How My Daughter Became an International Multi-Media Internet Superstar Overnight

We have had a bit of excitement at casa de Hartlaub since my last post. The seed of that excitement was planted several years ago — more on that in a bit — and sprouted in March of this year. Annalisa, my sixteen year old daughter, attends The Ohio State University and during the winter-spring semester took an Intro to Photography class as a bit of a respite from her biology lectures, lab courses, and her work on a pediatric oncology research team. The photography class, taught by the informative and entertaining Shane McGeehan with lectures by Aspen Mays, required the submission of a number of projects. Annalisa fulfilled one of them by photographing a series of portraits of herself representing mainstream and counterculture fashions for each of the past ten decades. She turned the project in, earned an ‘A,’ and posted the project to her Flickr account at the beginning of April.

Strange things began to happen within a couple of weeks. Annalisa’s hit numbers, after growing steadily but modestly at first, inexplicably and suddenly began to jump exponentially, day by day, from 10,000 to 20,000 to 60,000 and so on. Will Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation, re-blogged her page, which was a particular thrill for Annalisa, given that she had a crush on him in those heady days when she was four years old. Hank Green, who is a major YouTube player contributor, did as well. This was exciting enough; the tipping point, however, occurred on April 2, when Annalisa got an email from Sara Roncero-Menendez of The Huffington Post, asking for permission to use the portraits in an article about Annalisa and the project. The answer of course was yes. And we waited.

We had no idea what would happen next. The articleappeared on April 29. The story was picked up by Buzzfeed, Independent Journal Review, Yahoo!, and then by news sites based in Vietnam, Italy, Mumbai, France, and England, among others. A young man in Turkey put together a music video featuring the portraits and a Pentatonix track. And it’s still expanding, even as I sit here typing. This, it has been explained to me, is what as “going viral.” It was never Annalisa’s intent to do so; she just wanted to create the best project she could, and then share it with her friends. Indeed.

So what does all of this have to do with you? Ah. The short version is “(M)y daughter did a class photography project and it went viral.” Here is the long version, tacked onto the beginning of what I have set forth above: Annalisa conceived of the project; spent hours turning her room into a portrait studio; spent days looking at old photographs; experimented with makeup, lighting, and shading; and took hundreds of shots before she got the ones she wanted. What everyone is seeing is but the tail end — and the relatively short end — of all of that work. That’s true of any work of art, be it your favorite book of the week, the new Parquet Courts CD, or TrueDetective; you’re getting the end result, not the weeks and months and yeah, in some cases years of work and failure and self-doubt that comprised the gestation period which ultimately resulted in the finished masterpiece being pushed out into the marketplace. You can read all of James Bell’s columns that you want, and follow that advice to the letter, but —and Jim would be the first to tell you this — you’re not going to squeeze out your masterpiece, best- selling or otherwise, viral or otherwise, in an hour or a few days or even a few weeks. You’re going to write and erase and edit and write some more and lay awake and forget about the butler (as Raymond Chandler so famously did) and erase it all and start all over until, as Will Wheaton’s boss was so fond of saying, you “make it so.”

The title of this piece notwithstanding, overnight success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s the end result of many nights, and days, and weeks of work. For Annalisa, it probably started when she was three years old, and for whatever reason during dinner began taking pictures of her food after each bite, as her parents watched with amusement and dinnertimes extended for two hours. It was worth every minute then, and still is. 



27 thoughts on “How My Daughter Became an International Multi-Media Internet Superstar Overnight

  1. HOLY SCHMOLEY JOE! This Annalisa is your Annalisa?!?!?!?

    She is like the coolest kid in the hemisphere! I love these photos! At my big-boy government job I maintain a list of cool/funny/intriguing pictures & comics on the wall of our breakroom and these pics are slated to be the new ones going up week after next because of their serious cool factor! Wow….and to think that I digitally know you…the father of the coolest photographer of her generation!

    I feel special…

    Did I mention I loved this project she did?

    • Yes, Basil, you did impart that feeling to me, which I greatly appreciate! Thank you for scheduling her piece for a place of honor on your wall; those of us who have labored in an office, past or present, know what recognition that is.

      What is really gratifying is that there is no difference between last month’s Annalisa and this month’s world-famous Annalisa. She just keeps trucking along as her normally sweet self. The guy who asked her to the Westerville North High School prom last month (and which is happening tonight), before all this happened, has now acquired a new cool factor as well. Everyone wins.

    • thirty years from now, that boy will be able to look back and be one of the few who can honestly say that his prom date was an international phenom. And, depending on how the future turns out, he will likely think to himself “What if we’d married? How different things would be?”

      Your daughter has definite talent, not just in the photography and editing, but in the concept itself. Minds that think like that have few limits.

    • Thank you for that observation, Basil. One thing I told Annalisa was that “models (with some exceptions) generally have a shelf life of about five years…Jule Campbell, the photographer synonymous with the SI Swimsuit issues, worked for over three decades and left the job on her own schedule. Do the math.” It clicked.
      Annalisa’s prom date is a good friend of hers, a nice guy from a good family. Can’t ask for more than that.

  2. What a great idea, but the execution & the viral appreciation make this truly remarkable. Well earned grade, but the life lesson is priceless. Thanks for sharing, Joe.

  3. Now that’s exciting, and a great lesson, Joe. Do the work, sweat the work, care about the work. Something going viral is largely out of our hands, but if the work is good and strong it might catch the lightning. Congrats to you daughter!

  4. I remember when this project first dropped. I shared it with my friends and they were amazed. One is a film industry pro and another a top-top-tippy-top drawer pro photog and they were seriously impressed.

    One of my classier shares, I saw the brilliance and hard work in it. and now she has a nice resume/college app enhancer to be sure.

    Going viral is quite the experience. My success doesn’t touch hers, but that feeling when you put something together for Buzzfeed, post it, and the next day it has 30K hits is something else. One of my blogs I haven’t updated in 8 months sits quietly garnering page views and I see my pics pop up all over the place.

    The first of many successes for this lovely young lady, keep up the good work!


    • Terri, thank you so much for sharing Annalisa’s projects with your friends. And we are seriously looking at any and all serious offers! 🙂

  5. Most of the time it takes years to become an overnight success. Congrats to your daughter! Obviously, her parents did something right.:-)

    • Joe, I think the best thing we did was indulge her creativityat a very young age even when it took the form of photographing her food, or recycling the contents of the recycle bin (a whole other story). She gets her skills from her mother, who is an accomplished photographer in her own right and whose work has won a number of awards and been featured on magazine covers. She probably gets her out-of-the-box outlook from me. Thanks!

  6. Joe, what an amazingly talented and hard-working, young woman. You do have a lot to be thankful for. Thank you for sharing the inspiration and her success with us.

    • Thank you, Lance. As far as being thankful goes…if I started counting my blessings when I got up each morning and continued doing so throughout the day I wouldn’t be able to list them all. Seriously.

  7. Congratulations on your daughter’s fantastic accomplishments.

    I’m a graduate of Ohio State’s medical school. The best known medical illustrator is Frank Netter. Ciba (a pharmaceutical company) published volume after volume of his work. With your daughter’s interest in photography and biology, she could be the next Frank Netter.


    • For those of you who don’t know, Steve has been a highly respected physician in the central Ohio area for many years.
      Welcome to the Kill Zone, Steve!
      You know what a compliment that is. That’s very kind of you. Thank you. It’s also somewhat prescient; interestingly enough, part of Annalisa’s duties on the research team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital has been the creation of a multi-media presentation for physicians, pediatric patients, and their families with respect to the utilization of a new type of treatment for pediatric cancers. She was tapped for that by Ms. Pam Hayes at Columbus Metro Early College High School, and we’re all looking forward to the finished result. Thanks again.

  8. What a lovely piece of work to go viral. It would be interesting to get a follow up post in a few months, because to me, internet viral memes have two mysteries. First, how do they happen, which you’ve just discussed. Second, how does a person “monetize” it? In other words, I’d love to know what concrete or longer-lasting impact this moment of celebrity has for your daughter.

  9. Thank you, Amy. And that’s a terrific question regarding the longer lasting impact. Annalisa didn’t post her project to her Flickr page for any reason other than to share and she (and her mom and I) never expected this sort of result. She was a bit of a local celebrity before this — she had a feature role in a musical production at Shadowbox, our local theater company — but this has expanded her reputation a bit. With respect to monetizing it…she’s had a number of offers already for everything from posters and prints to apps and gallery showings here and elsewhere. Time will tell. She’s got to get her research project done first, however. And, of course, it’s Prom Night tonight! Thanks!

  10. I know you are bursting with pride. A parent loves to see his/her child be successful and to garner such accolades as well can change her life completely.

  11. Linda, you bet! It has been a real experience, and it’s not over. Now we’re seeing articles about the articles online, and commentators are attempting to analyze why she included certain items in the photos. It’s an interesting process. Thanks!

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