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Photography business is more than a photo studio

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When Hannah Brooks Barnwell was in high school at Burns in Cleveland County people would recognize her as the girl with a camera in her hand. She enjoyed photographing her friends and special events through high school graduation in 2013.

After high school she began her own photography business, Picturing Life Photography, the summer before she enrolled at Isothermal Community College. At Isothermal she earned a General Occupational of Technology Degree and began EMS classes the next fall.

Hannah started riding on a Hickory Nut Gorge EMS truck as a volunteer where she was assigned an ambulance with Tony Barnwell.

"The rest is history," Hannah says today. Two years later the couple was married, bought a house in Rutherfordton and her photography business, with the help of Tony, began to grow. The couple base their business out of Rutherfordton and their studio in downtown.

While photography takes up much of the couple's time along with their daughter Olivia, Hannah and Tony both work other full time jobs.

Hannah works full-time with Rutherford County Emergency Medical Services and rotates station houses.

During the recent interview she was helping to man the Bostic EMS station.

Tony grew up in Hendersonville and moved to the area when he was a child. Both parents passed away when he was young and his sister Amy took care of him.

"(She) raised him into the man he is today," Hannah said.

Tony graduated from R-S Central in 2003 and has been working in building maintenance most of his career.

He has also been a firefighter, a police officer and an EMS worker all in Rutherford County.

In addition to his photography business, Tony works full-time at Fox Run VRI in maintenance.

"My parents have always pushed me to do my heart," Hannah said. "The most common saying in her growing up days was, 'you can do anything you set your mind to'," Hannah said.

Although Tony's parents passed away when he was young, "his sister had always taught him what work ethic is and held him to a high standard."

Tony says he has other great mentors in his life that made him the hard worker he is today. "Jimmie Howell, Jamie Howell and Mitchell Ruppe," are among Tony's mentors.

One of the couple's greatest joys is their 11-year-old daughter Olivia, a sixth grader at R-S Middle.

Like her parents, Olivia is encouraged to always work hard and do her best.

In 2013 when Hannah began Picturing Life Photography it was more of a side hobby but she thoroughly enjoyed it.

One day in 2019, Hannah was going to photograph a wedding and Tony went along with her to help with the pictures.

Tony realized how creative his wife was with her work, but he also noticed her photography equipment was "way out of date."

He pushed Hannah to become more successful with her photography and he purchased all new equipment for her photo work.

Hannah says Tony didn't realize by encouraging her in the work, he too would fall in love with the technicality of photography. Now the two have grown a successful business together with a small studio located in Rutherfordton.

With the couple both working other full-time jobs, and the photography business striving, the couple hired Wes Stewart to join their team.

"Wes has been an amazing addition and allowed us to do more. Wes has an amazing husband Dustin that provides so much encouragement and support to the business," Hannah continued.

As their business was growing, Tony and Hannah were looking for ways to give back to the community. They came up with an idea to offer free photographs of local emergency service teams.

"These departments don't have the budgets to always have pictures made of their employees," Hannah said. The couple tell the departments they will make photographs of their teams and if they want they can make a donation to the business.

"If they feel the need to make a donation, their money is donated back into the community," Hannah said. They recently made a monetary donation to a Little League team in Rutherford County.

The couple has photographed the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office employees and the Town of Lake Lure's Police Department.

Anyone who knows a local emergency service organization that would like photos, can contact Picturing Life Photography.

Tony and Hannah are also open to any other community photography needs and are open to suggestions.

On next Monday, the couple who have been working diligently for many years, will spend Labor Day in their happy place -- photographing their family.

Email Hannah at: hannah.olivia9@yahoo.com for more information.

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