Greeted in her studio space, I was welcomed to sit on her soft yet overwhelmingly large bean bag chair; although, the clutter of her supplies made it difficult to shimmy myself into a comfortable position. Regrouping my thoughts, my eye catches a tattoo of a woman’s legs stretched out of a giant coffee cup on her right arm.
Her explanation for the piece, “I like tattoos and I like coffee!”
I focus back to her face. The most distinguishable feature is her eyes, brown and large-set cupped by a thin layer of winged liner –bold but warm– accompanied by chestnut waves that hollow her face just shy of sweeping her shoulders.
The roads of Kearny, N.J., are narrow but with a innovative city like Newark closely tied to its border, the small town is not exactly terrible soil for an ambitious artist. A youthful and exuberant Shannon Stoia took long strides across those streets with her weapon of choice set to shoot. Ready. Aim. Fire.
She had been in the Kearny public school system since kindergarten but her intense interest in photography ultimately did not begin until she reached middle school.
In 2006, 13-year-olds were making new friends on MySpace and learning about a new site called Twitter. Stoia was no different as she became more aware of the Internet world that will soon engulf her.
“I would see different photos online and it made me think ‘I want to learn how to do that,’” Stoia reminisced. “The internet is a whole other world and it’s easy to get inspired.”
Her photography was a hobby– one that she nurtured during her time at Kearny High School.
“I skipped the beginning classes and was just thrown into advanced,” she said. “I really developed my skills and, while I always had it in my mind, it was then that I decided to pursue art as a career.”
Although, further educational endeavors are not a topic that sparks her interest.
“I don’t think a piece of paper is what makes you a good artist,”she said. “Education doesn’t mean knowledge.”
And she is proving just that. At 19 years old, Stoia has been featured in a multitude of galleries including the Paul Vincent Gallery in Hoboken, where she met her good friend, Daniel Ulloa.
Ulloa described his first meeting with Stoia: “Just from my first impression of her, I knew she definitely had a special talent with her unique style of photography.”
The two instantly connected and Stoia became a frequent visitor of Ulloa’s studio at the SOLO(s) Project House in Newark, NJ. It wouldn’t be until Shannon was featured in Newark Open Doors Festival that she would be offered her own studio space at the same location, along with a job as administrative assistant. She now creates art alongside 30 other artists at the SOLO(s) Project House, a three floor project space owned by Rebecca Jampol.
Shannon’s photos have inspired other artists as well. Vanessa Torres, a fashion designer based in San Francisco, CA, creates handmade minimal, alternative youth streetwear for her company OD . After speaking over the Internet,, the two decided to meet for a photoshoot while Torres was visiting family in New Jersey.
“We had this idea to shoot in an abandoned factory in the winter, but factories are slowly disappearing in the area and the ones left are risky to access,” Torres explained.
Despite having a difficult time finding an appropriate setting, the two became immediate friends and agreed that another photoshoot was a must.
“The first time I met Shannon, I felt such genuine energy and confidence,” Vanessa said. “Her art is conceptual and it tells a story, qualities I’ve always wanted to incorporate in my brand editorials, and she has helped me get there.”
Despite where she is creating or where she is exhibiting, there is one theme that stays true to all of Stoia’s work: bare-naked human emotion.
“I want to capture natural feelings,” Stoia said. “I don’t care what people feel when they look at my art, as long as it provokes an emotion. They can portray my art however they like as long as they are feeling something.”
A long-necked peacock in thin black ink shelters down the side of her torso, along her hip and stopping at her thigh. She struts like the bird– ostentatiously displaying her confidence, unable to occupy herself with the opinions of others.
“The peacock represents beauty, purity, and spiritual awakening,” she explained. So when the owner of the tattoo shop mentioned being featured in his “Love” art exhibit, she gleefully accepted and gave birth to the Love Project.
“I had already done a photoshoot with my boyfriend being very intimate, which gave me the idea to do the same thing just with a bunch of different people. I wanted it to be diverse and cover a huge demographic.”
Her hope was to demonstrate the love and care each of her subjects feel for the other.
“I photographed every couple the same way…I would just tell them to talk amongst themselves,” she said. “Then I chose whatever picture made me feel something. If a photo made me smile, that’s the one I was going to use.”
The Love Project was exhibited in Art in Motion Tattoo Studio and Art Gallery in North Arlington, NJ for two weeks in February of 2016.
“I made sure not to label the pictures because I didn’t want to label the love,” she explained.
The Love Project featured 12 monochrome digital photos of 12 very different forms of love, including heterosexual and homosexual couples, relatives and some odd pairs including subjects with their pets.
Some viewed the project as promoting the Supreme Court’s ruling to nationally legalize same-sex marriage. Although, Stoia denied any relation to the political subject.
“I don’t want my work to be biased so I try not to focus on politics,” she said. “But if someone looks at my photos and portrays it like that, I’m not here to tell them they are wrong.”
She explained that her work is not about picking a side or pushing an opinion, it’s about showing a photo and allowing the viewer to make their own interpretation.
“I feel pleasure,” Vanessa described Shannon’s work. “ Art can be whatever you like but in order for it to be good it should have rhythm, and that’s what separates Shannon from the rest of photographers. Everything she captures has a reason to be there. It has melody.”
My eye catches a Pink Floyd quote living on her left arm.
“Shine on you crazy diamond,” a phrase her mother said to her during times of trouble.
And that is exactly what she is doing– shining the bare naked truth through a camera lense, hoping to catch something that will make someone feel anything.