Diane Gaughan leads a double life.
Most of the time, she’s a typical college student, spending days trying to catch up on homework and sleep.
Sometimes, however, she can be found on New York City rooftops, snapping pictures of fashion models and doing photo shoots for high-end international magazines such as OPPA.
Gaughan has been making a name for herself in the fashion photography world, lending her talents to companies such as Hot Topic, Drop Dead Clothing, Vera Wang’s Kohl’s collection Simply Vera and Avril Lavigne’s clothing line Abbey Dawn.
Gaughan, a senior Spanish major, said college was initially just an idea to please her parents, who were against her majoring in art.
“When I came into college … my parents wouldn’t let me major in art,” Gaughan said. “[Spanish] was my next interest, and I always wanted to learn a new language.”
Growing up in Scranton, Pa., she said she always had an interest in art. However, it was the website deviantART that helped her find her true calling at age 16. The site is a sharing forum for artists’ work, offering many categories of styles including anime, motion books and – most important to Gaughan – photography.
At 19, Gaughan received the opportunity of a lifetime while pursuing her college degree. Wilhelmina Models took her on as a photographer after she attended Philadelphia Fashion Week in 2010.
“I went to the week-long show and marketed myself to the models there,” Gaughan said. “Wilhelmina was the modeling agency that ran the event, so the models were represented by them.”
Gaughan said she has had to adjust her personality to compensate with the atmosphere of the cutthroat fashion world.
“People will screw you over just to get your spot,” she said. “I’ve been screwed over by other photographers. I’ve had someone steal my work and get it published on the cover of a magazine.”
Her time at Wilhelmina was cut short by such behavior from a fellow photographer, who insisted she be let go after she made the mistake of telling him her age.
“He went to our boss and made up this story and said, ‘She’s too young, she doesn’t know what she’s doing and I don’t think you hired the right person,’” Gaughan said.
A few years later, Gaughan was asked to return to Wilhelmina. The second time around, she said she had much more control over the situation. Being tough and dedicated are two major lessons she said she’s learned throughout the process.
“Otherwise, there is just another person that wants to do what you’re doing, and they will just take your place in a heartbeat,” Gaughan said. “I’ve learned to become a b—-.”
Angela Sarracino, a makeup artist who has worked with Gaughan on a number of occasions, described her as “such a gem” and “a true talent.”
“She’s sweet, quiet and her work speaks for itself,” Sarracino said. “I’m convinced that she’s soft-spoken and keeps to herself because her imagination must be constantly running wild with creative ideas. I have nothing but amazing things to say about her.”
Other industry professionals who have worked with Gaughan had similar perceptions of her creativity and work ethic.
Gillian Cundall, a model, recently worked with Gaughan on a photo shoot.
“[Gaughan] is really fun to work with, as well as patient,” Cundall said. “Only within the past year have I had any experience modeling, so at that point I was still very unsure of what to do.”
Cundall said she felt comfortable working with Gaughan and appreciated the advice and direction she provided. She said the shoot was “a fantastic experience.”
One important connection Gaughan has made in the fashion business is with model Audrey Kitching, whom she reached out to through email. The first photo shoot she did with Kitching was for Lazy Bones Vintage clothing line and Tokyolux.
“I was honestly nervous as hell, especially since she used to be a role model of mine in high school,” Gaughan said. “I couldn’t believe I was actually going to work for her.”
Working alongside Kitching has led to some of Gaughan’s greatest successes thus far. Gaughan said the biggest publication she scored was OPPA Magazine, which runs internationally.
“[Kitching] and I had just had a few shoots for the fun of it,” Gaughan said. “Her publicist ended up submitting one to OPPA and it ended up getting published and printed worldwide.”
In the shoot, Kitching wore two black bows to hold back her light-pink hair in two pig-tailed buns, along with Mickey Mouse-style white gloves. Though Gaughan and Kitching didn’t think much of the photos at the time, one is now a primary image associated with OPPA Magazine on search engines.
“I didn’t even expect that,” Gaughan said. “It was such a big thing.”
Gaughan isn’t sure where exactly she will end up post-graduation, but she said she feels lucky to have the valuable life lessons she’s learned in the fashion industry already.
“The people in the industry have taught me a lot about life in general and about growing up and about standing up for myself,” Gaughan said. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that if you don’t stand your ground, there is really just someone who is going to take your place, so don’t let anything get in your way.”
Caitlin O’Connell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.