Gene Smirnov: The Strange and Unusual

Sep 2, 2015
Photographer Spotlight

Ryan Ashley Malarkey is a talented tattoo artist with a love of anything out of the ordinary. In fact, she and her boyfriend, Josh Balz, own an oddities parlor appropriately named The Strange and Unusual. Recently, Philadelphia photographer Gene Smirnov shot the unique power couple in their Kingston, PA storefront for Inked Magazine. The moody setting of their parlor made for beautiful, dark and mysterious imagery that we just had to share. Enjoy!

I've been trying to work with Inked mag for years, so a random email from a photo editor was a pleasant surprise. I was also happy to hear that she found me through Wonderful Machine! As for style, I've always been a fan of darker imagery, so I just let myself loose within the context and requirements, so it includes many visual components I enjoy.

Gene says the direction of the shoot was pretty broad. Inked's photo editor requested strong environmental portraits of the heavily tattooed couple, and he was able to utilize the store's large selection of taxidermy, skulls and bones, medical equipment and other oddities to make an interesting series of portraits. 

I think the biggest issue was that store was so packed with various items, that it was hard to have a clear-cut vision. It was just well spaced out store, so it took a while to move things around and get pieces in place. We spent hours to get a handful of final shots.

The shoot came with a pretty tight deadline, but Gene's subjects were flexible, so they took their time getting the shots right. Gene also appreciated Ryan Ashley's great presence in photos since it helped with the visual impact of the final shots. In the end, the couple was a pleasure to work with, and Gene walked away with some pretty memorable portraits.

Check out a couple of behind-the-scenes shots from Gene below, and view more of his work on

Tags: gene smirnov inked inked magazine philadelphia photographer ryan ashley malarkey strange and unusual