How This Photographer Brought Sackcloth & Ashes’ Story to Life

Storyteller and photographer, Athena Grace, is a master at capturing real-life moments of joy. But like so many talented artists, sometimes it can be difficult to believe in yourself. Athena says, “I didn’t call myself a photographer for years, not truly believing in my creative gifts. It turns out creativity requires a ton of bravery.” But what finally convinced her to identify as a photographer, was knowing that she was able to gift others, “frozen moments of joy.”

This gift was used during her photo shoot for Sackcloth & Ashes, a brand that employs the one-for-one business model: for every blanket purchased, they’ll donate a blanket to your local homeless shelter. To represent this ethos, Athena created a cozy environment to showcase not only the blankets, but the lifestyle associated with the brand.

Learn more about the concept for this shoot and Athena’s tips on capturing authentic moments on camera.

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How did you get into photography?

I have always been a storyteller, and everyone always told me I’d end up a writer one day. Words have always been a means of healing and identity for me, but it wasn’t until I picked up a camera that I found visual storytelling to both satisfy my own heart, and bless others. I was part of an incredible community of artists and storytellers in Sydney, Australia, and so for years I found myself around people I wanted to be just like. I learned from accomplished wedding photographers how to capture real joy-moments, so when I finished college I began traveling and photographing couples around Australia and America.

Can you tell me about your shoot for Sackcloth & Ashes? What was the concept?

This year, we have been working with Sackcloth & Ashes. Our friend Bob Dalton was inspired to help the homeless population when his mother, a hardworking single mother, found herself living on the streets in 2013. Because of his mother’s story, Bob realized that not all choose to become homeless — some just need a second chance. He began to call homeless shelters in his area to ask what they needed. They all said blankets. In June of 2014, Bob founded Sackcloth & Ashes, basing it on a one-for-one model where for every blanket you purchase, they give away a blanket to your local homeless shelter.

The shoot was to provide lifestyle images for Sackcloth & Ashes’ website and social media. The blankets have become more than a product – through strategic marketing and intentional cultural timing, the blankets have actually become a touch point for community, adventure, and generosity. Young people from around the globe are purchasing blankets and exploring incredible places, getting together with friends and strangers, and uniting to support a very underreported, controversial but beautiful cause.

Did you style the shoot as well?  

I styled the shoot to reflect both Sackcloth’s current branding, and also push further to foresee future content the brand would need as Fall was approaching. With only one studio space, we had to creatively try for a variety of shots. We hauled a lot of props into the room, and used the incredible furniture the studio space already provided. It was fun to imagine different ways the room could look, and our friends and models Cj and Paisley filled the room with energy and joy.

The shoot is so cozy, how did you go about creating that environment?

It’s one thing to take pretty photos, it’s another to actually sell the product you’re shooting. Because these are blankets, cozy and comfortable was actually the vibe we were going for! It was important to capture how the blankets would feel, therefore we kept most shots quite close, and gave the models space to actually feel comfortable (loud music, good coffee, storytelling, etc.).

sackcloth x ashes blankets

The candid shots of the couple together feel so natural, how were you able to capture those shots?

Paisley and Cj have a rich history full of beautiful moments, inside jokes and spontaneous adventures (as any couple does!), so instead of asking them to force laughter, I invited them to revisit moments that made them laugh. Instead of asking them to cuddle, I created a space for them to want intimacy with each other, by helping them reflect on their own love for each other. If you want real moments, you have to provide space for them to happen, and draw them into it using their personal history and memories.

What drew you to the sunlit studio in Pioneer Square?

That both the walls and floor are white, with wood accents and incredibly large windows, providing stunning light.

We love Sackcloth x Ashes’ one-for-one business model, especially during the holidays. Do you have any other memorable shoots from years past?

We have taken Sackcloth & Ashes’ blankets all over the world! I have shot them in Australia, America, England and Ireland. One memorable shoot was in the snowy Rocky Mountains of Canada, on a road trip with my parents and my boyfriend (and co-shooter!). We were so cold we couldn’t feel our fingers, but the shots sold the product for exactly it’s purpose – to keep you warm! As it nears Christmas, I love knowing there are people without homes that will experience warmth from the generosity of companies like Sackcloth and Ashes.

See more photos from the shoot here.

athena grace photoshoot

Fun questions:

I love to start my day with: Coffee, always. 

When I’m not behind my camera, you can find me: Out on a spontaneous adventure somewhere in the mountains, or visioning and dreaming up the future, tucked away in a coffee shop with a journal, a book and the best music I can find.

Advice to aspiring photographers: “Finding your ‘voice’ is, in my opinion, the most important job of any creative. It’s more important than a business plan, more foundational than a marketing strategy, more critical than fancy new gear. Without developing that thing that is uniquely you, you’ll be doomed to wander around imitating, chasing fads, and being tragically swept up in the rip tide of conventional creative wisdom…it’s often found in the those things that move you, but that you can’t quite explain.” — Ryan Booth

Life motto: “You want to know the meaning of life? This is your highest calling: you are called into the dynamic co-creation of the cosmos. This breath is your canvas and your brush.” – Jon Foreman

Follow along Athena’s journey on Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Check out more #MadeInPeerspace moments from the Peerspace community.