Detroit photographer builds business, provides hope to aspiring artists

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Matt LaVere holding camera taking self portrait

Matt LaVere '10

The owner of Matthew LaVere Photography is a self-professed gearhead who loves using the equipment and also the problem-solving required during photo shoots. 

From technical needs, such as proper equipment and lighting, to emotional needs, like client expectations and stress levels, a wide range of problem-solving takes place during a photo shoot. This is especially true since, as a part of his artistic process, Matthew LaVere ’10 takes great care to construct images that require minimal photo editing.

“I enjoy the process of constructing an image, and the equipment it takes, almost more than the final result,” he said. “It takes all these baby steps to make a final image.”

As a photography major, LaVere learned most of those “baby steps” while at Grand Valley. The techniques he studied during his senior project have remained especially helpful, he said, as he still puts them into practice.

LaVere is a Detroit-based photographer specializing in portraiture, corporate and advertising assignments. He has worked for clients such as the Food Network, Volkswagen and Detroit Home Magazine, to name a few.

“The best part of my job is that every day is different,” said LaVere. “One day I could be photographing cars, another day a corporate CEO, another day headshots for models, or yet another day a local chef and some of their dishes. The variety allows me to be creative and enjoy what I do for a living.”

In addition to his photography major, LaVere pursued a business minor while at Grand Valley. He always knew he wanted a career outside of the 9-5 office setting. Owning his own business was one way to do just that.

“I’m glad I earned a liberal education rather than attending an art school and focusing solely on photography. The business curriculum and the connections I made with people who had different interests prepared me for success,” explained LaVere. “I interacted with photographers, but also people in accounting, finance, marketing, advertising, graphic design, and so on. These connections led to networking opportunities and paid projects after school.”

LaVere appreciated his study abroad experience as well. In 2009, he studied for a summer in Rome at John Cabot University; he said that adventure helped him gain personal confidence. It also kicked off his love for traveling and learning about new cultures.

It was important for LaVere to learn more about the Korean culture. As a Korean adoptee, he said he naturally wanted to know more about where he was born. In 2014, he started sharing his adoptee experience on social media to validate what he was going through. He also wanted to provide hope to others, reassuring them that they were not alone in their journey, struggles and uncertainties. Nor were they alone in their triumphs and successes.

As part of his mission to both learn and educate, LaVere photographed a trip to South Korea on assignment with the luxury brand Shinola, and has traveled to Seoul several times since. He also started a “Korean Adoptee Portrait Series,” which he shares on his blog with his subjects’ stories.

“I share resources about Korean culture and lifestyle with other adoptees in the hopes of filling in some identity gaps, and then naturally boosting their self-esteem,” LaVere said. “It’s an emotionally taxing project, but it’s important and rewarding work.”

In addition to supporting the Korean adoptee community, LaVere helps his fellow Lakers in numerous ways. He has made financial gifts to the university, mentored young photographers, talked to students in classes and addressed the audience at Grand Valley’s Convocation one year. LaVere said he especially likes to support students of color, noting these students sometimes do not have a support group knowledgeable in attainable, non-traditional careers.

“You are very much capable of making a living as an artist,” LaVere said. “You just have to be smart about it and allow room for failure. Failure has to be allowed for success. There’s no shortcut, but there is hope.”