Kelli Gilliam: Mama, Welder & Pageant Contestant | Empowerment Session | Newport News, Virginia


Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, "Women are the real architects of society."

Those words ring true and bring my good friend, Kelli, to mind. Kelli is truly an inspiration in many aspects of life. God is at the heart of all she does and she is an active member of her church and church community.

Sheldon, her husband, is a lucky man. Kelli is a loving wife and their marriage is truly one to admire. (I know I sure do!)

There are 5 bright and kind children who call her mama. These kids.. just their mannerisms and heart for giving back is truly astonishing. They have their moments, just like all kids, but I've never met such well-rounded and wholesome individuals! 

Kelli represents women in the workforce. After graduating from The Apprentice School for welding in 2014, she worked as a pipe welder and in 2017 became an Apprentice Welding Craft Instructor at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.

From mommin' to baking cakes out of the kindness of her heart to her incredible work ethic, Kelli is one of the raddest women I know. To top it all off, she was crowned Mrs. Denbigh 2019 and is in the running for Mrs. Virginia 2019! Is there anything this woman CAN'T do?! 

When Kelli asked me if I would be her photographer for her campaign, I couldn't say no even though I knew this would mean having to step out of my comfort zone with some of our sessions. What do I mean by that? Well, I'll explain. 

So, the first time I photographed Kelli for her campaign was over at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Virginia. Now this one was right up my alley! I was able to observe her chat with some women who were learning some welding. While they were unsure if it would be their next career move, Kelli was able to give them some awesome tips, tricks, and insight to help hone their skills and shape their potential futures. 


Not only did she teach them, but as a fellow wife to a welder, I had some questions as well and she broke it down into ways I would understand. 

A few weeks later Kelli asked me if I would take some photos of her for her Mrs. Denbigh Facebook page (Go give her a follow!). These would be the official photos of Mrs. Denbigh, no pressure, right? 

My dear colleague and the best make-up artist in Hampton Roads, Sara (You can find her AMAZING work here!), did her thing and then it was off to Christopher Newport University for a portrait session!

Now most of you know, I don't photograph like a typical photographer. I focus on movement, connection, and emotion. You know, all the things that tell a story. I imagined these photos somewhat regal but I still wanted to tell a story. And by some magic, I did. We started off a bit formally and finished up in a cute casual outfit that still showed her class. 

She reminds me of a young Jackie Kennedy <3

Check out the rest of the session below!