SRL Media, Inc.
By Andy Armano | www.AndyArmano.com
A fixture at LGBTQ+ community events, fundraisers, clubs, restaurants, and shops, Stephen R. Lang has documented 16 years of life in South Florida through his photography. His seemingly endless energy propels him forward as he has made a name for himself as a leader in event photography. Recently, he has weathered the COVID-19 pandemic and emerged stronger, more skilled, and ready to continue his legacy.
Andy Armano: How did you get into photography?
Stephen R. Lang: It was a step by step process. I had a roommate (Misty Eyez) who was a drag queen at the time (now identifying as trans). She wanted me to take pictures of her before she went out. I started going out with her, so I used her camera taking pictures of her with her friends. My friend introduced me to Mark Haines who had noticed my photography. He had a gay website called Mark’s List. One day he asked me, “Hey, do you want to work for me?” That’s how it all happened about 16 years ago. At the time, Mark’s List was the number one gay and lesbian entertainment website, and I ended up doing much more than photography for the business. Unfortunately, the owner passed in 2014 while on The SMART Ride. Mark’s nephew merged Mark’s List into another publication. I worked for them for a while, but soon started my own company, SRL Media, Inc. It’s amazing to go from being an employee to being a business owner, seeing the power shift and change.
AA: How has being in business for yourself impacted your life?
SRL: Oh, it’s amazing. I went from low self-esteem, to a better self-esteem; it’s still not great. I’m still working on that. I get to bring my own dreams to my company. My company model is to help other people and businesses grow. I love doing headshots to help people in their careers, show people a different outlook on their lives, and give someone a perspective they might not have seen before.
AA: Tell me about your involvement with the gay community. I mean, you’re out and about all the time.
SRL: I have amazing relationships with pretty much every nonprofit in the area, big and small. I have a great history with the AIDS Walk, Broward House, and The Pride Center at Equality Park, for example. I know so many good people from my involvement with their events.
AA: What is something about you many people don’t realize?
SRL: I love doing weddings.
AA: It takes a special set of skills and a lot of guts! I could never do it. You can’t reshoot a wedding.
SRL: I did my research, so I understood what was needed from a wedding photographer, and I had all the on-the-job training I would ever need. So it was natural for me. Weddings can keep me occupied for hours. There is so much to photograph, the cake alone! I will take 300 pictures of just it. Different angles, different lighting. Then there is the bride and the family. I take a lot of pride in my work so I am not afraid to take charge. I will happily move your grandmother and put her into the right position so I get the shot I need. And, I’m going to make sure that everything looks amazing.
AA: It must be really gratifying to give those memories to people.
SRL: Yes, when someone comments back on my photographs and says, “Oh, my God, you got that. That is amazing. Thank you,” it means I have done a good job. Some people down-grade event photographers or wedding photographers, saying something like, “Well, my nephew could do it on his phone.” And I say, “No he couldn’t. He can’t go out for hours and get a whole event’s worth of great shots.”
AA: Do you sometimes feel a conflict between being on the job when everyone around you is socializing?
SRL: Yes, I try really hard to be a nice guy, even though I have a reputation sometimes being somewhat difficult [laughs], but people don’t understand when I am out, I am working. I am counting shots, thinking about what my clients need, figuring out technical parts of photography, paying attention to time or cues so that I am in position. It’s a lot. I don’t always have the time to socialize. It’s not personal to anyone else.
AA: What are some of your challenges you’ve overcome over the years?
SRL: At the start, I wasn’t really a fan of doing club and event photography. I was shy. And some people aren’t always the nicest to you. But, I learned not to let that bother me. I learned to love it and make it work for me.
AA: That’s surprising to hear that you didn’t like it at first, but discovered your talent for it.
SRL: Another thing is that I choke up so hard and fast. I have a really hard time overthinking things. I know this sounds so cheesy, but I did The Secret, which I really needed to do at the time. I still believe certain things. I’m a complete believer in The Universe and the power of positive thinking. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to put in the work, but I have seen so much come to pass that I am grateful for.
AA: When the pandemic hit events suddenly ceased to exist. That must have been very hard. How did you handle that?
SRL: At first I was just looking at a wall for an hour and then laughing about the fact that I was looking at a wall for an hour. Then Iaughed for realizing that I’d been laughing for half an hour about the fact that I’d been looking at a wall for an hour. Eventually, I got out of the fog and learned new skills from YouTube videos and taking tutorials. Things are just starting to pick up again and I am back working for my clients.
AA: This brings me to the point that you are really a cultural documenter, a photographic ethnographer. You preserve memories. As time passes, these shots carry more meaning and value. People take them for granted in the present, but a decade or further down the road they have unexpected value.
SRL: Like this past year in 2020, in March, I did Winter Party, and that was the last major event that I did. Basically, I documented the last major event before the pandemic shut things down.
AA: Have you ever shot a photograph that ended up having very special value to you or others?
SRL: On more than one occasion, I have taken the last picture of someone who suddenly passed away. Sometimes, that photo was used at a memorial or online and that means a lot to me, that I could have provided that as a way to comfort people in their time of loss. I usually get genuine smiles from people and now they have a lasting memory.
AA: That is really moving. Thank you for talking with us and for being such a constant presence. I know as time goes on, your photographs will be important reminders of our gay community.