2018 in black and white

I love black and white photographs. An argument for color can sometimes be made, but in most cases, black and white removes all the distractions so you can focus on what a scene is really about, or it draws you right into a person’s eyes so you can understand or maybe become curious about a their story. I went back to January and picked out some of my favorite black and white images from the year. They are in no particular order and were all an important part of my year.

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This is from a studio session with Morgan. She’s a talented dancer, make-up artist, word appreciator, and an all around fun and funny lady.
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This is Brooklyn. A lovely person with a lovely name to match. This was a studio session and my first senior portrait session
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Meet Grace and Jon. It was so easy to capture warm moments with these two.
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Grace and Jon, so beautiful and so in love.
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This gorgeous family was a fun and challenging session. Lots of little people adds to the fun! I asked them to just stand around, knowing I wanted this to be a black and white. It is imperfect and I love it.
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These are the grandparents of the little people from the previous family portrait. I knew I would love every shot they were in while I was taking their pictures. Their smile is in their eyes, even when it’s not on their mouths.
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Like I said — I love every shot with these two.
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In addition to being a photographer, I teach ballet. (Which one is the day job?) These are some of my gorgeous students! Marilyn, their fearless leader, asked me to photograph the seniors and I wanted to cry when I saw all of these dancers who will graduate this year!
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Holly Springs School of Dance Senior Goddesses, on a path and facing the future together. This is my favorite from my day with them.
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My youngest graduated from high school in the spring and we took a trip to our favorite place to celebrate.
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The New Colossus
BY EMMA LAZARUS
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
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I take hundreds of shots of the Flat Iron Building when we visit NYC, risking my life in traffic for a good angle. Out of all of those, this is one of two that I like.
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Go to this diner! Beer, wine and breakfast all day! It’s tiny and crowded and only accepts cash. It’s perfect.
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This isn’t really a black and white. It has a little green. I love it because it is color, but mostly black and white. I spotted these in Central Park when we were hunting for a lovely little nature preserve.
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More flowers from Central Park.
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This one has the face of Jesus on a leaf. Can you see it?
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My friend Kate scheduled a portrait session with me last summer. During that Saturday morning session she explained to me that she had been diagnosed with cancer and would begin treatment the following week. That was probably the hardest session I’ve had. We had a few more sessions throughout her journey. This is from a studio session after she had completed treatment in the spring and her hair was growing back.  When I look at the pictures from all the sessions, I can hear her asking me how my kids are, telling me I should take care of myself, laughing, offering help, with everything that she and her family were going through. She lost her battle in early December. I’m so grateful to have had these times with her.
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This guy waited patiently until I got the shot and then flew away.
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She did not want her picture taken! I love that when she puts on sequins she wants to pick up rocks.
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She might have been warming up to the strange lady with a camera.
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…with a little help from big sister.
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This has an Alice in Wonderland feel to me.
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Yes! Fancy dresses are for climbing trees.
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Some of my favorite portraits I’ve taken. I love these two (four??). If you think they’re cute, you should see their new baby twin boys!
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Snapped this while thinking of the next shot.
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Do not mess with these guys. That’s the father of bride at a beautiful wedding on the right.
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Morgan, from the first picture, on the runway. JK, she was just on the sidewalk.
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Gorgeous bride, gorgeous dress, gorgeous daughters, gorgeous bouquet, gorgeous flower girls. They tried so hard to be still and quiet!
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Theresa – Dancing Queen
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It was almost completely dark. I couldn’t tell what I was shooting until I saw the shot in my camera. I’m happy I captured this moment at Lisa and Matt’s wedding reception, at the end of a long day of celebration, nothing but love.
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This was a fun portrait session. I truly love photographing uncooperative subjects! (The human was very cooperative!)
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A backyard wedding is the best. This was my first wedding and I loved documenting the love and laughter.
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Amy and Jeff cut the cake. And don’t share with Raleigh!
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Tyler is one of the sweetest people you could ever meet. We had fun running around Raleigh!
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Lovely Tyler
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The last picture I took with my camera of baby Winnie. This is January, before we knew her kidneys were failing.
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These cousins are in the family portrait above. I wanted to end with some cute sweetness (or some sweet cuteness!)!
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We contain multitudes

When I rent studio space for clients I sometimes plan a little extra time to do my own thing in the studio. I have lots of ideas, many fleeting, for things I’d like to make time to work on in the studio. These ideas are different from one another in origin and meaning, but my interest in finding subtlety means that if I followed through with all of them I would have a huge collection of photos that are essentially a face against a plain background.

For example, I recently became obsessed with my microbiome. A few months ago I read The Mind Gut Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer which was life changing in terms of health, but it led me to read I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life by Ed Yong, which was life changing in terms of how I see myself and others in relation to the the world. On page 10 Young snagged me with this: The latest estimates suggest that we have around 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion microbial ones — a roughly even split. Even these numbers are inexact, but that does not really matter; by any reckoning we contain multitudes. 

I got stuck on the thought that I am as much or even more not-me than I am me. Same for you.

I spend a lot of time trying to capture the essence of a person. When you look at a portrait of yourself, you should see YOU, not just your face and your hair and your body, but something deeper, your mood, your personality, a story or a thought or a memory.

My obsession with my microbes raised the question of photographing a person without capturing THEM. On one hand, capturing a person’s true essence is a challenge. We often want to show people something or present ourselves as we believe we are or as we would like to seem to others. But the goal is to see them and photograph something true and unique about them.

On the other hand, taking a picture of not-you, a picture containing all the same visible characteristics — your face, your hair, your body — but that doesn’t capture your essence at all, is another type of challenge altogether. Even in seeming, we show something about ourselves.  What we attempt to show people says something about what is important to us, what we are thinking about at that time, what our insecurities are… these things are as truly you, and as truly me, as the elusive and unique essence I look for in portrait photography.

Photographing not-you has seemed like an impossible task. I’ve been considering how to manage it for months. I thought a little about the portraits of medieval times. Before the humanism of the Renaissance, a picture of a woman was a picture of any woman, not a specific one. It was a role that was captured in a painting — mother, child, leader, caretaker, savior, etc — rather than any unique essence of an individual.

I’ve wanted to do a whole series of un-portraits, or portraits of multitudes. It will basically look like faces, like I said earlier, against a plain background… expressionless, but not eerily so. Faces that just are. 

All of this leads up to my most recent creative time in the studio. My dance student and friend, and multi-talented artist, Isabella Dobbs was kind enough to spend an hour doing ridiculous things. Always choose an artist as a subject when you want to do ridiculous things!

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We talked about removing the individual by focusing on “face and hands.” We tried to capture these as subjects in themselves, without any “essence of Isabella.”

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Isabella is lovely, smart and creative, but I hope you can’t tell any of these things from looking at these pictures! Neil deGrasse Tyson says “We are, each of us, a little universe.” These pictures are meant to present a universe of microbial life.

Here are a few shots from the same session not associated directly with the microbial un-portraits, but with that same spirit of anonymity (not exactly anonymity, but anyone-ness) in mind.

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Have you read either of these books? Have any thoughts to share on the idea of individuality in portraiture? Do you find those microbes as exciting as I do?

Lisa and Matt Tie the Knot

With another wedding under my belt I am grateful for these opportunities to capture memories and continue learning about the pacing and pressures of wedding day photography.

I’ve known Lisa for 14 years. I was fortunate to watch her beautiful daughters Kaleigh and Kristyn grow up as my ballet students. I expected to see people I knew at Lisa’s wedding, but most of the bridal party and many of the guests were people with whom I have spent most of the past 15 years. My photographer-friend perspective was simultaneously as participant and outsider.

When I arrived Saturday at 4:00 the bridal party preparations were already festive and celebratory.

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After Lisa’s finishing touches, we headed outside to the garden venue for formal photos of the bridal party, then I left the ladies to grab a few shots of the groom and his men before guests arrived.

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The sun was still bright as the guests started arriving around 6:00 p.m. which created a challenge for my camera — I tried my best to frame the scene under the soft shadow of the gazebo, but that wasn’t always practical or possible.

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The wedding began and the pressure was on to catch all of the important once-in-a-lifetime shots — while staying out of the way. It was a beautiful service, led by Chris Chappell, who ensured that any tension was lightened with laughter.

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We finished the formal group photo session with the groomsmen, who started by saying “we don’t want to be serious.” I suggested my go-to Toyota jump, which was immediately shot down. I love what we got — I think we perfectly captured their mood and camaraderie without being too serious.

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I’ll let the photos tell the story of the reception, from the introduction of the newlyweds through the 80’s dance party and bouquet toss.

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Congratulations to Lisa and Matt and best wishes for many years of happiness!

I love love love being part of these occasions and I can’t wait for my weddings next month!

I leave you with a few more images of warmth, friendship and happiness…

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A Family Wedding

The first camera I picked up was a Canon Powershot that didn’t have changeable lenses, but did at least have manual settings. I sat in the dark photographing fast moving dancers without a flash, surrounded by professional photographers who were willing to suggest settings that might allow me to get a shot or two, which was all I needed. I was only there to make sure I had a photo to include with my review of the performance. Back then, I would never have guessed that I would fall in love with the world through the lens and eventually find myself photographing important life events like weddings.

Photographing weddings was never part of my plan — but then Amy asked me to shoot her wedding. I love new challenges so I couldn’t resist this opportunity. As I started learning and preparing myself, I realized that although there were brand new challenges, there was some similarity between shooting a wedding and the performance events where I was first introduced to photography.

Among the similarities are the lighting challenges. I shot ballets and modern dance in a dark theater without a flash. The only light I had to work with was the often minimal stage lighting. Not only was the stage sometimes almost completely dark, but the light changed frequently, meaning I had to keep up with my camera’s settings. Add to this the pressure of knowing I have one shot. If I missed a shot, the moment was gone. So I learned to keep up with the lighting changes while anticipating the next move to be ready for the shot. I found this kind of pressure exhilarating in the theater — it was part of what drew me to photography. I find it equally exhilarating when shooting a wedding! Regardless of the lighting situation, there is only one chance to catch a first kiss.

Amy and Jeff Smith’s wedding, my first, was a beautiful and intimate event of family and friends, hosted in the back yard of the Smith’s good friends. Amy requested only shots of the ceremony and candids from thee day, none of the standard formal group shots or still life photos. This made it the perfect entry into weddings for me. I was able to focus on the the pace and pressure of getting the important one-chance shots and capturing the warmth of the day.

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And some of my favorite guests…

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I’ll be sharing some shots from a wedding I shot last weekend in my next post, and I’m excited to have several weddings on my calendar for the fall!