After working in accounting for 20 years, Montclair resident Celestina Ando decided to leave her successful job in the fashion industry to follow what truly made her feel alive: photography. Since taking the leap in 2016, her work has been featured in various national and local publications. In 2019, her studio won Gold for Best Photographer in the Best of Essex Readers’ Choice Awards contest. And this year, Celestina received a Silver Merit award in the International Portrait Masters Awards. Keep reading to learn more about Celestina Ando’s career journey and her future projects.
Montclair Girl: How long have you worked in Montclair?
Celestina Ando: My studio is located at 7 Park St. Suite 202 and is going into its fifth year of business.
MG: What inspired your photography journey? What were some of your first experiences with it?
CA: Many people and experiences inspired my photography journey, which has evolved in so many ways over the years. I originally started with wedding photography, however, I now photograph contemporary portraiture. I decided to specialize in this photography style because of two women. The first was a client who was battling cancer who told me afterward that she had enjoyed the experience so much that she had forgotten she was sick during her portrait session.
The second was a 50-year-old portrait of my mother that was shipped to us from Japan after my grandmother passed. It’s the most beautiful portrait of my mother wearing her favorite kimono that I now get to treasure for the rest of my life. These two experiences knowing that I could use my photography to support someone through a difficult time, and by receiving my mother’s portrait and feeling how important this memory was, made me realize how much of an impact I could make.
MG: What gave you the confidence/inspiration to make a career out of it?
CA: My photography was officially registered as an LLC in 2014 when I retired from my 20-year corporate accounting career. This was a decision that I contemplated for five years while I built my photography business part-time. Everyone thought I was crazy. I had a great career in the fashion industry in New York, but I chose to leave it as my creative soul needed more. It was not an easy decision, but I haven’t looked back since.
MG: What photography do you specialize in?
CA: I’m a contemporary portrait photographer. I photograph all types of portraits: business, family, maternity, and so on. I specialize in photographing women as I know how to comfortably guide, pose and light women in the most flattering ways and capture images that will help them see themselves in a new light. My photography sessions are equally focused on creating artful images and on providing empowering experiences for my clients.
I get clients of all ages and backgrounds who come to me for contemporary glam or boudoir photography. These clients range from brides-to-be, generation shoots, women celebrating milestones such as birthdays, divorces, new chapters in their lives, and even some women who just want a special day for themselves.
MG: Tell us about your most recent project “40 Over 40.”
CA: 40 Over 40 is my third photography project. In this project, I am photographing 40 women over the age of 40. The reason why this is so near and dear to my heart is that I was 40 when I retired from my corporate accounting career to pursue my photography full-time. I’m grateful for so many things that came from this decision. This is a celebration, a passion project of mine, and will debut in March 2022 during Women’s History Month. There will be an exhibit as well as a limited edition printed magazine of all the 40 participants with proceeds and suggested donations benefiting a local nonprofit.
MG: What are your goals for this year? What’s next for you?
CA: Aside from my “40 Over 40” project, I want to take more creative time for myself and work on conceptual shoots that will allow me to submit pieces for competitions. I also continue to research, study and attend various photography workshops. I’m actually heading to Phoenix, Arizona to attend the Portrait Masters shootout where we get to create and photograph 25 different models in different settings and network with fellow photographers from all around the world. I’m constantly looking for ways to keep learning, improving my craft, and to challenge myself so that I can be the best that I can be, for myself and for my clients.
MG: What has been the highlight in your career so far?
CA: Although I have been blessed with many achievements in my career so far, I believe that the special moments that I share with my clients are the true highlights of my career. These are the moments that happen on a daily basis, such as the little chats, the little breakthroughs, and the confidence that they leave with. When a client gets emotional when they see their portraits and tell me that they feel reconnected, beautiful, revived, this truly warms my heart. I get to do what I love for a living and so I’m humbled and appreciative for these highlights each and every day.
MG: What’s a typical day look like for you?
CA: As a solopreneur, I wear various hats so my days vary. I am all the departments of my company! I network, I do my bookkeeping, I update my website, I correspond via phone and emails for my shoots, I design advertising and share posts on social media. I’m also a board member for Montclair Center Business Improvement District (BID). If I were to generalize, it starts with an early rise in the morning responding to emails, followed by a shoot or two during the day. Then in the evening, I’m on my laptop again handling emails, zoom calls and editing shoots, and preparing for the next day.
MG: What is your favorite restaurant in Montclair?
CA: Montclair has some of the best restaurants in New Jersey so I don’t know if I have one favorite. A couple of my favorites are conveniently located right below my studio: Samba and Efi’s Gyro.
MG: What do you love most about Montclair?
CA: What makes Montclair special is its diversity: the people, arts, amazing bars, and restaurants. What I love most about Montclair is the community. It’s a town that cares and supports one another and that has come together in times of adversity. I’m so grateful to have my business in this town.
MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?
CA: Hands down, Branch Brook Park during cherry blossom season is my happy place. I’m Japanese and my business logo has a cherry blossom design. The blossoms are symbolic of so many things including renewal and optimism. You can say that I have a small obsession with them, hence why I love Branch Brook Park.
MG: Tell us about another business in the area you admire.
CA: There are so many small and local businesses in the area that are hustling every day to do what they love, especially enduring all the struggles with the pandemic and the recent hurricane. There are owners who have sold their homes to invest in their businesses (e.g. Samba). I also have to give a shout-out to Montclair Center BID. Yes, I’m a board member, but this nonprofit is truly committed to supporting the town and local businesses and helps create the community that I am proud to be a part of today.
MG: What is your favorite place to work out in Essex County?
CA: I work out at home.
MG: Where do you go out with friends in the area?
CA: My friends and I share similar big appetites so we’re usually eating. Recently we’ve had drinks a few times at Alto, MC Hotel’s rooftop bar which has a beautiful view, great music, and a fun atmosphere.