From Wedding Photographer to Porn Star?

Tanya Lawson: not the porn star


I moved to Sag Harbor to start a new life. I had recently divorced, my career had floundered, and I had a dubious connection to a porn star past. I was the other Tanya Lawson: not the one selling sex videos on line. But in the virtual world of the internet, she was definitely on top...in the rankings, that is.

I knew I never should have changed my name in the first place. Like any good Wellesley educated armchair feminist, I had always had trouble with the idea that I would toss my family name of 20+ years when I married (think Rodham). My parents labored over that name: Tanya Arianne Malott, and though I didn’t love it in grade school, I was strangely attached to it by the time I was expected to trade it in for Tanya Lawson.

My mother had changed her name at least four times, in search of the right professional name after first becoming a divorcee, then a widow. She briefly attempted to do business with her first name only (like Madonna, only it was Connie) only to end up exactly where she started at birth. My father had turned three different women into “Mrs. Jim Malott”, but only one of them is still married to him and using the name.

With all of that baggage, I never thought I would be foolish enough to change my name until I rationalized the first of several name changes of my own. Since everyone mi-s-spelled my name anyway (first AND last), and my fiancé seemed to believe that true love meant I would take his name, wouldn’t we all be happier if I became Tanya Lawson? If we were on the same team, he argued, we needed the same name. My identity crisis had begun.

I worried that I needed to keep my maiden name “for professional reasons”, ever since my photos were published as large as postage stamps in New York Magazine with my tiny mis-spelled name in the gutter. Surely this was the beginning of my huge career as the next Annie Leibovitz (most people get that wrong too). Instead, I convinced myself I had a better shot as an artist with a name people could remember, pronounce, and spell.

Then I moved to Russia with a British husband whose name no one could say, much less spell in the Cyrillic alphabet. In deference to my husband’s position as president of a bank, everyone there called me Tatiana, the polite version of Tanya in Russia. Now I had the wrong first name AND wrong last name.

While living in Moscow and later Puerto Rico, I shot fashion, advertising, and weddings across Europe, the US, and the Caribbean where I saw my name misspelled in other languages. By the time Mr. Lawson and I divorced, my work had been published in nearly every wedding planner and periodical that existed at the time, so I resisted changing my name again (for professional reasons). I was starting to feel like I was in was in a self imposed witness protection program by moving countries twice and changing my name twice in less than six years.. I needed to remain “Tanya Lawson”. I would just give up the ‘r” in “Mrs.”

I moved my personal life to the tiny Village of Sag Harbor and my professional presence to the world wide internet by building my first website and directing brides-to-be to view my work there. Then it happened. I learned of my alternate identity when a bride-to-be remarked “My fiancé can’t wait to meet you. Did you know there is a blonde porn star named Tanya Lawson? ”. Rather than enter the domain name: www.TanyaLawson.com, he had performed a search for “Tanya Lawson” and discovered several pages of links to the porn star by that name. I assured her I was a brunette. We laughed then and I laugh now, but how can a wedding photographer compete with that? Tanya Lawson probably wasn’t even this woman’s name and she seemed to have stopped working in the mid-80’s (got married, changed her name, had kids?) but I would never outrank her ghost on a search engine!

I had to do something about my name so I did what any practical woman would do and I consulted a numerologist. If I had to change my name AGAIN, I might as well get it right once and for all. I wasn’t about to tell any one WHY I did this, but after that consultation I made a brief attempt to become Arianne Malott. Apparently this was the strongest option of all the reasonable configurations of Tanya Arianne Malott Lawson. A few months later, I felt too strange asking my long time friends and clients to call me Arianne. I tried using it at a trade show where I signed up for all kinds of products and newsletters but when the phone began to ring with people asking for Arianne Malott, I always answered yes with hesitation. After printing new business cards and setting up an LLC with this new name that was definitely going to bring me success, I just gave up trying to re-invent myself. I asked my attorney to start the process of reclaiming my maiden name. To my surprise, it took several months and cost me hundreds of dollars to reclaim the name I was given for free at birth!

Shortly after I re-christened myself Tanya Malott, I was telling this tale to a woman I ran into at a Hamptons party. I had photographed her first wedding at least a decade earlier and only recently she had learned that she, too, had the same name as a porn star. In her case, her stepson mistakenly started a rumor at his Upper East Side prep school that his stepmom was a porn star. Eventually this woman and her new husband had to meet with the headmaster, photos in hand of the OTHER woman and ask him to stop the gossip. Note to all brides-to-be: before you order the stationery, do a search of your new name.

Anonymity is not really an option in the age of the internet. I could not have imagined that four short years later, I would be introduced, via email, to a man who, before our first phone conversation, wrote: ”Don’t Google me before we meet”. Can you believe I didn’t? I was naïve enough not to know that a quick search was standard operating procedure in the dating world. Of course, after he spilled the beans, I spent hours digging though his 50,000 entries on Google (complete with links to Sharon Stone and Mariane Pearl and 10,000 bloggers who like to blame him in particular for everything they hate about the media in general). Lucky for me, he was my last dating experience. Now we co-habitate. Malott, Lawson, and Jordan. Three last names, one address. Perfect harmony. He knows I love him even if I don’t want his last name.

Thanks to my computer savvy boyfriend, I have learned to manage my internet presence better. I have multiple domain names (and some for my son), networking pages on A Small World, Facebook, LinkedIn, and soon Spire.com (you haven’t heard of it yet but you will), and several personal and professional YouTube channels. I also registered a few mis-spellings of my name. Better to have all roads lead to me. I don’t want to get lost again now that my boyfriend and I are talking about a potential move to India.

At the moment, my son calls me mom, my boyfriend calls me baby, my friends call me T, my dad calls me pumpkin (still), my German friend spells my name “Tanja:”, and even my best friends still write “Tania” or “Mallot”. I’d gladly sell the domain “Tanya Lawson” to the porn star, but I don’t think she needs it. Apparently, neither do I.

A man called me recently from London. Seems his fiancée particularly liked some of my photos in the wedding planner: Vera Wang “On Weddings”. This particular book has the strangest index of photo credits ever. In the index, the designer arranged thumbnail (and I mean THUMBNAIL) sized photos of everything in the book IN RANDOM ORDER with the corresponding photographer names in one never ending block of microscopic type. Clearly this was a young couple with eyesight still intact. They found Tanya Lawson. The OTHER Tanya Lawson. They kept looking and digging deeper, intrigued by the mystery of it all. Eventually they found me on my (NY) cell phone in Georgia. We met in NY for a drink and a good laugh about their tenacity. I’ll be shooting their Greek wedding in London this fall. I can’t hide after all.


By Tanya Malott