So, a friend of mine (the lovely Julie Dorsey-Oskerka, President of the A Sound Beginning Program which you dog folks definitely want to know about), contacted me recently about a photography gig.
The assignment, should I choose to accept it? Photographing PEOPLE.
Trade Secret: Chicken jerky tucked in the arm.
I'd be lying if I didn't say I had an internal *gulp* when I considered it. I mean, dogs...you know, you can get all up in their face and, with a little chicken jerky waving at them, accomplish wonders. Cats...those are harder but with patience, snuggling and whispering sweet nothings in their furry ears, they can be won over. Guinea pigs? All day. I take a mean guinea pig shot, for sure.
But people? The whole thought of it intimidated me, frankly. Will they want me to pose them? Will they be fun or a bunch of uptight folks forcing 'camera smiles' and will one always be blinking? I do macro photography. And, basically, I'm an introvert. That's the biggest thing. That may be the whole thing. Photography for me is a pretty intimate experience so picturing myself doing it with people on the other end of the camera just feels uncomfortable.
So...I said "Sure! I'd love to!"
And I am SO glad I did.
First, the family was awesome and the event...SO cool! The patriarch of the family had figured out from their genealogy that he was on the cusp of becoming the oldest person on their family tree. To celebrate, the family was going to gather for a brunch on the day he officially 'broke the record' (dubbed Longevity Day) and was hoping to commemorate the occasion with photos.
I was speaking with Mike, the son who was taking the lead on arranging it all, a very friendly and blessedly organized man. They knew just what they wanted and had it all laid out in advance. When he explained the reason for the event I was IN, no question. Older people have ALWAYS been a magnet for me. I volunteered in nursing homes all through high school and studied gerontology in grad school. And for some reason, I always seem to have the strongest bonds with the most crotchety old men. I had no idea if this gentleman would fit THAT description, but still, this whole event got me excited for them and I was thrilled to be able to be a part of it.
Then I found out this family had not had photos together since they lost his mother in...1972.
So, yeah, that was a long time ago. These photos were a big deal.
Now, Mike knew that I didn't normally do this kind of work but with Julie's endorsement and my enthusiasm for the event, he felt confident that I'd be a good match. He assured me that ANY photos they got would be better than any they didn't have in the last several decades. Good point, but still, I felt a heightened responsibility to do right by them.
So, I said that I could do the posed shots to start and would happily hang around to get some candid shots but that idea was a no go. The family only wanted the formal posed shots. No candid stuff. (Dang it, that means you are going to all be looking at me and I can't just sneak around doing my introverted photographer thing...whaaaahhhh).
Okay, okay, we'll do it your way.
I went to the venue ahead of time to see what I would be working with. It was a golf clubhouse with one good spot for the shots. In the entryway. On the last Sunday before the holiday. During brunch. Lighting somewhat dependent on outside conditions.
In my mind, it was going to be a sea of people with big coats and blasts of cold wind hitting us every two seconds and, for fun, maybe a couple other families would also be having photos and I'd have to arm wrestle a rival photographer for dominion over the space.
But sometimes things work perfectly, despite all your internal horror shows and that is just what happened.
Everyone got there early. We had the lobby mostly to ourselves.
Now that is a good looking bunch of humans!
Everyone was lovely, and quite good looking, as you can see! And we got everyone to fit in reasonably well between the hostess stand and the hallway with the big stairwell! (No one wants to see a restroom sign in a family portrait.) I was VERY happy to have such a cooperative family as I tried to figure out how to keep all those challenges to a minimum. And the staff and other patrons at Cantigny were very nice about letting me rearrange a bit of the lobby furniture while I was at it.
And even though we didn't get to visit long, (since we were using up the lobby), it was long enough for me to feel the flickerings of a crush on our Man of the Hour. He was a delight as were his sons.
I love black and white for its classic appeal. Happily, so did they!
And, no, not a single one is losing their hair. What are you even talking about?! Anyone who would suggest such a thing...well, you are just itching for a fight.
A pose with a long history in this family.
I even snuck in some candid shots because I'm super rebellious like that.
I snapped away, getting all the shots requested and drove home, heading straight to my computer (thinking that if I found out I'd blown the entire thing maybe I could rush back before they finished brunch and have a do-over).
My husband, knowing this was a stretch for me, cheerily asked me how it went and was about to follow me to have a peek.
"Go away. You can't see. I don't want you to look yet."
I closed the door in his face and prepared myself to see that I had destroyed the only family photos this group had taken in 43 years.
Except I hadn't. And the more I worked on them the happier I felt.
And the candid shots? I wasn't able to get too many, but they were among everyone's favorites! (See, trust had to happen on BOTH sides of the lens!)
So, how cute is her hair flip? It was there and gone in a flash.
So, WHY did I take this on if I was so in knots about it?
Because, for one thing, this really WAS a pretty big deal and I thought it was really cool. Why wouldn't I want to?
Mike sent me this photo, taken after brunch.
Because I learned something recently that really made me appreciate the power of photographs (in fact, I have more to add to the story on my recent photo restoration project for you later).
When I was growing up, my father was the family photographer. I got my eye from him. Ironically, he was also a macro guy who would spend all morning taking pictures in the garden so I'm not sure if he liked taking people photos as a rule, either, but when we were together, that was what he did.
And we have some really wonderful photos that we all treasure as a result. Quite a few, in fact.
The thing is, since I grew up like this I always assumed EVERYONE had that. Not just snapshots but proper photos whose quality and clarity would stand the test of time. It wasn't until I heard from a cousin recently, after I posted a photo of my grandfather on a whim onto Facebook that she had never seen a photo of him out of a wheelchair.
Since my dad was the photographer, the photos lived with us. And much of this occurred before my cousin was born. And with my grandparents gone, our family lost a hub and is dispersed now. OF COURSE she had never seen them. That hit me like a ton of bricks. We have some stunning photos of him from 'back in the day'.
And THAT is what I wanted to give this family. A little cache of photos like that which will live on with their family long after both the photographer and those who she captured that day are long gone.
Would I like to do more work like this? I sure would! (Not weddings, though...that would give me a heart attack). And next time I'd make sure I'd have the okay for candid shots (which I would take even without permission because I was poorly raised). Those moments that are here but for a moment...that is where the magic lies.