Eye Wonder: Woman launches photography studio focusing on the human iris at Destin Commons
DESTIN – Gia Roche can’t take her eyes off of eyes.

The Destin entrepreneur recently started Eye Wonder, a business capturing eyes through macro photography of the iris, the part that defines eye color. Roche thinks eyes are enchanting, she said.

“I’ve always been like, ‘Ooh, what color are your eyes?’” Roche said. “I’ve always been fascinated by them, but I definitely pay it more attention (now). I was at Home Goods and I was like, ‘What color are your eyes?’ The cashier was like, ‘Green.’ Greens are really hard to come across. I’m like, ‘You should stop by and visit us. I’d love to get a picture of your eyes.’ I feel like I’m always hunting for new and cool designs.”

Roche opened the Eye Wonder studio and store this past Monday at the Destin Commons, where she photographs the iris and offers immediate printing and various other framing and printing options of the iris.

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Roche, who is originally from Paraguay, has always loved photography.

“Who doesn’t?” she said. “I just always really loved the idea of immortalizing something.”

Roche has toyed with a camera since her parents bought her one as a child. She participated in photography clubs, shot portraits and weddings and even spent time in the trenches of a department store portrait studio.

She stumbled into macro photography of the eye two years ago, during her 10-year career in the financial industry, when a friend in Europe posted it on social media. She saw a similar post a year later.

“I was like, ‘Oh my God. There’s that thing again, that I thought was really cool,’” Roche said. “I googled it because I wanted to get it done, and I saw that there was no place in the United States. They had it in Germany, Australia, Canada. I certainly wasn’t the pioneer of the idea because it was being done, but I wanted for it to be done here. And that’s what entrepreneurship is, it’s finding a need in the market and filling it.”

Roche started to research. She considered a franchise, but opted to figure it out herself, she said.

“At first, I bought a really, really good camera, then I started to play around with it,” Roche said. “When I realized I could do it, I was like, ‘This is what I want to do,’ so I started investing in the rest of the equipment.’”

Roche thought “quite hard” about the name of her business, she said.

“The eyes, they call it the window to the soul,” Roche said. “There’s a certain element there of, ‘What is inside your eye? What’s going on in there?’ So it’s just, Eye Wonder.”

Roche is also intrigued by iridology.

“Iridology believes that your eye changes according to your health,” Roche said. “I’ve seen people with speckles and spots. Eyes do also change, and they found that out a few years ago through retinal scans. It’s not gonna be a major change, but minimal enough to where after four or five years, sometimes it’s not scanning.”

Roche thinks she was especially drawn to macro photography of the eye because of its sentimental value. She had a 5-year-old daughter die from brain cancer in 2012.

“I remember after that (and before), I always was the type of person, I wanted to keep every fingerprint, every little cast of their hands,” Roche said. “And the iris is unique to every person. It’s like their fingerprint. The iris has its own particular design, so I thought, ‘How cool is it to be able to look into your mother’s eye or your husband’s eye forever?’”

Roche has a photo of her husband Dennis’ “beautiful” blue iris hanging above the couch in her studio. He has been extremely supportive, she said.

All eyes are different. Light eyes are easier to capture than dark eyes, Roche said.

“With brown eyes, you can lighten them a little bit so it looks like the sun is hitting it, but some people have really smooth eyes; there’s not much in there,” Roche said. “And some people have a lot of fiber type things.”

An “easy eye” can take 5 minutes to capture. But, time slots are 30 minutes in case they run into issues, such as people with fake eyelashes that cast a shadow over their iris or a glare from the sun shining into the window.

“If a person moves, I have to readjust everything,” Roche said. “I do have to be really patient. Every little centimeter matters.”

Roche’s main customer requests so far are from couples who want their irises framed together and as gifts for mothers, she said. She often posts a photo of the eye before and after editing, because she wants people to see how she preserves the integrity of the eye.

“A lot of the places that I saw in other countries do so much work to the eye that it looks fake,” Roche said. “I get it. Some people like the artsy thing to it, but I never wanted to take away from the natural. I don’t want to look at something and be like, ‘Oh, this is just art kind of based on my eye.’ I want it to be like, ‘It’s my eye. This is what my eye looks like.’”

Roche is excited to open her business in Destin. She moved to the area from Pennsylvania in 2014 after a client suggested she check it out.

“I Googled it, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, Destin’s beautiful,’” Roche said. “I came on vacation and I was completely obsessed. I literally moved here three months later. It was the best thing I ever did. I love everything about this place.”

She also loves her space at the Destin Commons.

“It’s a niche thing, so I need to be exposed,” Roche said. “I just enjoy talking to people, meeting new people and having that conversation. I’m a people person. I hope to continue to get better, too. This is like other art, you continue getting better at it. I want to get as many irises as I can.”

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