This February I offered “Loved-One” Portrait Specials. I am always fascinated to see who pounces on this idea. In this case, my gracious mother, Lancia Smith, booked a session as a gift for her friend and peer, Diana. I never do research on my clients so it didn’t occur to me to ask my mom about who she was bringing and why. I am all instinct and intuition. In my finest moments I believe that my photography is a gift, a way of giving people a glimpse of their true, most perfect self. When they arrived at my studio, Diana radiated beauty, femininity, supple strength, brilliance and warmth. I saw it the second I answered the door. After the shoot, my sister saw the images and commented that these were such a gift for her given how challenging things had been for her these last couple years. Then it clicked. I first felt ashamed that I hadn’t put the pieces together of who she was- that I hadn’t matched her up with my mother’s descriptions of her friend that was an esteemed authoress, brilliant scholar, professor, who had adopted a sweet daughter, who was a health-foodie. Of course my mother had mentioned this friend with great affection and respect.
It wasn’t until I started writing about this shoot, emailing with Diana about the images, that I recognized that what is easy to judge as a fault may actually be one of my great strengths. I’m a fantastic listener but it’s more like I skim or something. I let ideas trickle in rather than memorizing all the particulars. I think it helps me to see clearer. So when I opened the door to greet these ladies, I had no pre-conceived idea of her or plan of how to photograph her. My experience of her was fresh and unaffected. I was very intentional about trying to capture what I felt from her- the bright and strong Diana that was shining through the sad and shaky Diana. And isn’t that the way it is? The light in us shining through the cracks of what is broken, smeared and uncertain? I, for one, am in a constant state of naming the voices that tell me I am a failure, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not skinny enough, not successful enough, not sexy enough, not technically sound enough. Naming them, calling them out and telling them, “no.” Anyone picturing Gollum here? Telling his darker side, “Leave and never come back… We don’t need you anymore.” Sometimes it is much easier to tell the voices “no” when we get a glimmer of the self that is shining through. Diana’s email to me after seeing her photos will be something I will treasure always. With her permission I am sharing a bit of it:
“In most of the pictures I’ve ever seen of myself (even the “pretty” ones), I think I look fat, tired, staid, static. In the images you took, I see such strength and fun, such enjoyment of life, such depth of affection. I don’t look sick. I don’t look old. There is a liveliness that I just love, and a kind of, um, energy? Eagerness? Maybe this: a genuine readiness for whatever may come. Maybe that’s it. The picture I have of myself in my head says “I’m done. I’m spent.” The pictures you took, especially the sequence in the chair, say “Bring it on!” I’ve been through a really brutal year. Devastating, really. But I am starting to feel the stirrings of a brand new Spring. I’ve been vaguely aware of it, but it’s been just a notion, just a bunch of hazy hopes and half-hearted wishing. Then you took these pictures and I can see it, sharp and clear. There can be no doubt. Something has changed.”
Meeting little Asher was something very special for me. His parents and I have been friends for several years. We started out as kid-free married couples, long conversations after homemade meals, late night dinners in our favorite Denver restaurants. I observed and listened to Kendra process her plan for a family, start lining things up in their life to make the time and space, and then, the BIG NEWS. She was pregnant! We helped them pack up their house and move into their new one. We brought them dinner the night she went into labor. It is still very surreal for me to meet the new child of a good friend. To see a little person that is a combination of two people I love and at the same time a brand new entity. To be in relationship with someone when they are “footloose and fancy free”, walk alongside them as they plan a family, get pregnant, be pregnant, give birth to a new human being and to their own parenthood. The transition is fascinating. And I will admit that this one is bittersweet. People ask me all the time, of course, if we have children. No, we don’t. Why not? Well, that wasn’t my original plan. It’s not something I really care to lay out and I’m still navigating the path to peace about it all. The part that is the most difficult for me in the process is feeling left out. Left out of motherhood. Left out of playgroups. Left out of the heart-bonding stories where women sigh that deep commonality. “I know what you mean… We’re in this together… I’m so glad someone else understands… I’m not alone.” The deep heart smile of recognition. I love listening to people’s stories. I can talk with mothers all day long about child birth, their baby’s digestive system, their overwhelms, their triumphs, their fears, their plans for the nursery and education. Only very occasionally does something sting. Unexpectedly but not surprisingly. Like acupuncture. I don’t wake up feeling like there is something missing from my life. My life is positively luxurious, spacious, peaceful and sorted. But it doesn’t change the fact that I miss my friend, Kendra. I miss all my dear friends who are now absorbed into parenthood, as they should be. It requires your all. Why do I still photograph babies if there is a chance it will sting? Because I love freezing a fraction of time, to photograph the perfection that is this new mutually adoring relationship: mother and son. It is a gift for my friends, for my clients and, honestly, for myself. It keeps my heart connected, pulsing hot blood through my veins. It is my mechanism for staying engaged, present and open. And so are these words. My heart on a blog.
Newborn baby Stone is but ten days old. And his big brother, Cash, is about 22 months old. Now that’s a handful. Don’t these images seem so peaceful? So sweet and calm and serene? I’m here to tell you that it was NOT that for about 90% of this photo shoot. Yet another shoot that left me thinking- “Regina, what WAS that? At what point are you going to get it together and have super smooth problem-free sessions where the newborn doesn’t cry and the one year old doesn’t have a melt-down?!” As if any of that is really in my control. I still find myself feeling like I should by now have perfected the baby portrait things and that they should all just magically be amazing now that I’ve been a professional photographer for thirteen years. And, once again, I go back to the start. I ask the question: “Why are you shooting, Regina?” And I say, “To capture what is true, lovely, tender, authentic and mysterious. To be intentional about focusing on the beautiful because too often I just see what is broken and mean. To create connection in a world in which I often feel isolated. To freeze an allusive mysterious moment of fragility, wonder and vulnerability because I long to feel safe and unguarded.” And this is why I don’t POSE. This is why I don’t have a studio prepped with the same three vignettes that I use every single time and herd clients through in a systematic routine. That would be so much cleaner. So much more efficient. So much more reliable. And believe you me I LOVE those words like crazy!!! But at my core, I know they are not what I seek. At the end of the day, I’m not satisfied with safe. I want unabashed beauty. Which means opening up the possibility of a chaotic fiasco. It’s a risk. And I do it with every shoot. Which is why I need so much sleep. Thank you, Heidi and Jim for bearing with me and trusting me to create images that you will love of your gorgeous boys. I hope we have done just that.