I kind of became a professional photographer by accident.
You heard me. An accident! It was a hobby that I picked up about ten years earlier while I was still doing ballet professionally. I was in my early 20's and had just received my first Nikon DSLR for Christmas (which was eventually stolen, but I digress). I remember that my company was performing "Romeo and Juliet" that season. I was cast as Mercutio, and as anybody who knows the play can tell you...well...it doesn't turn out so well for him in the end.
Anyway, in any scene that I wasn't in (either because it was a scene with just Romeo and Juliet OR I had already died) I found myself taking photographs of the other dancers. I started with the dancers who were actively rehearsing. As a professional dancer, it seemed exciting to freeze a fellow co-worker's leap and watch their eyes light up upon showing them. But as I was busy trying to capture the "perfect" dance lines and polished movements, I started noticing that there were even more interesting moments everywhere I hadn't been focusing my lens on...
There were dancers sewing their pointe shoes. Or knitting. Or gossiping. Or icing an injury. Or running over steps in their head for the next rehearsal. In essence, real life. And after taking a few hundred of these so-called "candid shots", I knew in my heart that I liked them more than the other images I had taken (which, incidentally ended up in the company's marketing).
Fast forward a decade.
I had already started building my professional portfolio in preparation for opening the doors to my business, but I was in need of newborn photographs. A friend of mine was very pregnant and happily agreed to have her daughter be the guinea pig. So I crammed and crammed newborn photography courses into my brain. I obsessed over the images I found on Pinterest that looked like fine art and was determined to duplicate them. My mother stayed up crocheting different hats and such to put on the baby. I bought all of Michael's, taking home every little basket I could find that a baby would fit into. I purchased...and hand stuffed...a posing beanbag to place the baby on. Essentially, the whole overachieving package.
The day finally arrived. The baby was brand new and ready to model. Today Mark's beanbag...tomorrow Milan!
Well. Not exactly.
To begin, when I arrived the house was not as hot as I had requested it to be. For posing newborns, you have to have a VERY hot house. Like, everyone needs to be sweating kind of very hot. And the parents have to keep the baby awake right until the photo shoot starts. That way the baby will be out like a LIGHT the majority of the time. When I got there, not only was the temperature of the house completely tolerable for your average human being, but I was informed that our little lady had just woken up from a nap!!!
"Great", I said through gritted teeth in a slightly high-pitched voice.
I put down my stuff and ran back to my car to yank out the beanbag that was taking over my back seat. And started to pray. But it was only the beginning.
My mom is an incredible human being. She crocheted 30 baby blankets this year...yes 30...to donate to our local hospital. She's crocheted and knitted almost her entire life and is really, really good at it. But what did neither of us take into consideration? The baby being born with a huge head, that's what! Within moments I knew that not only would she not be able to wear the pumpkin hat that was going to be "just perfect", but she wouldn't fit into the beautiful sleep sack, either. Frankly, I wanted to disappear. Not even Nutella could fix this.
NOT EVEN PANERA.
The great news? The baby was happy as you could ever expect a new little human to be. Like, really happy. The bad news? I didn't need her happy. I needed her asleep!!!!!
When newborns sleep in the first couple of weeks...or better yet, week to ten days...they sleep so deeply that it's incredibly easy to pose them. Well. That's what I was told and will never know because she wouldn't sleep!!!! Ok, I'm exaggerating. She fell asleep...finally...for a couple of minutes. And we slipped on a little lamb hat. This is the result of that.
Then, of course she woke up when we tried to accomplish some costume changes, including a second sleep sack that was slightly bigger than the one I originally had in mind. We were very successful in that endeavor.
I did get some photos that made the parents very happy and I managed to not get peed on, which was a small miracle. But I felt incredibly disappointed in myself. All the cramming and preparation seemed like it had gone down the drain and I had royally failed. Feeling totally defeated and trying not to cry, I started packing up my studio lights and gear...and that's when I noticed the father gently gazing down at the perfect baby girl in his arms. And it was incredibly and profoundly beautiful to me. I frantically grabbed my camera out of its case before the moment ended.
He then passed the baby to my friend to feed her. Mid-feeding she started to do what all superhero moms do everyday: multitask! She began feeding the baby a bottle with her chin to leave both of her hands free. What I loved about it was that it was so real, and yet more beautiful than any posed lamb themed image I could have ever taken.
It was the end of a long day and I already had hundreds of images, so I didn't capture very much more...but a light bulb went off in my head. I realized (just like ten years prior) that I liked this style more. MUCH more. In fact, I was in love with it.
It didn't make sense to me to do so many unnatural things, from turning the house into a sauna to thinking that a beautifully behaved baby was doing something "wrong" by being awake and alert. I knew that I loved the work of photographers who could create the stunning and very posed images of newborns, but I started asking myself why I just "had" to be them, instead of being me.
When I walk around in my life I see beauty EVERYWHERE. People are what captivate me the most, and even more specifically, families. I adore seeing humor, irony and most importantly, connection and love among families. It's everywhere. Often times I am in line to pay at a store (or Panera...let's be honest) and see two parents with two kids in tow and there are seriously three different stories going on at the same time: the mom deciding what she wants to order for everyone, the kids arguing at her feet, and the dad checking the football scores on his phone, wishing he was at the game.
And in that moment, all I want is my camera.
So while I certainly do pose my subjects at times (especially my portraiture clients), it's becoming rarer and rarer these days. Because rather than try to force myself to be like everyone else so that people will see me as worthy, I believe that if I am true to myself and see my most authentic work as worthy, the clients will come for that. And they do.
To learn more about my Family Photojournalism, please click here.