Today we’d like to introduce you to Celeste O’Connor.
Hi Celeste, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
My name is Celeste O’Connor. I am a co-founder of Pedestal. I was raised in Baltimore, and I recently graduated from Johns Hopkins University. My name is Mecca McDonald, co-founder of Pedestal. I grew up in Florida and also recently graduated from Johns Hopkins. Pedestal is a production company committed to using photography, styling, video and film as a tool of empowerment for black people, queer people, and women. Pedestal is entertainment and fashion made by and for people of color. We started this business with the aim of uplifting other marginalized people. As black queer women, it was important to us to create art that empowers other oppressed peoples. Our photoshoots are an experience geared towards building confidence and self-love in black people, people of color, LGBT people, women, students, and other artists.
All of our photos are taken on the iPhone because we believe photography should be accessible to anyone with a phone. To further circumvent the inaccessibility of the fashion and media industries, we work with everyday people, not professional models, because we believe everyone can look and feel beautiful, not just people who fit a eurocentric standard of beauty. Challenging societal norms is the core of our work. Our photos are vibrant, playful, and exciting because we believe in not only challenging societal norms but also having fun while doing it! We believe that marginalized peoples should not only be empowered but celebrated. So, our work is a celebration of the beauty, resilience, and joy of the oppressed.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Graduating into uncertainty has left us with no choice but to pave a path of our own. Covid-19 has shown us that nothing in this world is certain and that most goals cannot be achieved without community. We have not had many opportunities besides the ones we created for ourselves. For example, we had the privilege of photographing movie director Tayarisha Poe. Similarly, we had the opportunity to work with another artist who hired us to set design, style, and record performance.
On the day of the performance, the artist tells us that he can’t pay us the rate we agreed on and that we are no longer responsible for the creative direction of the performance. As artists, we were heartbroken that we could not express ourselves the ways in which we truly wanted and that a man exercised his power to silence us because he did not take our work seriously. What started as an opportunity quickly became a challenge. However, we used this obstacle as an opportunity for creativity and inspiration. We took the feelings that we felt and decided that people who look like us shouldn’t be made to feel the way we did–disempowered. It reminded us why we started Pedestal and charged us with the drive to grow Pedestal to its fullest potential. Pedestal is what the world needs: a space for those we are normally made to feel small to remember what it’s like to feel seen and heard.
We’ve been impressed with Pedestal, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We offer services that include photo shoots, styling consultations, and creative direction. Individuals or other companies hire us if they need content for social media pages, styling consulting, or creative direction on video projects. Through this model, we are able to not only grow Pedestal’s platform but grow a community rooted in the empowerment of black and brown people.
In the near future, we want to expand into video and film production. Our current model of growing the Pedestal community and social media platforms will allow us to thrive as a production company because we will already have an engaged audience for our films. What makes our company different is that it is completely owned and operated by young black women because we believe that young black women should be in positions of power.
Can you talk about how you think about risk?
I think it is extremely important to take risks whenever you can. I’ve seen the most growth in my work as an artist, business owner and in my personal development when I’ve taken risks. Growth can’t happen in your comfort zone, and even though taking risks is scary, I honestly believe that everything I want is on the other side of my fears. We are all afraid- we are afraid that we won’t succeed or we won’t be good enough. That’s a normal part of life and definitely a normal part of going after what you want. Because as a black girl, going after what you truly want is a risk in and of itself. A lot of our fears and insecurities are rooted in oppressive structures like white supremacy. The truth is, we are beautiful, we are successful, and we are good enough. Accepting this makes taking risks a little less scary. Because when you take a risk, you are giving yourself the opportunity to blossom, learn and grow into the best versions of yourself.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: bypedestal.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/by.pedestal/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/bypedestal
Personal photo taken by Jacob Marley