It sits steadfast and unyielding in the cold, relentless North Atlantic Ocean. With wild, unabashed natural beauty, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador is the farthest east you can travel in North America. Closer to Ireland than to its westernmost Canadian cousins, Newfoundland is one of Canada’s largest and most picturesque islands. “The Rock,” as it’s affectionately known, is renowned for its jaw-dropping, dramatic coastline (complete with icebergs happening by) and craggy, barren terrain. It is also home to some of the cleverest, funniest, kindest and most colourful people you’ll ever meet, evidenced on the world stage in the musical sensation Come From Away, which serves up just one example of true Newfoundland and Labrador hospitality and hilarity.
And nowhere else is the love, happiness and warmth of its residents more magically captured than in the artistry of Wild & Heart Photography, based just outside the capital of St. John’s in Conception Bay South. From engagements and weddings to maternity, newborn and family portraits, photographers Aynsley Coates and Moya Blackwood skillfully put Newfoundland’s stunning natural backdrop on display to showcase the joy, excitement and pride of their many clients. “We feel very fortunate to have repeat clients,” says Coates. “We’ve built long-term relationships — friendships, really — with our clients because we’ve been part of their most special, life-changing moments. With some, we’ve been there since the beginning — shooting their engagement, wedding, newborn and family photos. It’s a privilege to preserve those pieces of their lives. We’re celebrating all of their milestones right along with them.”
So much so, in fact, that long-time client Katie Quinn Sullivan used a family photo shoot with Wild & Heart to make a special announcement. “Aynsley and Moya shot our wedding a few years ago, and we used a recent family shoot to announce our second pregnancy. I couldn’t imagine anyone else being part of that special moment,” she says. Quinn Sullivan, a professional makeup artist and recent finalist for the Contessa Makeup Artist of the Year award, worked with Coates on a wedding before hiring Wild & Heart for her own nuptials. “I was instantly drawn to Aynsley’s vibe; she commands a room and puts everyone at ease because she knows what she’s doing. That’s the kind of professional you want behind the camera on a chaotic wedding day. And their work has a perfect blend of whimsy, romance and storytelling. The very moment they arrived they operated at 150 percent, and they didn’t stop until the last scoff of the night.”
It’s their style that has many clients, new and old, requesting Wild & Heart’s skills. “Our style is very natural and organic but, we also think, quite elevated and sophisticated,” says cofounder Blackwood. “We share the same approach and vision for art direction; that’s why we work so well together.” Incorporating the sweeping scenery unique to Newfoundland and Labrador — be it dense forest, towering cliffs, seaside villages or the vibrant colours from Jellybean Row — is a signature aspect of these up-and-coming visual artists.
FINDING THE RIGHT ANGLE
Wild & Heart Photography has been in business for just over five years. As the demand for their services steadily increases, Coates and Blackwood have chosen to stay true to their core values — doing work that fills them up creatively, contributes to the art and culture of their home province and allows them the flexibility they need to raise their young families. Between them, the two women have five children — Cash, Sadie, Liv, Harlow and Elise — all under 10 years of age. “It’s very rewarding for me to show my kids that it’s possible to build a life for yourself that’s creatively fulfilling and successful when you work hard and love what you do,” says Coates. Blackwood agrees: “My two daughters both have Polaroid cameras and come on shoots with me to help with our youngest clients. Our fridge is covered with their photos.”
Discovering that Coates and Blackwood are mothers to young children further cemented Wild & Heart as Quinn Sullivan’s go-to personal photographers. “As a hardworking mom myself, I know how much goes into juggling family and work, and it’s incredibly hard at times. Aynsley and Moya are dedicated to both their craft and their families and balance them so well. I admire that about them. Being working moms helps them capture the family lives of other people; they get it, and they turn those little moments into lasting memories.”
apprenticed under multiple-award-winning photographer Martin Flewwelling, who is a recipient of the award for Photographer of the Year for Canada and the prestigious Yousuf Karsh Lifetime Achievement Award. She also honed her skills with John Beesley, a recipient of two Photographer of the Year awards as well as other national and international photography awards. After graduating from St. Francis Xavier University, Coates followed her passion for photography to Missoula, Montana, where she studied at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. She moved to Conception Bay South with her family in 2012. Her husband, Mitchell, is a born-and-bred Newfoundlander who works in the oil and gas industry. “Newfoundland is far away from my parents and sisters, and that’s hard sometimes,” says Coates. “But living here has given me the chance to do what I love with a friend who’s now like family.”
Coates met local resident Blackwood shortly after relocating to Newfoundland. Artistic from a young age, Blackwood began taking and developing photos at age eight, thanks to a love of photography passed down to her through her grandfather, Leo, and her father, Colin. “I produced my own styled shoots even back then. I’d show you, but my brother would kill me,” she laughs. “I’ve always loved looking at old National Geographic magazines. My grandfather gave me his camera before he passed last year, and I’m working my way through the roll of film on it,” says Blackwood. “I couldn’t treasure anything more.” Since beginning Wild & Heart with Coates, she’s travelled to numerous workshops and retreats, including ones with Stormy Solis Photography, Jodi Lynn Photography and Sweet Beginnings Photography.
Wild & Heart has a studio adjacent to Blackwood’s home, built by her husband, Chris, a firefighter. There they do newborn, first-birthday and seasonally styled shoots to “keep our littlest subjects happy and warm,” says Blackwood. The rest of the time, the photography duo and their willing participants scour St. John’s and surrounding areas for perfect spots unique to each couple or family. “We love shooting in downtown St. John’s, Quidi Vidi, the East Coast Trail, Trinity and Conception Bay South,” says Coates. “Honestly, taking a client anywhere in Newfoundland and situating them beside the ocean is a guaranteed gorgeous photo. We have the most beautiful, rugged terrain here. It tells its own story in every photo we take.” And when the weather doesn’t exactly cooperate for outdoor shoots (unruly weather is a given when you’re perched in the Atlantic), Wild & Heart use the gracious hospitality of local businesses. “When we’re in a jam — it’s raining on a wedding day or during a family photo shoot, for example — the owners of the Rocket Bakery, Blue on Water and the Quidi Vidi Brewery have all come to the rescue,” says Coates. “They’re always more than happy to help. We’ve been able to build our business because we have support from other local businesses in our community. It’s a wonderful part of living and working here.”
Maria Evans, a medical resident in St. John’s, accidentally stumbled upon Wild & Heart’s newborn photography on Facebook and searched for their page when she was looking to book a photographer for her wedding. “I loved how they highlighted the landscape in their work,” she says. “That was important to me because Ferryland, where my husband Brad and I were getting married, is very scenic. And it’s a special spot because we were having our ceremony in the church my parents were married in.” Evans hired Coates and Blackwood, who produced “amazing photos, especially of us at the Ferryland lighthouse, which is where my grandmother lived as a child. When I look back now at our wedding photos, you can see that Aynsley and Moya took care to highlight the interactions and relationships between our guests. They captured real moments and emotions throughout the day. Their ability to make people feel at ease teases out the best possible work.”
Weddings are some of the best parts of the job. “There’s nothing like a Newfoundland wedding! In most cases, lively is an understatement,” says Coates. “There are screech-ins, live bands to keep the dance floor rocking, speeches and storytelling that go on for hours. The party doesn’t stop; it only gets better as the night goes on.”
Evans also had her daughter’s newborn photos taken by Wild & Heart “since their beautiful child photography is what originally drew me to their site.” During their Christmas family photo shoot, Evans noted how Coates and Blackwood could “take something as simple as the backyard and transform it into an unbelievable backdrop. They take something familiar and make it extraordinary. I’ll always value being able to see my favourite places and people through their lens.”
Contributing to Newfoundland and Labrador’s rich, flourishing creative scene, Wild & Heart is making its mark in a place known for leaving a lasting impression on anyone lucky enough to visit.
Facebook and Instagram: @wildandheartphotography
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