Yes, I made it to Kalamazoo! We arrived the 3rd week of February (it was 7 degrees when we got out of the car), and even though it was a mild winter, it took a bit to get used to the white grass of the Midwest. I haven’t lived in the Midwest since I was 10, but wow, how fast those memories come back. The smell after it rains, the complete silence after a good snow. Since we got here my senses have been flooded with childhood memories and they’ve really helped with the bumpy times of missing my kid and my hometown.
I haven’t been shooting (except with my phone) because, moving. And honestly I was a bit homesick for awhile so once our stuff arrived it became my Mission in Life to get unpacked and get the house looking like ours. Mission accomplished, it’s now cozy and us.
The hunt for a proper studio is on, and I think I have a building picked up, now it’s just a matter of time before finding the perfect space and getting the deal done. Tearing down my studio in LA was heartbreaking, and even though the house is comfy cozy, I was still really missing my own shooting space. So I built a tiny studio in the basement where I can be with my seamless rolls and my lights 🙂 And take photos of the dogs.
Which I did the other day, so I guess I am officially a Kalamazoo photographer.
Thanks for the warm welcome, Michigan, so far we’re all really loving it here.
If you Google “I hate my weird pregnant belly,” you’ll come up with over 2 million hits. If I just enter “my pregnant belly is…” the choices that comes up are: crooked, too fat, and flabby.
The fact that so many women are unhappy with the way their pregnant bellies look is new to me. In fact, I just learned this yesterday. I was 19 when I got pregnant, and I believe my naked pregnant belly was the first I’d every seen. It never occurred to me that it might be misshapen, lumpy, crooked, or fat. I just marveled (and sometimes felt horrified) that a living thing was inside of me. Oh, I had a miserable pregnancy; don’t get me wrong. I was sick as a dog the entire time; morning sickness lasted months; then it was UTIs and every other kind of infection I could get. Suffice it to say I didn’t glow during my pregnancy. But I didn’t hate my body either, and I didn’t think anything was wrong with it.
I’m in my 7th year of this business, and I’ve photographed a lot of pregnant bellies, and I’ve not once noticed the shape of one. Instead, I ask questions: Does it move? Can you feel it? May I touch it? Does the baby ever get hiccups? I’m fascinated by pregnant bellies, and not in a creepy sort of way, thank you.
Ladies. Our bodies are fucking vessels of life! You know how excited you get when you plant a flower or a vegetable or even put an avocado pit in water and it starts to grow? YOUR BODY DOES THAT! How amazingly fucking awesome is that?! My kid is 33 years old and a full foot taller than me, yet sometimes I look at her when she’s not looking, and I remember that she was once inside my pregnant belly and that BLOWS MY FUCKING MIND! I’m now 54, and sometimes I hold my (kind of flabby) belly, or I’ll give it a slap and say to nobody in particular, “this is a belly that has lived.”
I’m going to clue you into something. You know all those perfectly round bellies you see in photos? The ones with no stretch marks, and no lines, and no lumps? Those are rare, and often photoshopped. Why are we photoshopping pregnant bellies to look different than their own true lovely selves?? When you get pregnant and your belly starts to grow, you start to notice that, “eh, it’s not very round” or “it sags so much!” or “it’s so flabby!” you’re comparing yourself to something that doesn’t exist.
What’s the difference between a Perfect Belly and an Imperfect Belly?
NONE, because neither exists. Your belly is, it just is. Love that belly, man. That’s not a belly growing, you know, that’s your child growing. That’s your baby’s foot making it look lumpy, that’s your baby son’s head moving around inside like some alien life form. And that’s SO RAD. It’s life, it’s a life that your body made. I may be naive, but that still blows my fucking mind.
So, how I learned that some women are unhappy with their bodies: A couple, Megan and Robert, came into my studio yesterday for some maternity portraits. The first thing I do when people come into the studio is look at the clothes they brought. When I saw what Megan brought, I noticed that they were all tight. They all hid her belly. So I went into my closet and got this big men’s white linen shirt I keep for such occasions. I told her to put it on, and right away I could see was a bit uncomfortable as I started to unbutton the buttons she had just done up. I put her in a profile and I noticed that she covered her belly with the shirt. Just then it occurred to me that all the times I heard her remark, “I don’t like bare belly shots,” she really meant, “I don’t like my bare belly.” Being the understanding, sensitive person I am, I said, loudly, “I want to see that belly!”
From that point on, Megan began to forget about her belly. Robert was so sweet and so attentive and so INTO his wife, I don’t think he ever noticed that her belly wasn’t the “right” shape. He just knew that the love of his life was carrying the soon to be next love of his life, his daughter. The one for whom that adorable Star Wars-themed nursery is waiting for. The one who will wear his grandmother’s handmade sweaters that his family kept all these years. The little girl who is destined to years of watching “Dr. Who” whether she wants to or not.
As my shutter started to click, love just happened. I was just there in the right place at the right time, and I got some photos of a lovely couple, a wonderful woman with a beautiful belly.
Very soon after they left, while uploading the images to my computer, I texted her a photo and she texted me back, “I never liked my belly, but you made it look good. I love it!” And I told her, no, this is all you. I just took the picture.
Then about 4am this morning, I got another text from her. She’d seen the photo I posted on Flickr, and it gave her the warm and fuzzies, and she thanked me. I crush on Robert & Megan a little bit more today than I did yesterday.
Megan, this post is dedicated to you. I hope it goes viral and you’re the catalyst for many women to change the way they think about their oddly shaped bellies which hold their perfect little people.
Although Jack was my first light tester and my first model, he’s not able to do much of it anymore. He can’t sit for but a few seconds, and standing is very difficult for him. T has taken over modeling. That makes me so sad for Jack. When I have clients here, or I’m shooting self portraits, Jack will always circle my clients if I haven’t light tested with him first.
I’ll tell him to sit, stay, and then I’ll take a few pictures (because he knows if I don’t). Then I’ll say, “good job!” and he’ll walk right out of the studio and go lay on the couch. True story.
I have to constantly remind myself that Jack is an old dog. He doesn’t need a pill every time I see him limp. He doesn’t need to be carried around the house. I don’t need to start counting down his days.
Jack is here. He couldn’t be more present than he is now; than he is still. I know the day when he leaves is closer now than it was when I brought him home, but so what? So is my day. So is yours.
This was for Jack. Nobody else got to sit for this (which, let me tell you, created quite a fuss with T and Mouse).
I don’t like “like” nostalgia. I AM nostalgia. I’m a 70s girl and I won’t hesitate to talk about the days before we had cell phones, iPods, ATM cards, or apps. This isn’t about being in my 50s and wanting to be a teenager again, because when I was a teenager, I was nostalgic for the 50s (way before my time, btw). I bought K-Tel records and wanted a Chevy Bel-Air when I turned 16. I’ve had this age discussion thing with so many of my friends, and we all agree: If we feel 19 at heart then we’re going to stay 19. The only thing that interrupts that dreamy, roller-skating, boogie down, anything-is-possible Happy Place is the fact that we’ve seen the world change so much. And even I know that when you start saying things like, “wow, things have changed so much!” then you are, in fact, getting older.
When Chelsea & Eva at Bouffant Hair Parlor first brought up the idea of shooting kids in retro hairstyles for the shop, I was so stoked. Of course, I would have loved to see some feathered hair, maybe a wedge, but you guys these days are all into mid-century stuff (basically the stuff that my house was decorated with in 1972 because we were middle class and had ceramic fawns and orange candy dishes and those huge Harlequin figure lamps and all that crap).
Still, what a gas. It took me back (of course!) to my Aunt Joyce’s basement beauty parlor in Davenport, IA. She gave perms, mostly, and it smelled like it! But she also cut hair and did ‘dos like nobody’s business. I think Aunt Joyce would get a kick out of these shots, and so I’ve dedicated them to her. You’ll notice we haven’t stuck to one particular decade in this theme; at first we were going to go strictly with the 50s, but some of the kids just screamed “I AM THE 80s!” and so on and so on. I like the results; sort of a mini “hairstyles that have been cool as long as I’ve been alive” thing. They’ll soon be hanging over the shampoo bowls at Bouffant. If you pop in, take a look, and remember my Aunt Joyce.
I hope this inspires you to go out and get a new ‘do. If so, go see Eva or Chelsea. Then get your kid, or yourself a big ol’ bouf, and have a nostalgia overdose with retro kids. On me.
Finally finally finally, I get to show off adorable Baby Skittles, whose real name is Sophia, to the world. Here she is, a baby in Skittles.
I had the most fun on this shoot and the one before, during which her mom got down into that pool of cold Skittles 6 inches deep. When it came time for the baby to lie there, though, Dad took all precaution. When I arrived, I nearly squee’d when I saw he’d rigged up a heating pad not even an inch below the surface. There were also blankies and towels to keep the surface smooth and warm for Sophia, his first little girl, his first child.
That nearly made me tear up, which is so funny because it’s a baby in a pool of Skittles! But seeing how tender he was and how careful he was to make sure she was completely comfortable; it was very life affirming and it was a very good thing for me to experience in a time when I really needed it. I’ll never forget that.
So this collaboration between father-to-be and photographer; this is the result. One man so excited over the impending birth of his very first born ever. The other, me, excited about the chance to do something wildly different and crazy and something that this little girl will A-DORE when she’s a teenager. That gives me chills.
I hope she always feels as wanted and safe and loved as she is right now, and I hope that her dad is always there to make sure she’s tucked in warm and tight. And I hope that, for Sophia, life continues to be just a big bowl of candy.
Ha! That titles makes me snort; mystery writers out there: this is your plotline!
So not exactly a mystery; more like a puzzle. My clients, S & K, were talking about different concepts for their maternity photos while I was touring their house and looking for light. When I think back on it now, K was munching on a handful of Skittles the entire time.
We kicked around some ideas and made a plan. Then the night before the shoot, S (the husband) texted me that he had an idea about putting Skittles in their tub for K to lay in. He told me that it was a fantasy of K’s. It was great idea, but their tub just didn’t have the visual impact we needed to make this shot work, but I remember seeing their back lawn, and how green and dense it was, and I said to them (at the time) something like, “oh we have to shoot her in that grass from above!”
“Kiddie pool!” I texted back. I have a kiddie pool that I got for the Vatos, but nobody, not even Mouse, would go in the water. Brilliant, we decided, but he texted me back “where do I get that many Skittles?”
Duh! Costco, of course.
Mr. Susan got out the kiddie pool and cleaned it up so nicely, and a little later I received a text from S with a photo of several cartons of Skittles on a pallet. Almost $2000!!
The next day we went about the shoot the way we’d planned, keeping the candy surprise a secret from K. Then about halfway through, I told the men to go outside and get the grass ready, K and I stayed in the master bedroom that looked out over that green grass and she kept asking what we were going to do and I was stalling and saying stuff like “Oh! The light is perfect right now! Don’t move!!” and lots of “Look up! And away!”
Then the time finally came to lead her to the yard, and S got next to her while she walked the staircase down to the bottom of the box (Cracker Jack reference there. Get it? 😉
It slayed her. Slayed. Her. The only thing we didn’t plan properly was getting her in that pool that was filled with Skittles! LOL. Ok, so filling the pool was more for visual effect, and it worked perfectly, but then Mr. Susan and S had to scoop bucketfuls of candy out so we could fit her into the pool. I had scoped it out the night before, so I knew exactly where she needed to put her butt to make it work. (Why yes, I did, and you’re welcome.)
Then we got a ladder, crossed our fingers and got the shot.
When Baby K arrives in probably less than a week, we’re going to put that brand new human into that kiddie pool full of skittles, and then S and K are going to have these two enormous framed prints, hung side by side, showing what a sweet life they created.
Unlike many other photographer moms, I don’t get to hone my skills on my kid. She rarely lets me take her photo (I have no idea why, as she is the most gorgeous creature ever). But when she was over yesterday for Thanksgiving I guess she was feeling generous and she let me snap a few of her and her boyfriend, and then of her alone.
I love this. It’s classic Jenna. I love the little blur of her hand, which shows that while she’s allowing me to take her photo, she’s certainly not going to “sit” for me taking it. If you have ever had a daughter, you know what that means. Although I have loads of pictures of her, most are from her early childhood. Then, she would dance for the camera, or do somersaults, always shouting, “are you watching? are you watching?!” And I always was, and sometimes, when I was lucky, I had a camera on me. In those days, it was usually a Polaroid.
But, like so many of us who have been or are girls, Jenna started to hate having her picture taken, and that dislike of having any camera pointed toward her just keeps on keeping on. Oh my gosh, I can’t even count how many clients feel this way; they’ll stand behind me while I photograph their kids or their dogs, but they never want to step in front of the lens themselves. That’s such a bummer, because no matter who we are, we’re all gorgeous. We’re all the most beautiful girl in the room to someone, even if we think it’s just to our moms (please believe me when I say it’s not). To allow ourselves to feel beautiful; to feel enigmatic and sought-after and funny and wicked clever and all those things we think that only other women are, is the best thing we can ever do for ourselves, or our daughters.
It’s the giving season, right? Think about it. Let someone take your picture. Allow yourself to take a compliment. Remember that you’re the bitchinest girl in the room, dammit, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. Sit up straight and get your portrait taken. And love it.
I haven’t been entirely truthful. With myself, I mean. What I’ve said to all of you, about aging, about weight, about embracing all of that and rocking it and loving it, all that has been true. But when I’ve said those things to myself, I’ve lied.
I weigh 150 pounds. I weighed myself this morning, and have been in a fit all day over it. That number; that fucking number–it’s been driving me batSHIT! But just hours later, I think I’ve worked it out. (I’m a Virgo.) Try to follow me, because this is important for me to say, and although I could fill books with this stuff, I’ll try to keep it manageable.
When I was 13, I went out with a friend one night and hung around the movie theater. Some boys arrived; they were kind of tough boys, not like the ones I knew in my neighborhood. They all wanted to get with (and in 1973, that meant they wanted to hug her or kiss her) my friend, and nobody wanted to “get with” me.
“How the hell can that be?” I remember thinking to myself. “She’s not as pretty as I am; she’s kind of chubby; she’s got acne scars and frizzy hair. Why would someone choose her over me?”
I never forgot that night, and until recently, I never did understand why they chose my friend over me. It’s funny what we take away from our childhood experiences, isn’t it? My friend, my frizzy-haired, acne-scarred, kinda plumpy friend owned her body. You could just tell by looking at her. She was completely comfortable in her skin–in her flesh–and I, though petite next to her, was still decades away from getting the pink slip on my own body.
I took these photos today to show my husband just how much weight I’ve gained in the past few years. Thirty pounds. Thirty fucking pounds. Some of it is age; some of it is the meds I have to take for my back problems; some of it is the hormones I have to take so I can fucking sleep at night and not go apeshit on people during the day. And, let’s be real: some of it is Nutella and Hershey dark chocolate kisses.
I took these photos expecting to be repulsed by them. But on the contrary, I adore the way my body looks. I’ve never, never ever, looked like a woman. I’ve always been skinny and bony and angular, and even when I got breast implants in 1992 (I had them taken out three years later because I didn’t like men staring at me), I never felt sexy. The implants weren’t mine; they weren’t part of my body or my experience; they were just put there by someone who assured me that they were all that was missing.
Wow, was he off by a mile or what?
I love what Jessa in “Girls” said recently: “I’m going to look 50 when I’m 30…because I’m going to be so full of experiences.”
I don’t know if Lena Dunham meant that to be a literal statement by her character, but I love thinking of it literally. This (I say, while I’m holding my belly), this is a body full of experiences. This is a life well lived! This belly held my daughter while I was pregnant; it’s a pillow for my husband’s head, or my dogs’ napping bodies. This belly has my favorite tattoo on it: “this is who we are.”
This is who we are. How often do I need to look down and read that and remind myself why I got it in the first place.
I have gained weight. And I’ve gained experience. And I’ve gained friends. And talent and inspiration and love and respect too.
So am I just replacing one body-image stereotype for another? I don’t think so. When I was young I often had no idea what I was doing, or what I wanted to do. There were a lot of empty spaces, waiting for all the things that I’ve spent my adult years gathering [see above]. I’m full now. I’m full and I’m more (but not fully) complete. I’m softer. I’m sexier. I’m more confident. I’m happier. Yeah, I’m older, but I’m wiser. And anyone who knows me can totally be assured: I’ll never really grow up.
Ok, I have to tell you this story. It’s the cutest story ever (and even if you have to be me to think that, I don’t care, I’m going to tell it!).
Home studio. Dogs at home. Ok, you get the set up. About 6-8 months ago, Jack started doing this…thing, out of the blue. When I’d start to prepare for a shoot, going and turning on the power strips, adjusting the soft boxes, etc., Jack suddenly started sitting in the middle of the studio. (Actually, it started when I brought home that famous leather ottoman.) He’d just jump up there, and sit and wait for me to do my light check. He’d actually sit, or lay down, and wait until I got off a few frames, adjusted my light, etc. Only when I started to turn off the power strips did he get down off the ottoman and sit at my feet, waiting for, apparently, his pay 🙂
Without my even asking, Jack became my lighting stand-in, and he does this for me without fail, without my ever having to ask him, without ever even showing him how to do it. I’ve told Mr. Susan this story a bazillion times, but only last week did he actually see it happen.
I wanted to take the profile kissing shots of John and I before he left town, so I basically made the set and asked John to sit down on one of the apple boxes while I adjusted the light. While I was doing this, I noticed Jack circling John. He’d sit down, then get up; he was nervous or anxious; you could tell something just wasn’t sitting right with Jack. I laid the 2nd box down on its side and Jack jumped up there immediately and looked at the camera. He was actually freaking out a bit that John had seemingly taken his job! So I got off a few frames, turned the light off and he jumped down, and we went and got a treat. It was the first time that John had seen Jack do that (and honestly, I think that Mr. Susan thought I had probably exaggerated the story), but it was incredible.
In the photo below you can see him kind of wriggling on the box (he takes his job very seriously and he really is the best studio dog!) and actually, after I started to take a few shots, he got up and gave John a kiss on the mouth. LOL.
My dogs never fail to blow my mind; and come to think of it, neither does John.
That’s what I have today. It’s not a new feeling; I’ve had it before, and I’m sure I’ll have it again. But the circumstances for this sadness are new to me. I don’t know what to do with this sadness, except let it be and learn from it. The lesson I learned today is that sometimes, you have to feel like a shitheel before you feel better.
As most of you know, we took in a little dog last week. She’s a Rat Terrier who came from the Seal Beach Animal Care shelter (which is no-kill). You can find the backstory on my Facebook page, because honestly, it’s too exhausting for me to relive in the retelling.
Yesterday I had to return Spider to the rescue. Wait. That’s not right: I decided to return her. If you’re thinking bad things about me, no worries: they can’t be any worse than I think of myself today.
She’s a wonderful dog. She’s already house-trained, and despite the nearly crippling fear she had in the shelter, she adapted within less than a week to having a home and loved laying by the fire at night. A few times she even crept up to sit on my lap. She let me pick her up (something she would never allow at the shelter) and give her kisses.
But she didn’t fit with my guys. There was fighting. I’ve seen dog fights; hell, there have been plenty in my house. But this was scary fighting because it terrified T and Jack.
You know the story of T and Jack right. I didn’t just rescue them. They rescued me. After my third dog in less than a year, my mija, my Gracie, died, I came upon these two and brought them home “for company” till I felt better. (That’s what my rescue friend said when she helped pile them into my car.) I didn’t want them. I didn’t like them. Their histories were unbearably sad (T was three when I got him and I was his first home. Jack was SIX. He spent the first 3 years of his life breeding in a puppy mill and then spent another three in the rescue circuit. Jack was SIX before he had a permanent home. And it was me.
To say I love them, to say we’ve bonded, is a vast and ridiculous understatement. Every day, everything I do for them is out of a love and a desire to make those bad years disappear. But there are still signs; lingering fears that pop up now and then that even after all this smothering love, they can’t shake.
I am always clear that my guys come first. When I started to fall for the little one, I felt a smidge guilty. But when the fights started, I was crushed. When I saw T run away and pee himself, I knew what I had to do. I had to return her.
Please don’t take away from this that Spider is a bad dog. She’s a great dog. Maybe here, with some time and training everyone could be made to get along. But, and I’m sure many will find this to be selfish, I feel that I owe my dogs more than “getting along.” It took us over four years to develop a routine in which they felt safe and secure, where they could be as happy as they could be. I should have known that another dog would break that routine, but we’ve fostered before, for short periods, and didn’t have fights. So Spider was probably the boss in her house. T and Jack have never been the boss anywhere but here. In fact, they’ve been the opposite. Would a trainer have worked? Maybe. But here’s my question (and it’s a toughie): how much do I frighten my dog before he’s ok? How many times does he have to run to the back room, or wet himself, because he’s frightened, in his home? To me, the answer is “not one.”
Ok, I’m rambling. I’m making excuses. I’m rationalizing. These are the things I tell myself when I wake up in the morning and put on this coat of sadness. Guilt. Regret. Whatever you want to call it, it’s raw and it’s shitty.
Here’s a picture of Spider. She is a great dog and will give you lots of love if you give her a little space, time and patience. If you know someone who’s thinking of getting a dog, tell them to go see her. And remember too that what you see in the shelter isn’t a dog’s true personality. So if she appears distant or skittish it’s because she’s frightened.