The Sears Portrait Studio Aesthetic Is Back, Baby

Yesterday afternoon, I opened Instagram to a deluge: there on my lil screen was portrait after portrait of simpering celebs draped in Rodarte’s new spring/summer 2020 collection. The images were full of taffeta, metallic tulle, pearl-encrusted evening gloves (I’m shouting now), loofah sleeves, big belts, fluffy ruffles, and featured more than one duo the collective internet had no choice but to breathlessly declare iconic. (Exhibit A and B.) The content cup runneth over. 

Each portrait was set against a faux greco-roman backdrop painted in dreamy blues and greens, very reminiscent of, yes, those 80s one-hour portrait studios. And so then it became official: They’re back, baby.

View this post on Instagram

We were just in LA and needed to find a One Hour Photo place quick. Sandwiched between little bodegas, my sister randomly found this place on Beverly Blvd in Korea Town called Tom’s One Hour Photo & Lab. It’s one of those rare mom-&-pop gems that has lasted thru trends coming and going and weirdly has come back around again without even realizing it. The owner, Tom, was SO adorable. He not only does film developing but (cheap) and nostalgic portrait sessions too. (He gave us digital files and we edited these but he’ll shoot on film if you ask him to.) Pick your favorite background! He made them all himself. 🥰 It’s cash only and he has no internet. He sadly told us his business used to be really busy back in 1991 when he opened but has slowed way down since the digital wave. So, like any good millennials would do we started an appreciation Instagram for him. @tomsonehourphotolab 🌹 Not sure he’ll even see this. Stop by, tell all your friends, and don’t forget to tag. Let’s keep this charming business afloat! #TomsOneHourPhoto

A post shared by K A C E Y M U S G R A V E S (@spaceykacey) on

Just last week, the love of my life, Kacey Musgraves, took to Instagram to save a mom-and-pop photo shop she visited tucked away in LA’s Koreatown: Tom’s One Hour Photo Lab. Musgraves created an Instagram account to help the owner, Tom, who lamented a serious slump in business since the 90s. He now has over 60K followers, and the LA Times reports “a happy and overwhelmed Tom has been flooded with calls and portrait requests.” (If you called and were placed on hold, Maude Apatow may have been on line one.)

The portrait studio aesthetic is fertile territory that lots of artists and designers have explored, and our photo editor par excellence, Sabrina Santiago, is very into it. Below, she’s compiled some of her favorite work (none of which is by Deb from Napoleon Dynamite).

If any of this inspires you to stage a photo shoot of your own, please know that we expect pics.

1. Akua Shabaka

Nothing says “childhood portrait sesh” more than leaning on a Grecian column. Fashion designer Akua Shabaka of House of Aama made this nostalgic portrait series with her best friend at a local LA photography studio. Very much in love with the gold-dusted nails, hoops to match, and butterfly backdrop.

2. Jordan Tiberio

Photographer Jordan Tiberio is making her version of Renaissance portraits for a new series where her subjects are photographed to look as if they’re part of a painting (horseman and vintage slip included).

3. Isabella Lalonde

For the launch of her new jewelry collection, designer Isabella LaLonde of Beepy Bella created her whimsical world right in front of a unicorn backdrop, perfect for her one-of-a-kind pearl necklaces.

4. Elizabeth Wirija

Photographer Elizabeth Wirija uses a multitude of backdrops for her series “Noriental” which is a personal exploration of what it means to be Asian in today’s political and media landscape.

5. Sasha Frolova

A portrait series by Sasha Frolova entitled “Busts,” showcases her models in the nude with nipples censored—a way to powerfully subvert codes of conduct imposed on us as women on social media and elsewhere.

Feature photo via Rodarte.