Photographer Leanne Gelish teamed up with Hometown Flower Co. for an event promoting self-love. "Love Yourself" at Spolight at The Parmount in Hungtinton is a workshop that incorporates floral crafts and a portrait session.  Credit: Barry Sloan

From clear strands of fishing wire intertwined, fresh flowers dangle upside down. Hanging from their stems are round ranunculus in warm peach and yellow; chili-red strawflowers; tulips in magenta. 

Against a white backdrop, photographer Leanne Gelish shoots portraits through floating flowers — under one condition. 

“You are not allowed in that space with any sort of negativity about yourself,” says Gelish. 

The sold-out pre-Valentine’s Day portrait session and floral workshop, staged at Spotlight at the Paramount in Huntington Village last week, is the latest of a series of collaborations between Hometown Flower Co. and Gelish. The partners share a common goal: to promote self-love, confidence and empowerment. 

SELF-LOVE IN A PHOTOGRAPH

Michelle Posada, of Lake Ronkonkoma, crafts a dried floral picture...

Michelle Posada, of Lake Ronkonkoma, crafts a dried floral picture frame during the Love Yourself: Dried Floral Frames Workshop + Portrait Photography Session at The Paramount in Huntington on Feb. 8. Credit: Barry Sloan

At the instruction of Jaclyn Rutigliano, who founded the floral company with her husband Marc Iervolino, participants first decorate picture frames with naturally dried blooms. Then, Gelish prompts each attendee to write three to five things they love about themselves on Post Its and affix them to a mirror. 

Throughout the portrait session, Gelish asks her subjects to focus on those words.

“When you love yourself, you talk to yourself kindly more than you talk to yourself negatively,” Gelish says.

It doesn’t matter if you’re married, engaged, single, whatever, you have to love yourself in this world.”

— Leanne Gelish

In a fitted black dress that grazes her shoulders, Vivian Spratt, 35, takes careful cues from Gelish as she poses. When the photographer suggests she think about her husband and what it might be like to meet their first child — due in June — Spratt’s eyes glisten. 

“She made me cry,” says Spratt, of Commack, whose chosen traits were loyalty, empathy and sense of humor. 

As a licensed clinical social worker, Spratt, is drawn to any opportunity to build her own self-confidence.

“Myself and my girlfriends, we’re all mental health professionals, so this is something that we practice on a daily basis,” she says. “We work with patients and clients, so we like to be able to work with ourselves, too.”

How do you practice self-love?

Jaclyn Rutigliano, 37, of Huntington 

“Designing flowers, for sure. “I always make time to design for myself. I like to pick up kind of the forgotten flowers, or the misfits as I call them, and just play and design things that no one would want or would be too crazy expensive given how many flowers we’re using, just to have fun and try something new.”

Vivian Spratt, 35, of Commack

“I really just look forward to doing nothing; but there is something involved in that. I look forward to just sitting on my couch, watching reality TV, anything on Bravo, I’m good.”

Megan Gilman, 29, of Northport 

“I’ve been taking time to reflect back on everything that I’ve accomplished ... A problem that I’ve run into myself is accomplishing things and then moving forward, but not appreciating myself for everything that I’ve done to get up to this point.”

WHAT IS SELF-LOVE?

From a clinical perspective, the practice of self-love is about “caring for your whole self, including your mental health, your physical health and overall well-being,” says clinical psychologist Adam Gonzalez, vice chair of behavioral health and founding director of the Stony Brook University Mind-Body Clinical Research Center. This includes implementing or maintaining healthy habits — exercise, balanced eating, connecting socially, making time for reflection; learning to say “no” and setting boundaries — and making oneself a priority, he says.

“Especially with the COVID pandemic, for many people their focus may have been on caring for others, whether it be young kids, elders in their family; or just getting by,” Gonzalez says. “Especially now, as things from a COVID perspective are winding down, it’s an ideal time to refocus one’s attention on oneself.”

Cultivating self-love only puts the individual in a better position to care for others, Gonzalez says.

Rutigliano’s floral company came of her own attempt at self-love — a concept that remains immense and complex. 

“I got into floral design as a form of stress relief,” says Rutigliano. “So, since Day One I’ve been designing as a form of sort of stress relief, grounding myself, mindfulness and all of our workshops are really geared toward extending that gift to everyone else.”

Surrounded by Rutigliano’s flowers, Kelly Dantuono, 34, looks into the lens of Gelish’s camera. Around her, an incidentally female crowd mills about. 

We have to change the narrative about how women see themselves.”

— Kelly Dantuono

“Forget about bullying each other," Dantuono says, adding, "we’re really bullies to ourselves.”

A solo-practitioner of real estate law living in Huntington Village, Dantuono’s says her confidence is unwavering as she conducts a closing or takes a client through a contract signing. But a portrait shoot is daunting. Gelish, who has photographed Dantuono before, encourages her.

“It’s so easy to look in the mirror and notice every flaw about yourself,” Gelish says. “But I’d rather people look in the mirror and say, ‘you know what, I do want to improve that, but right now, I’m happy with myself.’” 

Activities to Foster Self Love

Book a “Love Yourself” portrait session with Leanne Gelish

Visit leannegelish.com or email inquiries@leannegelish.com for more information. Sessions start at $250.

Book a salt cave session

One of the spots offering salt cave sessions on Long Island is Montauk Salt Cave, with locations in Huntington (169 New York Ave.; 631-923-303) and Montauk (552 W. Lake Drive; 631 668 7258); montauksaltcave.com. Standard single sessions start at $40; wellness Wednesdays $20 per person.

Design flowers with Hometown Flower Co.

Visit hometownflowerco.com/workshops for upcoming workshops. 

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