Who would have thought two longtime best friends, one a photographer and the other an event planner and designer, would one day marry their talents and open a selfie museum together in the Queen City? Well, when you say it out loud, it sounds a lot like destiny.
That’s what Sharetha Cooper and Melissa Fuller thought, anyway. Friends since attending kindergarten together at St. James Elementary in Eutawville, South Carolina, they initially went down separate paths, even moving to different cities to launch their own businesses, but even during that time they couldn’t shake the feeling that working together and combining their passions just made sense.
“If a client wanted a more elaborate set for a photo shoot that I didn’t offer, I would call Melissa to do it,” Cooper said. “Then I saw the selfie museum trend going around the country and I’m like, that would be awesome in Charlotte. We could totally do that but make it our own and put our own spin on it because her creative brain is amazing.”
Their collaboration, Picture Project CLT, opens on Dec. 17 in the Independence Shopping Center on East Independence Boulevard. The 4,000-square-foot interactive selfie museum and event space features 15 photo booths with sets that Fuller will create and rotate out seasonally, as well as a podcast studio, event room, dressing rooms and over two dozen photo opportunities throughout.
“You can even take pictures in our restroom,” Fuller said.
How a selfie museum came to Charlotte
It would be obvious to a stranger that Cooper and Fuller are friends — the way they bounce off one another during conversation and finish each other’s sentences — but it’s their deep-rooted respect for one another that tells you how strong their bond is. Cooper and Fuller say they’ve always been each other’s cheerleaders, from high school to college and into their professional lives, despite the distance.
Fuller is an event planning professional with almost 20 years of experience and her own company, The Melissa Project, which specializes in modern luxe styles and petite weddings. She founded the business in Atlanta in 2016 after working for years in counseling, management and human resources, then relocated to Charlotte in 2020.
Cooper established her own real estate firm and photography business following an extensive career in banking and risk management. She is broker and owner at Apex Realty of the Carolinas, a boutique residential real estate firm serving clients and communities in North and South Carolina, and a published portrait photographer with Sharetha Monique Photography.
Since 2015, Cooper has captured expecting mothers, children and families in the Charlotte area, along with a commercial photography sector for personal branding, headshots and real estate photography.
The two had collaborated on photography sets here and there and, at one point, Cooper even floated the idea of opening a selfie museum in Charlotte, but it wasn’t until January 2021 that everything began to click. The two had just spent hours building a custom set for a child to smash a birthday cake and, after 30 minutes, the photoshoot was over.
“We thought, what do we do with all this stuff? It would be great if someone else could use it. And that’s when it hit us,” Fuller said.
She added that some sets take her days to build, and it didn’t feel right to use them just once.
“We were always sad when we had to take it down and we’re tired of being sad,” she continued. “Somebody has to see this. Somebody has to do something with these. I think that was the sign that I needed.”
Taking the perfect picture
Tickets to Picture Project CLT must be purchased online in advance. After a quick briefing and check-in, attendees have one hour to walk through the studio, taking as many photos as they like using their cellphone, their own photographer or renting one of the studio pros (part of the package).
The space features 15 photo booths with different themed sets, some of which Fuller was hesitant to reveal before the grand opening as she wanted guests to be surprised.
She did say there will be a “celebration room,” which is her favorite, and hinted at “a large prop that nobody else has.” There will also be a “wild side” room with animal print, a set with a throne, two Christmas sets and two winter sets, among other themes. The “red light special” room, described as romantic and moody, is Cooper’s favorite.
Every wall inside the selfie museum will feature some sort of photo opportunity, including murals painted by two South Carolina artists. Rooms will be illuminated by professional studio lighting, including ring lights in the ceiling.
Staff will be on hand to help guests with posing, and they can even scan a QR code in each space to see previous photos for inspiration.
“We’re excited to see people’s reaction to the space and what they create,” Fuller said.
“We want to see all the different angles that people can do, creative angles,” Cooper added.
Picture Project CLT is open to all ages, except on Friday and Saturday nights when the space transforms to an adult-only “night experience.” The lights will be dimmer, there will be live music and guests get an hour and a half to take pictures instead of an hour.
There’s also the option of renting the podcast studio to record, and the event room for events — or rent the entire museum if you really want to go big. Cooper and Fuller have curated kids party packages with 15 different themes like neon, princess, mermaids and TikTok.
“You gotta have a TikTok party theme,” Fuller said.
Destined to do this
Cooper and Fuller initially aimed for a late summer opening, but like most new businesses trying to open in the pandemic, they faced challenges and delays.
“The supply chain issues are real,” Cooper said. “And material costs are high.”
“Who would think getting doors would be a supply issue? But it has been,” Fuller added.
Still, the friends persevered on bringing a selfie museum to Charlotte — motivated both by the idea of revitalizing Independence Shopping Center and how much they enjoy working together.
Cooper describes Fuller as creative, thoughtful, rational and level-headed with a personality that’s “very colorful, so it’s true to her creative spirit.”
“She likes to give me all the creative credit, but she comes up with stuff, too,” Fuller said. “And she has faith that I can make it happen. She balances me out because I can go way left and way right. She’s always been that person. She has a heart of gold. Someone who you know genuinely cares about you and whatever you’re doing you know that their heart is always there with yours.”
They get along, think a lot alike and agree creatively. Cooper knows design is important to Fuller, while Fuller knows lighting is very important to Cooper.
“We find a happy medium to make sure we’re not skimping on anything,” Fuller said. “I love that.”
“Some people would think doing a business with your friend would be hard, but I guess we’ve been having fun and tough conversations all our lives, so whatever decisions need to be made, we make them together or we trust the other person to execute,” she added.
For Cooper and Fuller, it works. One might even say they were destined to do this together.