wake up call for her. She decided it was time to start focusing in on the issues she’s passionate about and get to work. And she decided one of those issues is the environment.
“The fashion industry is up there with the biggest contributors of global warming and it’s time we start taking matters into our own hands,” Michelle said.
She believes that if we stop buying clothes and other products from overseas, and instead spend that money on sustainable companies and businesses, we could make a real change in the fashion industry.
“I think what these [sustainable] companies are doing to make a difference is super important. If I can help showcase their work and get their brands’ message out there, we can help show people that environmentally friendly fashion is something that’s accessible to everyone and every style.”