by Emeric Harney August 18, 2022 14 min read
Steven Gray and Chad Wagner do so much – photography, making candles, reiki healing, singing, performing, parents to three fur babies and more – how could you ever put a label on everything they do? That’s why we think THEGINGERB3ARDMEN is the perfect name for this dynamic duo’s business, because what they do starts with who they are. Read about our August Teafluencers, fans of all things creative and TEA, of course! (Since Steven is rumored to be related to the actual Earl Grey, how could they not be?)
Harney: Tell us a little about you both. Where are you from, educational/professional background, where you live, family, etc.
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: Hi! We’re Chad and Steven. We’re partners in both work and life.
Chad grew up in a military family. He was born in the country of Panama and spent much of his childhood in Hawaii, then in Virginia for high school and college, where he studied Vocal Performance and eventually got a degree in Musical Theatre before landing in New York in his mid-twenties.
Steven grew up in Iowa and trained as a gymnast for most of his teenage life while he also did show choir. He got degrees in Vocal Performance and Dance. After college, Steven moved to New York to pursue performing and was grateful to be given the opportunities to perform in two Original Broadway Casts, along with a few really dynamic Immersive Theater Off-Broadway experiences.
Chad and Steven met in early 2014, and soon after began working together in Photography. We seeked to develop a throughline together and started marketing toward the headshot industry, as we are both performers and have connections inside that realm. Early on in our relationship together, we discovered that we both had a love for supporting Drag Artists. For Chad, he had experienced a love from within the Drag community since the early 2000s, and it wasn’t until we started photographing Queens together from Rupaul’s Drag Race that our aesthetic and brand started morphing into something unique in itself and into a direction that just made a lot of sense. We had lived all over New York City until the 2020 pandemic hit, which is when we made the decision to take a break from the Metropolis and move to Beacon, NY where we could be closer to nature and enjoy a more peaceful transition into the unknown.
Since photography is such an “in-person” and intimate/vulnerable experience- needless to say all of our work kind of evaporated before our eyes during the height of the pandemic… hence our pivot at that time to our candle company Les Loups De La Lune.
Les Loups De La Lune is a company we created, which has reiki-charged manifestation candles for a variety of needs/desires. Les Loups was the brainchild of Chad, Steven and Manu Del Prete (Chad and Steven’s Reiki Master and mentor), who had been Making Reiki Charged “WITCH PLEASE” manifestation candles together since 2017 to give to family and friends in need. Also attached to Les Loups are energy services such as distant reiki-healing, tarot card readings and curated reiki-charged crystals.
Harney: How did you meet?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN (Steven): I reached out to Chad on Facebook saying he had kind eyes and that it felt like I knew him somehow. A few months later, he agreed to be photographed by me for an art project I was working on. Chad and I started flirting and talking more, and now it’s been almost eight years already.
Harney: When did you both become interested in photography?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN (Steven): My mom gave me my first camera after a show I was working on had to close due to the damage of Hurricane Sandy. My mom knew I needed something to inspire me, and said she wanted me to document my experiences in New York so she could see the world that I was living in from afar. I soon began to realize that I liked photographing people much more than the architecture of the city, and I gravitated toward meeting with artists from the dance community and made art with them, capturing the energy and architecture that exudes from a body in motion.
With more job opportunities and money coming in from my Broadway shows, I felt it was necessary to keep upgrading the equipment to be able to increase my ability of capturing what and how I saw. With Chad and me combining our efforts, we were able to exponentially grow alongside one another.
Having worked in creative fields for years, Chad has always had the eye for photography. We started working together a few months after meeting, with Chad assisting me on shoots, but it wasn’t until he started shooting more on his own that he developed his own point-of-view and vantage point. Once Chad and I started working together and collaborating on projects, it became a beautiful synthesis.
There were two eyes, two perspectives, two desires and two opinions at all times, which exponentially elevated our work. We were constantly vetting one another, and it made our work better and better until we finally felt like “hey! This may be more than just a hobby!”
Harney: When did you start THEGINGERB3ARDMEN? Seeing your photos, we understand where the name came from! And do you really get mistaken as twins?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN (Chad): When Steven started photography, he was known under the name STG Photography (Steven Trumon Gray). When I stepped into the picture back in 2015, I had begun to take the reins a bit more since Steven was spending the majority of his time performing in shows (at that time I believe it was Cirque du Soleil’s “PARAMOUR”) - so we felt the need to create a combined entity. My Instagram handle at the time was @GINGERB3ARDMAN (a play on words, thanks to my roomie / bestie Gavin Grymes for coming up with it out of his love for my ginger-bearded face), and so rather than create a whole new entity from scratch I had the idea “Why not just call us @THEGINGERB3ARDMEN?” Alas, that is how THEGINGERB3ARDMEN became our little baby of a brand. The funny thing is yes… people ask if we are twins or brothers CONSTANTLY when first meeting us without really taking in our energies, which has become a bit vexing after all these years, and The Delta Airlines ad definitely didn’t help that case. LOL! Steven and I are with each other because we fell in love with one another’s spirits, and the “looks” of one another was farthest from our norm given our track records in previous dating life. Sometimes energies just click and explanations are inconsequential.
Harney: You specialize in Headshots and Conceptual Photography, but have recently begun even venturing into the world of Wedding Photography too (including elopements, which we find interesting!). How did you choose to focus on those areas?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: I guess you could say that we just go with what’s in our flow…and it has to be fun, otherwise what’s the point? We know that we’re capable of doing any kind of photography that we put our energy into. So if a person asks for a particular kind of shoot we will do it…but in our own way. Usually someone will see the work we have created in the past and ask for something inspired by what they saw. We go through waves of doing mainly Headshot work for months on-end. Then other times Drag Queens will swarm our DMs asking for us to capture their creations, and sometimes it’s their entire run on a reality TV competition!
We also get branding imagery requests for companies, where we get to work with professionals of a certain field (take Marketing for instance), people who aren’t used to being in front of a camera ever, which gives us the opportunity to use our energy work for them and allow them to eventually find comfort in us for holding space for them. And yes, recently we have been getting a slew of engagement and wedding inquiries. But of course, we don’t consider ourselves your typical Wedding Photographers. People bring us on when they want to capture their special day in a different and unique way. Think of us more as conceptual portrait photographers who just happen to do weddings for a select few.
We never wanted to put ourselves into a box. There is so much beauty in the world that we want to see and capture. If we choose to challenge ourselves and kind of throw ourselves into new experiences and the rainbow of opportunities, we feel we will never know where we are to end up…which is never boring and always fun!
Life is our own Sandbox, per se. Let’s play.
Harney: We were fortunate enough to have you help us with the Miz Cracker shoot, which was a blast! Tell our readers about working on that shoot.
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: We had worked with Miz Cracker a few times prior to your interview with her. She had reached out to let us know that she wanted us to capture the imagery to go alongside your interview, and we were extremely grateful and humbled to partake and be accepted into the Harney & Sons world. Cracker is not only gorgeous, but she also is so light energetically to be with on set. Also, Emeric was one of the kindest and most accommodating people we have worked with. When he arrived for the shoot, he came into the room with a speaker and said “I’ve got the music!”, and we had to break the news to him that Miz Cracker prefers no music on set, and rather just communication and conversation. We always find that adorable and a nice change of pace.
We also loved that Celestino Couture wanted to help out with styling Miz Cracker for the shoot, as their designs truly shaped the aesthetics and location choices inside the space. It was a lovely photoshoot, and we loved the imagery that came out of it. We were also very excited to have left with Emeric Harney as our new friend.
Harney: So, the “Nouns” category on your website is meant to showcase all the other kinds of photography you do beyond the three main ones, right? There’s food, nature, structures, animals and more. Is there any request you’d turn down?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: We just LOVE capturing energy and moments. We think that anything and everything is valid with a point of view and some knowledge on how to use a camera. We don’t think we would actively turn down a project, unless we were to feel that the energies are not aligned.
In our process, we don’t like to plan a whole lot. We love flying by the seat of our pants and surviving a moment and using our intuition. Whatever is presented is what we’ll capture, and that’s exciting for us.
Harney: You have a studio where you do quite a bit of shooting, but you obviously go on location. How far will/have you traveled for a gig?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: We would travel anywhere in the world to create. At the beginning of the pandemic, we had an offer for us to photograph for a company that wanted to pay for us to trek the Globe, capturing the unique aspects of major cities in far-off lands! That opportunity fell through; however, we hope for more of these types of prospects to arise in the future.
We think in the next chapter of our photography journey, we’d love to do some vacation/travel photography for hotels/ airB&Bs, or to even capture destination weddings. We are in dialogues currently about a potential wedding in Italy in 2023/2024 which is going to be DELICIOUS.
Harney: Steven, you’re also a Broadway performer and a candlemaker, correct? Tell us about those skills.
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN (Steven): Chad and I both make the candles. I was a Broadway performer before the pandemic. I haven’t kept up with my craft or the physicality required to jump back into the whirlpool of the industry. As far as performance work goes, I moved to NYC to perform with Company XIV (my dream company- they do a show called Nutcracker Rouge, and I had the pleasure of playing their Prince character in their rendition of CINDERELLA). Later, I was a swing in the immersive theatre show “Queen of the Night” at the Diamond Horseshoe, then went back to Company XIV for a handful of shows until Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour came my way and I made my Broadway Debut. I was in the cast from start to finish. After that show, I went back to Company XIV until I booked My Fair Lady at Lincoln Center, which was my most recent show.
I’m extremely grateful for the times and experiences I’ve had on stage; however, I’m excited to be in a place where I can re-enter when my mind and body is invigorated to do the work. It is a dream, but dreams are malleable and transitory. And after doing it- I’m realizing that eight shows a week is a lot of time and energy to give, and I need to prime myself to do that again.
Harney: Chad, do you have any side hustles as well?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN )Chad): A side hustle…it seems quite unimaginable at this moment! Owning and running two businesses has provided a lot of responsibility and expectation for the both of us.
Outside of the human connection aspects and creation side of Photography comes hours on-end of scheduling and post-editing processes, so at times it feels like it is next to impossible to get “caught up.”
The same goes with our Reiki Charged candle business. Every moment in the process is done by our own hands, from the design conception, to scent creation, to the ceremonial aspects of our craft, to the packaging and shipping. This is a two-person operation that one might assume takes a village, yet we couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve been able to accomplish together.
But I guess there is always room for a side hustle, if one allows all the different personalities within oneself to come to the surface! I happen to have a multitude of them within me…call me multidimensional.
Back when Steven and I first met, I had been working in Commercial Real Estate in NYC. Although I have always had a passion since childhood for the exploration of cool and unique buildings and architecture, when I made my leap into Real Estate I didn’t listen to that one little voice in my “mosh-pit” of energies that told me Residential Real Estate would be more gratifying for my journey. Needless to say, I let the Commercial Real Estate thing go “bye-bye” back then, yet now (eight years later) I’m venturing back into the field, however, this time I will be helping people find HOME.
Harney: We know you’re both reiki healers. How did that come about?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: We are both Reiki Masters. In one of our earlier years together, we had the opportunity to experience an Ayahuasca journey with a Shaman from Peru. Both of our experiences with Ayahuasca were vastly different in nature, with Chad opening up to dimensions beyond explanation, and Steven falling into a deep meditation after one of his Spirit guides told him he was meant to be a healer in this lifetime and that he would find his Reiki Master soon. Perhaps a week after that experience, we found ourselves in a shop in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn where we ran into this wonderful woman named Manu. Manu asked if we were twins… *🙄 See earlier comments*, and we said no we were partners, and she said it made sense because our aura’s funneled towards one another’s crown chakras in the shape of a heart, and she expressed “not twins, but Twin Flames.”
We asked Manu what she did in the store, and she said “I’m the Reiki Master here.” Then Steven replied “I’m supposed to meet a reiki master,” and Manu exclaimed “What do you do!?” We told her “We’re photographers,” and she replied “I’m in need of a photographer!”
That meeting was the beginning of a beautiful and magical relationship that would flourish into where we are today. Manu would enrich us with the gift of Reiki and reinvigorate the craft that was always inside of us, and our friendship would evolve over the years to where we now feel more like family, always there for one another.
With Manu, we studied and were attuned to the craft of Reiki 1-3, and then on to Master level, and in return over time we were there for her in creating a visual representation of her inner magic. Steven carries on in life with in-person or distant Reiki healing sessions, while he and Chad both reserve the gift for our candle ceremonies, crystal programming and home space-clearing. It’s also a wonderful tool to have for each other when one of us gets the very occasional headache. 😉
Harney: Do you bring the tenets of that practice into your shoots? If so, how do you both feel it helps create a better environment?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: Oh, absolutely! But I don’t think it’s always on purpose. I think we have an intuition of how a person is feeling while shooting, and we sort of create a current or a stream energetically for them to “swim in.” We think that by inviting a person into our own personal space, it allows them to realize that you trust them. They don’t have to “show up” artificially or be overly presentiational. We want the client to feel like we’re just a couple of friends hanging out and capturing moments together. By holding space and allowing people to feel “safe,” they are better able to let their guard down and truly take risks. And Steven always says, “With risk comes reward.”
Harney: You say on your website that if someone has a “dream photoshoot” in mind, to let you know what that is. Do the two of you have a “dream photoshoot” that you’d love to create?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: After the editorial we shot in Death Valley for FUJIFILM, our love for conceptual on-location work was reinvigorated. To have a team of fashion stylists, hair & makeup artists, and to be in the vast array of incredible natural locations that the world has to offer - it is truly exciting to see how far our work could possibly go.
Those kinds of jobs take a lot of money and planning (air travel, a day or so to scout locations, hotels, compensation for everyone), so obviously they don’t happen incredibly frequently for us yet… but it would be delightful to do that type of work with brands who would want to take their imagery to the next level, and who would want to be playful with us and expand their own branding. We definitely would love shooting more conceptual fashion work in gorgeous locations, and maybe even more opportunities to capture Nature (which is so important to us), and capture the essence of both. We love bringing aspects of one world that you would not necessarily expect to find in say a desert or on an icy mountain top, and combining the different elements to create together and tell a fascinating story.
That would be a dream, and to be doing it with a team of friends that we trust implicitly and get along with already would make it even that much better.
Harney: What’s next for THEGINGERB3ARDMEN?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: The future is never guaranteed. If we had our way, we’d love for brands to trust us with our vision and get to do more commercial work. It’d be exciting to see our stuff on billboards, in Times Square again, or in more publications.
Harney: Most important question: what are the names, breeds and personalities of your dogs and cat?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: WE BELIEVE THEY ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS!
Billy: Border Collie, Labrador Retriever. Think of Eeyore personified but with a flair of codependence. (He’s been Steven’s counterpart since college times.)
Ru: Chihuahua. He’s our little Alpha. He has the nickname Ru-Paw and also reminds us of Roo from Winnie the Pooh because he loves to sleep inside Steven’s sweatshirts like a baby kangaroo in a pouch. (Ru was a forfeit from another family, and we feel so lucky to have him as part of ours.)
Griffin: Abyssinian (Chad’s spawn). He is a majestic dog-cat that is so smart that he sometimes chooses to utilize the toilet. He headbutts, sleeps with us and doesn’t run and hide. For a cat, he would make even dog lovers maybe change their mind toward being cat people.
Harney: We hope you’re both tea fans! If so, what kind of teas do you enjoy? Any tea rituals or “I must have tea now” moments in your day?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: WE LOVE TEA. TEA, TEA, TEA!
When Chad is packaging candles, or when Steven is doing photography proof sheets, we almost have daily “hmmmm I want something delicious to drink that’s slightly caffeinated- and that is tea!” We pretty much exclusively only drink Harney & Sons. Between the CBD teas for bedtime or Hot Cinnamon Spice for when we want dessert but don’t want the calories- we have pretty much everything we need at any time of day.
Steven’s parents say he’s related to the actual Earl Grey, but he thinks they are liars.
Harney: Do you have any favorite flavors or types of Harney & Sons tea or anything on your list you’ve been wanting to try?
THEGINGERB3ARDMEN: Oh! We’re willing to try anything and everything from Harney & Sons, but we’re just going to laundry list the ones we can’t get enough of:
(For our multitude of personalities…)
We absolutely love the unique approach and attitude THEGINGERB3ARDMEN bring to everything they do, and we’re looking forward to another opportunity to working with them sometime in the future, hopefully. Take the time to check out their fabulous work on their website, Steven’s Instagram and Chad’s Instagram as well. Thanks to them for taking the time to provide us with these great insights into their work. All photography was provided by THEGINGERB3ARDMEN.
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