The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, September 10, 2010


Gigi de Manio’s star is rising

Gigi de Manio on the other side of the camera, for once.

In the days following Chelsea Clinton’s late-July nuptials, millions of curious viewers pored over the wedding photos that filled newspapers, magazines and web sites. But friends of Genevieve (“Gigi”) de Manio looked first at the credits below the photos, where their suspicions were confirmed. Although the Carlisle photographer had kept it a closely guarded secret for months, what some of her friends and colleagues had guessed was true: de Manio was one of two photographers selected by the Clintons to officially document the event.

Though her star is rapidly rising, de Manio doesn’t yet think of herself as a celebrity photographer. Until the Clinton wedding, she had worked with only one other very high-profile couple: last summer she shot the Boston wedding of Red Sox owner John Henry and Linda Pizzuti. That gave her a taste of the requirements for working with celebrities.

“For those weddings, it’s all about confidentiality, privacy and discretion. Non-celebrity brides see their weddings as their one time to shine, to be in the spotlight. They want lots of attention and they love to share the details.” On the other hand, people who are accustomed to media attention want only for their weddings to be something that will remain private. “It’s their one chance to do something that doesn’t involve the public,” she says. And for celebrity clients to trust her, she has to be well practiced at turning away phone calls from the tabloids when they contact her to ask about wedding location or dress designers.

A native of Florida, de Manio attended Hollins University in Virginia as a psychology major. At the start of her senior year, she discovered she needed to fulfill an arts requirement. “I thought to myself, ‘I can’t draw, I can’t paint, what am I going to do? I guess I’ll give photography a try.’ And I fell in love with it. I had an epiphany: this is what I am going to do with my life.”

After college, she enrolled at the Portfolio Center in Atlanta, a two-year program that trains artists in professional fields such as commercial photography, graphic design and art direction. The education she received there led directly to work as a commercial photography assistant in New York City. “I gave myself two years to live in New York. I knew it wasn’t the life I wanted, but I also thought I should have that experience,” she says. “My sister lured me to Boston after two years. It was easy for me to get work in Boston because of the experience I’d gained in New York – I assisted on fashion and catalog shoots, food shoots, annual reports, architectural shoots. Before long, however, I grew tired of assisting and wanted to start creating my own work.”

Soon after that, her sister got married, and even though de Manio was busily occupied as a member of the wedding party, she brought her camera along. The album she later made up so impressed her sister’s friends that they all wanted de Manio to shoot their weddings.

“I said no way am I getting into wedding photography. This was 1996, and wedding photography was considered very low on the totem pole from an artistic perspective. But then at some point it occurred to me that I had a preconceived idea of what wedding photography was like: something contrived, cookie cutter-like, not genuine. And then I realized it didn’t have to be that way; I could do it differently, approach it as a photojournalist documenting the event as a story.”

She agreed to do a few weddings, and her work gained immediate popularity through word-of-mouth. Eventually, with help and inspiration from her husband, Tim Downing, de Manio put together an exhibit that hung in a Boston café for two years – and helped to earn her the honor of Best of Boston, wedding photographer, in 1999. She went from shooting five weddings one year to 35 the next, and her workload has been growing ever since.

Gigi and her husband and business partner Tim Downing making plans for a book showcasing her work.

Downing and de Manio moved to Carlisle in 2006. “My business is truly a partnership with Tim,” she says. He oversees her marketing and website while also running his own business, an identity, web and graphic design firm called Design & Co. Both of them have home studios that allow them to spend plenty of time with their three school-aged children.

Like many photographers working today, de Manio’s work changed considerably with the advent of digital photography. “As opposed to film photography, digital means it doesn’t cost me every time I punch the shutter. I can be more creative and take more chances as a result,” she says. However, digital photography involves a lot more time in post-production. Back when she used film, the process was more straightforward: “I would shoot film, drop it at a lab, get the proofs back, flip through them, pull the bad ones, and I was done. Now, after the shoot I go back to my computer and download everything. Then I tweak every image, recrop, change the exposure, experiment with the color…unlike before, the creative process doesn’t stop with taking the picture.”

Gigi in her 21st century equivalent of a darkroom. (All photos by Priscilla Stevens)

De Manio is a preferred vendor of superstar party planner, Bryan Rafanelli, who recommended her for the Henry-Pizzuti wedding and eventually for the Clinton-Mezvinsky wedding. And although she cannot discuss any of the details, she says that in some ways, shooting the former First Daughter’s wedding was no different from dozens of other events she’s worked at. “I believe that my mission as a wedding photographer is to tell the story of that special day,” she says. “I capture those genuine moments, the quiet moments, in between the bigger and more obvious scenes. Anything I can capture that feels genuine, candid, and natural is going to be more meaningful to a couple than something I composed or set up. I want the viewer to feel the love and emotion through that moment, and you can’t get it if it’s something I had to stop action and create.”

Planning for and then filming a wedding are only a small percentage of the labor involved, de Manio says. She typically spends months after an event putting together prints and albums. Having shot weddings nearly every weekend this past July and August, she is looking ahead to a busy autumn in her studio. Additionally, she and Downing are putting together a collection of her work in book form, and she was recently invited to serve as a celebrity judge for a wedding photography contest in San Francisco.

Given the often uncertain state of the institution of marriage, one might guess that it would be easy to grow cynical witnessing one joyful union after another, but de Manio refers to herself as a romantic. “I believe in love,” she says. “I believe love works when you find that person you can be a partner to, create a family with, stand by and get through life with.” The repeated experience of hearing couples exchange vows impacts her own 13-year marriage as well. “It’s a constant reminder of what I’ve committed to in my own relationship. Every couple has good and bad days, and you forget what you were told on your wedding day.

“Marriage is not always easy. On their wedding day, every bride and groom are full of hope, and that’s all they have at that point. Everybody starts off with the best intentions, and in being part of the event, you just come away from it hoping for the best for them.” ∆

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