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People Talk / A conversation with photographer Cheryl Gorski

Photographer Cheryl Gorski wore a beret when she attended Buffalo’s Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts. It became her trademark until graduation in 1987, when the native of Lovejoy landed her first job at a local portrait studio.

Today Gorski specializes in fashion photography and works out of her own studio downtown on Main Street. She shoots nature for fun, but her real passion is a Web magazine she launched called It’s filled with beauty and fashion trends and appeals to a global audience. Gorski attends Fashion Week in New York regularly. She has traveled to London for runway shoots, too. She said she will never forget shooting Boy George without his makeup.

At age 43, Gorski lives with her boyfriend in Elma, where she can watch the grass grow.

People Talk: Tell me about your first camera.

Cheryl Gorski: My father bought me my first camera. It was a Nikon F3, and he bought me one lens. He allowed me to be an artist. I was going to be an animator.

PT: What was it like growing up in Lovejoy?

CG: Everyone in the neighborhood seemed so close-knit and I kind of stood out. They always thought I was a little different.

PT: Describe your style.

CG: I wear black a lot and I like to be comfortable and stylish. As you get older you have to go with the flow of changing your attire. When you’re younger you have the freedom to shop. When you get older, it’s a task sometimes to go to the mall. That’s why some people get stuck in an era, and they don’t like to venture out because they are safe.

PT: So what era are you stuck in?

CG: I’m not because I go to Fashion Week twice a year to see what’s happening. This fall will be very dark. At the New York shows half the designers were doing black. They were mixing in a little bit of Gothic, almost spooky. The little black dress will be very important for fall.

PT: Is it tough making a living as a fashion photographer in Buffalo?

CG: Yes, but I do a lot of portrait works, and a lot of bands, too. It is tough. It is challenging. I never had to advertise. All my business through the years has been through word of mouth.

PT: What bands have you shot?

CG: I ended up shooting blues bands at the Lafayette Tap Room, where I shucked clams on Wednesdays. The musicians were so genuine and laid back that I started doing all their portraits. I have more than 100 musicians including some local ones.

PT: Do you have any portrait tips?

CG: Don’t wear shiny jewelry. If you wear glasses, make sure they are tightened and clean. Make sure your hair is colored the way you want it. Don’t get your hair cut too soon before a photo shoot. Don’t wear white. And be tan. I learned all that when I was working at Varden Studio, where I worked when I got out of school. I was also trained in Rochester by a master photographer. He was a stickler on head tilts.

PT: Do you live paycheck to paycheck?

CG: Yes I do. Some weeks are better than others. It’s like a roller coaster, but whenever I get worried and think about getting a part-time restaurant job for extra cash, the phone will ring.

PT: You’ve had many jobs?

CG: Yes. I used to draw the bushes for landscape artists. And I worked at a bank but I was doodling on everything so I couldn’t do that. I used to work for Flavor magazine back in the day. From there I went on to Artvoice trying to do a fashion section with them. That didn’t last. I was with Eve Publications, too. Even doing the clam shucking was a fun thing because it’s almost like bartending.

PT: Why did you launch Fashion Maniac?

CG: For creative control, and because I always thought we should show people what is in style. What I do is show a trend. I use local models for a shoot, but then I go through all the shows I shot and pull what relates to the theme. We just did a shoot with CooCoo U using Space Age furniture.

PT: How was your transition to digital?

CG: At first it was really hard for me. I felt you had to be a true photographer and shoot film because you had to know what you were doing. It definitely was a transition because the color shifts and the images weren’t as vibrant and rich as film.

PT: How physical is your a job?

CG: People think it’s glamorous, that it’s easy. It really takes a toll on you unless you have a lot of assistants. You’re lifting and moving stuff all the time.

PT: Have you mounted any solo shows?

CG: “Life After Burning.” It started as a result of me cutting through the Broadway area to get to the 33 and I would pass all these houses that were burned. There were a lot of fires in Buffalo. And then I came up with this idea of using dancers with soot on their faces. I would make them look like they were blown out of the houses, but they were actually in dance positions. It took two-and-a-half years for me to shoot that show because I did it in every season. It was at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum. It was 33 pieces. La Tee Da had it up for almost a year as well.

PT: Have you adopted any charitable causes?

CG: Through all the projects I was trying to raise awareness on foster children. I had a stepbrother who was adopted from Romania. And I worked with Gateway-Longview taking photos of the children. It broke my heart, and I always wondered what happened to them. I wanted to give them a voice so I asked people to bring school supplies and toiletries to my shows. Because when they are whisked out of their homes they don’t think of pillows, blankets. They don’t think of toothbrushes and toothpaste.

PT: For the past year you’ve lived in Elma. How is that working out for you?

CG: Most people think I’m insane for living out in Elma. It’s a different feeling listening to bullfrogs and crickets instead of horns and people yelling at each other in the street at night. It’s peaceful, but my heart’s always in Buffalo. I miss my friends. Everyone thinks driving out there is too far.

PT: Have you made new friends in Elma?

CG: I’m making new friends. I just made friends with the owner of Arden Farms, and we went up to Griffis Sculpture Park. It was fun. We all cooked, had organic salad, farm-raised ham, a great bonfire. My boyfriend is actually a good photographer, too. We met when I photographed his brother’s wedding 14 years ago.

PT: Are women making advances in photography?

CG: In the market I’m in right now I think there’s an upscale swing of women photographers. Even at Fashion Week in New York there are more and more women photographers. The younger generation of women is starting to take on what was thought of as a man’s area. Women know what to look for.