Words by Bekah Friesen
Photos by Abby Mortenson and Karen Mitchell
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place…I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” —Elliott Erwitt
Comprised of 2 talented and vivacious lady bosses, Karen Mitchell and Abby Mortenson, Élan Photographie Studio (ÉPS) stands out from the crowd. You can often find them downtown Colorado Springs tucked inside the fabulous Welcome Fellow working space in the heart of the city, editing away, and building relationships.
ÉPS is focused solely on family, wedding, engagement, and boudoir photography—which allow them to have a niche as a studio. And while Colorado Springs may be the home base for ÉPS, they’re no stranger to travel and adventure, if that’s where their shoots take them.
Karen and Abby share a love for Colorado and documenting people’s lives. They work together to capture the most meaningful and raw moments so that their subjects have something authentic and sweet to hang on the walls of their homes.
These ladies bring such fun and excitement to their sessions, while making their subjects feel at home, settled, and at ease. Let their photos speak for themselves. And while you browse, get to know these ladies with some fun answers to questions CoCo compiled for their interview.
PROFILE OF KAREN MITCHELL
At a coffee shop, I’m always drinking: an iced (extra ice) latte or hot (extra hot) latte.
My current girl crush: Jenna Lyons.
My guilty pleasures consist of: our roaring fireplace, a glass of malbec, and Mast Brothers dark chocolate all at the same time.
Favorite places in Colorado include: Telluride, Steamboat, Swink, and our home.
Growing up, I really wanted to be: an actress, but then a chef, and then an astronaut, and then around 14, I realized I just wanted to #ladyboss life.
My love for photography started when: my Grandma Peggy showed me my Great Grandpa Kenagy’s black and white, self-developed prints from the 20’s and 30’s. The curiosity increased when my sister was gifted a film Élan Canon camera for her high school graduation. Soon after, I realized that all of my friends wanted to see my $4.99 disposable camera quality pictures (because they were in them and we didn’t have social media), and it gave me a small sense of worth that, unbeknownst to me, I clung to. It felt like my contribution to our story.
A typical day for me looks like: a good-morning kiss from my husband Justin. A jam session (anything from Jay Z to Bethel) while I get ready for work. Listening to Johnjay and Rich while driving too fast to work. A favorite coffee shop and then meetings or work at Welcome Fellow. Every day has a taste of consistency with a heap of variety, that I’ve learned keeps me interested and working hard. Some days are non-stop ÉPS or other work I have on my plate, and some days I’m glued to the computer adjusting images for myself or others for hours upon hours. A second coffee or a drink with friends, clients, or the husband sneaks its way in…and then my drive home is when I make calls to my favorites that live far away. I get to talk to them until I hit my neighborhood where all calls drop, which marks the end of the day for me. Then it’s time to check in with how Justin’s day was, if the barn cat has actual food outside or a mouse to eat, how many weeds are in the garden, and what I get to whip together for dinner. Then it’s quality time with whomever I can coax into hanging out with that night.
I keep balance between work and life by: being married. Haha. Oh, the life long struggle of work-life balance. I’m not awesome at this, but with age I’d like to think I’m being more intentional about allowing personal life to take precedence. After joining the holy matrimony team in January of this year, I chose to make the couch a safe space from work. It’s reserved only for quality conversation, comfy-cozy snooze sessions, and Netflix binges near Justin. Coming home to someone created a new form of accountability that paused working all hours of the night and any spare moment during the weekends—so basically, Justin gets the credit for my work-life balance. Oh, and the pretty state that offers so much to do outside all of the year long.
An example of when I had to push through my fear was when: I decided to transition from being a one-man show and expand into a studio. Being accountable for the success of other human’s business feels like a million pounds every night before I fall asleep and as soon as I wake up—but joining together and building a support system to bounce ideas off of, communicate through challenges, or refine with feels good. It makes it feel like we’re providing a stronger experience for our clients and makes us feel like we’re learning how to close some of the gaps along the way. It’s good and so worth overcoming the nerves. I mean, but the nerves are always half of the fun. #adrenaline
Something I rarely tell people about myself: is that I secretly love when people tell me who they think my doppelgänger is.
A personal photo that I keep close is: the one on the floating shelf in my kitchen, just to the left of the sink. It’s circa 1987, just before we moved away from Colorado as a family for the last time. Mom is baking a birthday cake, wearing a black tube top and high-waisted denim with a huge smile looking at me, and I have a mouthful of a spatula covered in homemade cake batter—just up to her knees in height. It makes me feel at home and also helps me look forward to having my own little ones to bless someday. Oh, and I love that it’s printed and that it’s been around for me to actually hold since I was a child. In a generation where the tangible doesn’t seem as important, I cherish this piece of paper.
PROFILE OF ABBY MORTENSON
At a coffee shop, I’m always drinking: a good pour-over. Always black.
My current girl crush and woman I admire: Morgan Day Cecil. She’s a kindred spirit that I met a few years ago at a conference for creatives. She helps people live meaningful lives of depth, intention, and connection.
I’m secretly obsessed with: a few shows my husband and I love to watch together when we find the time. Currently, I’m secretly obsessed with Suits.
Three words that capture who I am: heartfelt, authentic, and idealist.
Growing up, I really wanted to be: a lot of things and was often reminded by my parents that I can’t do everything. I think there were phases where all I wanted to be was a mother. I also wanted to be a teacher, and a bit later, once I discovered photography, I wanted to be a professional photographer for National Geographic.
My love for photography started when: my dad was a hobbiest photographer, and he seemed to be naturally good at it. I remember looking at his big printed photographs from some of his trips (Tanzania, Alaska, Michigan, etc.) and being enthralled with travel and photography. I began taking photos in middle school and learned how to develop my own film. I continued to take photography classes and work for the yearbook as a photographer in high school and then college. Since then, I’ve always been the girl with a camera with her, and eventually, my business happened pretty organically when I started taking photos for friends and their friends.
A typical day for me looks like: the only consistency in my daily life is prayer and coffee. I’m the kind of person that loves the idea of ritual and harmony in daily life, but I struggle to make it happen. I juggle 2 jobs, plus the current full-time gig of being a foster mom, my days are filled with toddler-chasing, checking emails, dreaming up my next yoga retreat or class I want to teach, writing, editing photographs, and whatever else may come up.
I keep balance between work and life by: it’s a daily practice (and challenge) for me rather than an overall feeling of life balance. I feel that I’m always in over my head, but I often use prayer and breathing to ground me when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I try to take time alone and be intentional with my family each day. I’m also really thankful for my husband who keeps me more balanced than I would naturally be. I’ve always been someone who loves being involved in a lot of things and struggle with the necessary discipline of saying no so that I can rest, be home, and in turn, love others better.
Something I rarely tell people about myself: I love to read and write, and I’m much more comfortable expressing myself through writing than talking. I’m planning to write a book one day.
A personal photo that I keep close is: photos of my mom. She passed away unexpectedly last year, and too soon. My heart is still very broken over losing her, so I have many pictures of her around my house and one at my desk of her that reminds me of her big laugh and beautiful heart.