Besides capturing an extremely modern and cinematic imagery, she also enjoys writing. Courtney Lee documents a lot of sweet couples and families but this time she was very keen on sharing her own love story. Scroll down and discover a great mind and soul, and don’t forget to also check Courtney’s and her partner Samuele’s website to see more of their pictures and videography projects.
We've read that you and your boyfriend both studied film production at university, and love cinema. Can you tell what are your 3 most beloved films, that influenced your photography?
Oh my goodness, this question. It’s funny, when I started in college studying film production I was really just interested in story-telling via a medium that requires various arts and visions to come together. I felt that there was real beauty to that. This is still the case, but the movies I have fallen in love with since then I have fallen very deeply for. They influence the way I view art, hear music, take in the world around me, and, of course, how Samuele and I both approach photography and videography. Because Sam and I both bring individual experiences with film to the table, I’m going to bend “the rules” a bit and give you three movies for each of us. The movies that influence my work the most are probably: The Kid with a Bike by Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, Blue Is the Warmest Color by Abdellatif Kechiche, and Tree of Life by Terrence Malick. Sam’s are: Days of Heaven by Terrence Malick, The Mirror by Tarkovsky, and Paris Texas by Wim Wenders. All of these movies speak to us visually, but also because of how the cinematography lends to the nature of the stories themselves. It is not so much about technicality as it is about being organic, truthful, and sending a message through the poetics of life as it is. Especially films by the Dardenne brothers, it’s as if the camera and the action are having a constant silent dialogue.
We know that your boyfriend comes from Sicily, and you shoot a lot of photos there. What makes you love it (except for the obvious reason)?
Samuele actually has a kind of interesting connection to Sicily. His mother, Michelle, is from the United States. In her twenties, she left for Italy and started working there. Not long after, she met Sam’s father Aldo who is originally from Sicily but was living in northern Italy at the time. After getting married, Aldo and Michelle had Sam’s two older sisters, Chiara and Gabriella, near Rome. Sam, on the other hand, was born in Wisconsin and flew back to Italy with his mother about a week after. Eventually, the family moved to Wisconsin for school and spent the summers in Sicily with Sam’s Sicilian family. I guess this feels like an important part of Sam’s story that I share because when I first met him I had no idea that he was Italian at all, even though he speaks the language, has dual citizenship, etc. Him and his sisters have this really beautiful and humbling way about them like this. Being born and raised in midwest America, I’m so used to people bragging about any connection to Europe that they have. Sam’s family just doesn’t do that. I actually really found out about Sam’s Sicilian roots right before our first date which was spent at his sister’s house where he was living at the time. His dad was in town from Sicily and coming over for dinner. I remember sitting at the table, Aldo and Chiara walking in the door, and instantly everyone around me was speaking loudly (duh) in Italian. That’s actually a really special moment for me.
I studied abroad in Switzerland about a month after Sam and I started dating. This was my first time abroad. It was really sweet, before I left, Sam decided that he would come to Italy during our spring break and that we would stay at his dad’s house in Terrasini, Sicily. We were lucky, because Aldo worked for the Italian airline, Alitalia, which gave Sam free standby tickets to fly internationally. So, to get into actually answering your question, this trip is a large part of what I love about Sicily. This first trip there was just the most magical experience. There I was, in the mediterranean, the south of Italy, with this person who I was still freshly dating but was totally in love with. This person who I had been sending letters and mixed CDs back and forth with, writing in a journal that he gave to me before leaving, but would not get to share with him until months later. In it, I would write about my experiences in Europe, and how I loved him, but didn’t know how to tell him while being in Switzerland. Then I’d write something like, “I’m going to have to wait a while after I get back to give you this journal…”. I guess the picture I’m trying to paint is that I was riding around Sicily in the springtime in the back of a little Fiat with the windows down listening to mixed CDs and this person who I was in love with, but hadn’t told, speaking in Italian with his dad in the front seats. We would drive like this for hours while traveling across the island, seeing so many beautiful places. We’d always be sure, though, to get back to Palermo where his nonna lives in time for lunch or dinner. Especially on this trip, I couldn’t speak a word to his nonna, Concetta, because I didn’t speak any Italian, but these experiences were so new and touching.
I feel this incredibly calming reconnection to the Earth when I’m in Sicily
Okay, okay. Why do we love Sicily? I mean, fruit tastes different in Sicily, the air smells of salt water, there are rolling hills, rocky mountainsides and the sea around you, the food is simple but the most delicious you’ve had, the cities aren’t clean but they are gorgeous, there is so much history everywhere you go, the people are funny (this ridiculous blend of really kind and mildly rude for the sake of humor), you eat constantly, have some espresso every few hours, time has its grips on everyone a little looser, everything is a little off but just right. This list could go on forever. As an American, I feel this incredibly calming reconnection to the Earth when I’m in Sicily. My nervous ticks subside and the noise of the rest of the world quiets a bit. It’s a special place. I think what makes it extra special for me, though, is that it’s this place that Samuele and I both love deeply but have different connections to. I loved it at the very first because it was this place that brought me closer Sam, physically, at the time, but also to this part of him and his childhood that not everyone in his life experiences. For Sam, it’s his other home. It’s the part of him that he doesn’t talk about unless he’s with family or I tell him to, “tell them about the other part…” when someone asks where he’s from and all he says is, “Wisconsin.” It’s moments of him and his naked butt on the beaches of the mediterranean as a child that I’ll never know that way, but are a part of who he is.
We have been together for about five and a half years now and have been to Sicily together four times so far. I actually happily proposed to Sam in February of 2017, though, and so our fifth time there together will be this October when we get married in Santa Cristina Gela. Very soon!
Can you tell us more about your experience working together with your partner? What are the upsides? Any downsides?
I feel incredibly lucky to work with Sam. We both understand each other’s visions, he’s very talented, he keeps me calm, stresses me out, supports me constantly. We are all about not painting relationships as perfect, but I think it’s because we both find a lot of joy in being able to have ups and downs and love each other very easily through it. Working together just feels right. To me, the only real downside is that the wedding work is extra for him on top of his full-time job as a video editor. It’s just a lot, and so we are still figuring out how to best work with this situation.
Where and how do you see your business change in 10 years?
Gosh, in ten years, assuming life doesn’t take us in a different direction: we’ll be married, I think we’ll be living somewhere else, and we hope to have kids. All of those things will of course affect business. I see us traveling for work a lot more, hopefully that will include more travel outside of the United States. I see videography being bigger for us, as it is something we just recently started offering. I hope to be even more photojournalistic in our approach as I think we still battle with the expectations of what a wedding photographer is “supposed” to capture. I’d also like to be teaching. Right now I’m at this scary point where I’m just out of college by a few years, running my own business, and being kept awake at night wondering how I’m going to retire because it’s up to me to figure it out. It’s not what I want to have looming over me, but it’s just the truth. There are so many components to owning your own business, you kind of have to figure out each part as you go. If there is someone out there who figured everything out all at once, I’d be happy to meet them and hear about it.
Your new website has an outstanding architecture. We especially liked working on the bold layout on the gallery page, what made you go for that?
I had worked, on and off, on concepts for my web design for a long time. The issue was really that I had a difficult time, personally, articulating how I wanted to approach a site that felt fluid, minimalistic and a little abstract. The feature that always stuck, though, was concerning the gallery layouts where each gallery flows in its own way and the images are kind of all around the page in a way that makes your eyes and attention follow each story differently. It’s maybe similar in layout to taking the paint on a paint brush and flicking it at a canvas. The look was first inspired by Sea Chant’s old website design, which is no longer available. It just felt so right to me, I couldn’t let go of it. It’s not what you expect, but I feel it adds to the experience. I like to think it helps snap the mind out of viewing things the same way a lot of the time, and asks that you scroll more slowly for a bit.
When did you start working in this industry? When and why do you think it’s worth investing in a custom website for a photography business?
I started photographing weddings my first year of college. I guess that means it has been about six years. I was a second photographer that entire time. I wasn’t expecting to want to work in weddings after that because I wanted to be making films. This is still, independent from studio work, a pursuit of mine. I started my own business in about 2015, my senior year of college. By that time, I realized that I had a vision of my own for wedding photography and that I wanted to pursue it officially. Back then, I actually created my own website using Squarespace. I loved Squarespace, but a couple of years after creating the site, I realized that the site itself and the work I was showing no longer spoke to what I was doing and where I wanted my work to go. It took about a year or more before finally reaching out to Squaremuse, and I’m honestly so glad that I did. I feel connected to my work and how others get to view it in a way that is revitalizing. The feeling of having a website that is right for you instills a new sense of confidence and readiness.
I invested in a site that the Squaremuse team helped customize. I think that this kind of investment is really worth it once you feel that you have a voice and that you just need an amazing team to help you say what you’re trying to say.
Can you tell us why was it important for your work to get a custom website, and how it currently affects your business?
I felt it was important to have a custom website because I knew I needed some insight and perspective on how to implement as well as further develop a brand identity that I already had. Also, I had ideas, such as the gallery layouts, that I didn’t know how to execute on my own. I wanted the experience of my website, but what is still a wedding photography/videography website, to be one that feels welcoming, yet to have it feel a little unique and perhaps surprising.
Having the site has changed, literally, the way that people experience my work, but also my confidence in sharing it with others. I’m excited to hand someone a business card or to have a link in my Instagram profile, knowing that when people go to my site they’ll be able to see the peoples’ stories that Sam and I have had the pleasure of capturing in a way that speaks to our vision. I receive great feedback about the site often and there are many more stories in my pockets to share right now, so I hope people continue to find us and stay tuned.