we knew we had to be angels, because the world is too sharp for us.

My computer died twice. It was the super moon. It was gone for a week, and then I had to wait another week and a half for the new one.

In the meantime, I worked on a project. The way I used to do. And it got me inspired.

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So, angels: The title of this post comes from the recent death of Robin Williams, and a conversation that started about how hard life is. It’s also for Annie, and she knows why.

(ps: Thanks, Jana)

 

I’ve added a separate gallery for my “wing” project, which is ongoing. If you’re interested in taking part, drop me a line.

LA Photographer – Nostalgia OD with Retro Kids

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.

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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.

Two Weeks and a Day

That’s all it’s been since Dottie died. Unbelievable; it seems like it’s been months. Jenna was really, really touched by your photos and messages; I was meaning to put these up sooner but I’ve been dragging and things are weird here on the weekdays when Dot’s supposed to be here.

Thank you, so much, for responding to my request. I know it’s easy to say: Jenna was touched. But she really was. I sat with her here a couple of different nights and watched as she scrolled through the photos I’d downloaded to my iPad. She cried while looking at them, of course. And she was blown away that people, you guys, from all over the world were thinking of her and cared enough to take a few minutes out of your day to help her feel better.

Five years ago, I didn’t know any of you. I’ve met four of you in person; the rest of you, we’re “just” online friends, but you can see what that means in just this post. It means loads.

xoxo

The Death of Dottie, One of our Family’s Dogs.

My life is no worse for the death of Dot, I think.

I’m not the one she greets at the door with kisses and excitement; she doesn’t snuggle me when I’m feeling blue. My name isn’t one that Dot recognizes when called out, and the sound of my car pulling into the drive means dinner, or treats, to her; probably not much else.

The times I’ve kissed her belly I’ve been bitten–once. She was so contrite after that, so humbled, but I never dared kiss her there again. I’ve learned through Dottie not to push my luck.

This Jenna’s loss, I say. This is Jenna’s rite of passage; the death of her first dog. It’s Jenna’s mourning; it’s her best friend who has died. It’s she who will miss the kissing, the snuggling, the unconditional love that only your dog gives to you. It’s her house that is silent today; empty. And it’s her routine–feeding the dog, walking the dog–that is bereft of the mundane tasks that our dogs think are so incredible and generous.

She’s been gone not even 48 hours, but it feels like a week. I walk from room to room; I cannot concentrate, I can’t feel happy, even with the anxious footsteps of my own three dogs following me from here to there; there to here. I see Dottie’s bed in my room, taking up valuable space, but I know I will not move it. Maybe ever.

When Jenna told me she was sorry for my loss, I thought to myself, “my loss?” This is not my loss. I have put down over half a dozen dogs in my adult life, yet my own child reminds me that this is in fact my loss. I’ve grown to love Miss Cranky Pants, as I affectionately called her when Jenna was not around. I will miss caring for Dottie. I’ll miss her old lady growl at the other dogs when they passed too close to her; the canine equivalent of “get offa my lawn!” I will so miss her delight at having a baby beside her bowl when she ate; her confounded insistence on taking the new squeaky babies out into the dirty grass, sometimes into the dirt.

She was the worst at hiding toys and treats. She was last to get a cookie or dinner, and she took her own damned time about eating it, leaving my dogs to writhe in anticipation that she would leave behind the last piece or two of kibble. She never did. I will miss her sleeping under the covers against my back on the early, cold mornings after Jenna dropped her off.

Dottie spent most weekdays with me for the past several years; she spent many nights here with all of us. I thought of her as a cousin to the Vatos, and then to Mouse. Though they never played together, they all accepted one another; and I was so glad that Dottie, in her later years, was able to appreciate the company of another dog while napping in the sun, or while guarding the house from the rude people who dared to cross our lawn.

For nearly 15 years Dottie has watched over my daughter as she’s grown from a teen to a young woman to an amazing, beautiful and kind person. A person that while in the greatest grief of her life, thought to console me for mine.

One of the few regrets I had in my life was returning a rescue dog that didn’t work out for me, but with whom Jenna had fallen in love. Bumper, a one-eyed Pug, slept in my hamper and peed in there too. She peed on my pillows. Jenna’s heart broke the day I returned Bumper, and I never forgot how shitty that felt inside. But I can let go of that now, because if we had kept Bumper, there wouldn’t have been a Dottie.

And Dottie was such an important part of our lives; all of us. She was one of the family dogs. She was loved deeply, and fiercely, and she will never, ever, be forgotten.

If there truly is a Dog Heaven (and really, who are we kidding? We know there is!) then I’m sure Dottie is there, trying desperately to find her way to People Heaven.

I’ll miss you Dots. I love you.

Baby Skittles, feeling very Skittley today

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.

Baby Sophia 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.

The Case of the Skittles and the Pregnant Woman

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.

The Bitchinest Girl in the Room

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.

 

Jenna, the bitchinest girl in the world

 

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.

 

 

Five Months With a Mouse

I just realized that today is Mouse’s 5-month anniversary with us, and with the Vatos. That’s crazy, it seems like just a couple of weeks ago she was still brand new to everything–not just us, but the world! Things like hands, niceness, sweet voices, kisses, and being cuddled were new to her, but she’s always been open to all the new experiences.

Except the camera.

Mouse is trying so, so hard to do what she knows I want her to do. Even when she’s sitting on the box and she’s looking at me, though, I can tell that she really isn’t fond of having her photo taken. I know she’s doing it because I asked her nicely and she wants to be so, so good. Since the day she got her, Mouse has been trying to be the perfect dog, I think because she didn’t want to give us any reason to take her back. Away from here; away from her new, and forever, home.

Silly dog. Mouse isn’t going anywhere! And even if she doesn’t know that yet, she will. The Vatos already know it. I know it, and Mr. Susan knows it. And every night when she snuggled into her Mouse cave on top of the bed, between me and Mr. Susan, I imagine her sighing and thinking to herself, “another good day.”

Awww, LOL, that makes me want to give her a squeeze and a kiss.

Silly Mouse.

Mouse the Dog

What Is Wrong With My Dog?

A sick dog, still undiagnosed, creates in me this Nana whose sole purpose is To Make You Feel Better, but who doesn’t have any idea whether you need a nap, or something to eat, or a cold cloth against your forehead. I mean, when your dog is sick, you get him  help. You get his meds, and you keep his blankie clean and you get him new squeaky toys, and you cuddle and spoon him till he gets better. And then, hey! Everything’s better.

But when your dog is sick, and nobody can tell you why, we can’t give him what he needs–we don’t know what he needs–and so all you can do is be there. You follow him all around the house, sort of bent, crouched over, literally hovering over him. Helping him onto his bed, your bed, the couch. Giving him treats because even a sick dog who won’t eat will take a treat and that makes you feel better for a minute, like, hey! He’s eating, he must be getting better.

But he’s limping for no reason that we can find, and he’s not getting better. Even the people meds that are super strong and take away my back pain won’t take away his limp and even when he’s resting in my six-thousand dollar bed he still groans and moans with discomfort. “What should I do?” I constantly ask my husband and honestly, I think that the dog is sometimes so tired of me moving him this way, and THAT way, and putting the pillow under his head and then removing it and then turning the light and the music on and trying to tip-toe out of the room because he’ll just get up, you know, he’ll follow me everywhere. So instead, I sit with him and when he moves, I follow. I hover, follow and hover, waiting I guess, for his body to reveal that secret it holds so tight: What Is Wrong With My Dog.

Today, I’ll email his doctor; not his regular vet, his specialist who consults with internal medicine and the oncology group and who admitted to me that he might have had cancer only after she’s certain he doesn’t. What else is she not saying to me? If he might have something we should start treating him, right now. Today. Why are we waiting?

Why don’t we all just drop what we’re doing and put our heads together and figure out What Is Wrong With My Dog?

Jack

2013 ssp

2013 ssp

A Picture vs. a Portrait

Is there a difference between what makes  a picture vs. a portrait? If so, what? What’s the difference anyway?

Let’s start with portraits. Seeing that I shoot or create portraits as my job, that should be an easy thing to define. Though I’ve thought a lot about how I want to shoot a portrait, I’ve never given a lot of thought to the definition. Not until I saw this photo as I was uploading from a session last week.

Chef Brooke Williamson
Chef Brooke Williamson

This is chef Brooke Williamson, shot at one of her restaurants, The Tripel in Playa del Rey. I think this is a portrait, not a picture, and I think that as a photographer, specifically, a portraitist, I should be able to tell you why. It’s something that we photographers must know (at least, what it is for us as artists) and something that you, a potential sitter, should have an understanding of. Because if you’re going to go have your or your family’s portrait taken, you should have some idea of what you’re looking for, yes? If not, well then, you could just end up with a bunch of pictures that don’t really speak to you.

When people come into my studio, I almost always ask them what sort of portrait they had in mind, and I’ve never ever gotten a really straightforward reply. People think they want this or that; they’re never very clear in their own mind, and they usually end up saying something like, “something candid, not really a portrait.” Well that’s a bit of a pickle, because what that person has just described is a picture.

I went Googling for some definitions of the word portrait and I found some really interesting bits. The dictionary is pretty straightforward: “A likeness of a person, especially one showing the face, that is created by a painter or photographer, for example.”

Wikipedia goes a little deeper: “A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality and even the mood of the person…”

So we can start there. A portrait is more than a snapshot, it’s not just something you take on the fly. At least, not generally.

I think a portrait sitting is like a dance between the sitter and the photographer. I don’t think it matters who leads; in fact, I think those roles change throughout the sitting (at least they do if it’s going well). A portrait is a collaboration between artist and subject. I can light you beautifully, pose you exactly the way I want and make you look amazing, but if there’s no connection in your eyes, if there’s no spark that says, “I am here, this is me, I am allowing you to capture me in this exact moment,” the portrait won’t happen. It will be a picture. It will be flat and it won’t speak to anyone.

I found this wonderful video on YouTube, in which the filmmaker asks that exact question, “What is a portrait?” to different artists, curators, instructors, etc. It’s pretty enlightening because at first , all of these accomplished people have to think about it; what exactly is a portrait?

Thirty-nine seconds in, you get what I think is the 2nd best answer. Sarah Saunders, Deputy Head of Education, says “To me, a portrait is a creative collaboration between an artist and a sitter, and it’s unique in that sense, as an art form…”

Yes! A collaboration. You can’t just go into a studio for a portrait expecting the artist/photographer to do all the work. A good portrait requires your participation; even more, it requires your intent.

The best answer is from James Holloway, Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery: “I really like the idea of a portrait being the sound of people’s voices.” That’s an astoundingly insightful reply.

I shoot portrait sessions all the time, but I do have to remind myself to slow down and take a portrait, not a picture. I don’t always succeed; that is, I don’t think it’s possible to succeed every time because, as I’ve said, it takes two (or more). If I’m not present, really present, or my subject isn’t really present, we’ll end up with a picture. And that would be a bummer. So think about that.

But this whole thing brings up another question: What about when I’m shooting a portrait of your dog, or your baby? Is it possible for me to connect, to dance with an animal (who isn’t even mine) in a 60-minute timeframe? Or with a child or baby who might not even see me? Can I connect enough to get a true representation of that creature’s being? Or its voice?

Yes, definitely. I don’t think everyone can do it, but I think the people who love who they’re photographing can. Ok, not in love, not like a creepy “I love you and I’ve always wanted to take your photo” thing, but people who love people, or people who love dogs, people who love that connection and that process of creating a process. They can do it. The others–and here I’m speaking about people who are shooting because they want to be famous or make a lot of money or impress a girl, whatever–they simply can’t.

Think about this the next time you book a session for a portrait. For your dog, your baby, yourself…it doesn’t matter. Go into that session with the full intent to participate. Go into it knowing that the success of that session depends in large part on you.

I’m including a gallery of some portraits I’ve taken over the past couple of years. While you’re looking through them, ask yourself, “is this a portrait? Can I hear this being’s voice?” Don’t be shy about sharing your opinion; you won’t hurt my feelings. But even if you don’t chime in, start the conversation in your head so that the next time you book a session with a photographer (me or anyone else), you are more likely to come away with a portrait and not a picture.

Candid portrait. It can be done.