The BackStage Pass

This is part of my Forever Grateful project.
As I was selling my home and placing my business on hiatus for a period of time, I took portraits of about 30 people who influenced my career over the past 12 years. This was my way of saying “Thanks” and letting everyone know that I couldn’t have done it without their support.


As they say, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” When I was only a year into my photography business, and still very very ill-prepared, the opportunity you gave me wasn’t just lucky, it was a f-ing miracle.

Your skill, drive, and dedication to your craft landed you an editor position at BackStage. Your skill, drive, dedication to your craft, and your kindness landed me the biggest break of my career; the chance to photograph celebrities.

After being with BackStage for about a year, you were organizing an interview and photo shoot with Jim Carrey and none of the “go-to” photographers were available. You showed Jamie Painter Young, the Editor in Chief, my modest portfolio of headshots and asked her to give me a chance. When I got your call to see if I was available, it was a life changing moment. It was like you walked up next to me and said, “Jump on my coattails Blake, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.” And even though the photo shoot with Jim Carrey fell through, I was now on the roster and began getting called in for various shoots.

Nothing did more to establish me as a legitimate photographer as having a portfolio filled with celebrities the likes of Robert Downey Jr, Kiera Knightly, Seth Green, Colin Farrell, Jeff Bridges, Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Mark Ruffalo, Pee-Wee Herman, and Betty White… to name a few of my favorites. And throughout your time at BackStage, you continually reached out to me for shoot after shoot after shoot. Now my work has been published in several other magazines and even in an Avengers graphic novel (my inner child geeked out on that one).

On top of giving me a celebrity portfolio and exposure, shooting for BackStage also challenged me to up my game on a regular basis. I had to become more versatile and able to shoot in every kind of location (indoors, outdoors, backstage, on stage, out of town, and in bathtubs), on the fly (sometimes with only 5 minutes to “get the shot”), with a wide array of personalities (some of which were… difficult), and still produce high quality work.

The last 12 years of my life would have been drastically different if it weren’t for you. And I’m not the only person you’ve helped out along the way. When you have the chance, you call your friends to work with you wherever you go because you are such a kind, generous, and supportive human being.

Forever grateful,


The Story Behind the Shoot:

Jenelle is a huge fan of The Simpsons. Anyone that knows her, knows she loves The Simpsons. She has a tattoo of Homer Simpson on her shoulder… so maybe calling her a fan is an understatement. I could not think of a better way to show my appreciation than to have one of my make-up artists, Carole Soueidan, airbrush her into her very own Simpsons character.

Jenelle Riley - Photo by Blake Gardner Photography - Make-up by Carole Soueidan
Jenelle Riley – Photo by Blake Gardner Photography – Make-up by Carole Soueidan

Oddly enough, next month, Jenelle is going to sit in on a table read for an episode of The Simpsons. I’m pretty sure she’ll be showing this image to the cast and crew while she’s there. If The Simpsons ever need a new celebrity reporter on the show, this is my submission; For Your Consideration, for Anchor Jenelle Riley.

3 thoughts on “The BackStage Pass

  1. Pingback: Forever Grateful |

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