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Anna G. Larson, Published November 17 2012

A lasting image: Celebrating women through photography

Business Profile

Business name: Elena K. Photography

Owner: Elena and John Kannenberg

Phone number: (701) 274-8952

Website: www.elenakphoto.com

Services: Senior portraits, weddings and engagements, contemporary women's portraits, family portraits, legacy portraits

FARGO - Chelsa Swaser loves looking at old photos of her mother and grandmother when they were in their 20s. Those photos prompted Chelsa to get her own portrait taken by photographer Elena Kannenberg.

“I took them for my grandchildren,” says Swaser, who is owner of salon Chelsa Alene. “I used the opportunity to celebrate me.”

Elena’s decision to photograph women and help them feel beautiful through contemporary women’s portraiture was inspired by her mother-in-law, Esther Kannenberg. Esther taught Elena, who moved to the U.S. from Russia 13 years ago, to speak English, drive and write thank-you notes. Esther passed away last year.

“She was my mother basically,” Elena says. “Nobody has the same mother like I had. She was so patient. She was everything, but I never had a portrait with her.”

The absence of a professional portrait with Esther compelled Elena to encourage other women to freeze moments and relationships in their lives. Her clients include women who have overcome cancer and weight loss, mothers, daughters and grandmothers who want a portrait together, and women like Chelsa who want a portrait that could be passed on for generations.

“The experience contrasted anything I’ve had before with a photographer,” Chelsa says. “Elena poses you, and you almost wonder how it’ll look when you’re all contorted in awkward-feeling positions, but the photos are gorgeous.”

Chelsa says she isn’t someone who likes to have her photograph taken often, but she felt confident that the photos would turn out well.

When women come to Elena for a portrait, they’re often worried about looking overweight, old or “unmodel-like” in photographs, Elena says.

“If you think you are too big, too wrinkly or whatever, don’t worry about it,” Elena says. “Don’t worry because tomorrow might be a different story.”

She explains true contemporary style as capturing the essence of a person.

“I let them show their personality,” she says. “My job is perfect light and perfect posing. When I photograph, I try to get the eye connection with the smile. If you’ve got it, you’ve got magic.”

For Chelsa, a contemporary portrait meant it wouldn’t be “cheesy or overdone.”

“The days of glamour shots are gone,” Chelsa says. “She (Elena) celebrates women in a contemporary way. The photos aren’t about what you’re wearing – she’s capturing you.”

Before a portrait session, women are pampered with makeup and hairstyling by a team of professionals. Elena works with Chelsa and her salon crew to enhance each woman’s beauty.

“It’s not just photography. Photography is additional,” Elena says. “It’s a whole process. You look good, you feel good. What comes out of it is a whole girls’ day out.”

Elena’s goals are simple: Make the client smile, and build a relationship. She guarantees her work and offers a full refund at any point during the process.

“Basically I’m trying to make them happy and give them something to treasure for generations,” she says.

Elena keeps a list of all her clients’ birthdays. If she finds out one of her clients is going through a hard time or celebrating something, she makes sure to call them or send a card, just like her mother-in-law taught her.

“I never say ‘She’s my past client,’ ” Elena says. “She is always going to be my client because the birthday card will be there.”

A personal touch is something Elena says she values. She meets with each client in person before they book a session, and sometimes they choose her, and sometimes she recommends another photographer.

“My job is to help a person choose the right photographer,” she says. “Photography should be an enjoyable commodity.”

Elena says she wants to inspire women to embrace how they look today.

“Treasure what you have right now,” she says. “Down the road in 10 to 15 years, you’ll look at a portrait, and you’ll be glad you did it.”