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Thinking Outside the Camera

What photographs will do and can do for a person's soul can't be found when you're looking only at the mere logistics of it. What makes it worth having needs to be something you can't help but notice as soon as you first walk in.
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The bride-to-be called. She was looking for a wedding photographer. When I answered the phone she proceeded to tell me all the logistics involved with her wedding:

"It starts at 1 at the synagogue. But we want photos in the home, before then, of me getting ready. I want photos of me and my parents. From various angles. Then I'd like to have photos outside, nearby. There are two locations I want to take photos at. Then after the ceremony, my husband has three aunts and seven cousins he wants a photo with. We'll have one hour to take any photos before the party begins. The synagogue will let us take photos there for 40 minutes. Then at the reception, they won't have a lot of light there so I want to make sure my photos won't look dark."

Ah. The logistics.

We humans are strange creatures. What we often say we want, isn't really what we really want.

When we look for a place to live, for example, we might say we want something light and airy, and so maybe we call the real estate agency and tell them we want a place with lots of windows.

But what we really want is a place that makes us feel cheerful. And alive.

When we go to a fine restaurant we might tell them we want the steak. Served medium. With potatoes on the side.

But what we really want is to be pampered. To have an experience. To take in a particular ambiance. To treat ourselves. To socialize. To have a night out. We want enjoyment.

This bride-to-be. What did she really want her wedding photos to do for her?

Which brings me to this. Let me tell you about K. K is my right hand woman. People call her "The Contessa" because rumor has it that's what she was. Or is. I never bothered to ask. I first met her very late one night in a coffee shop on some corner of New York City, I forget where. It doesn't matter. She was sitting at a table, alone. Big black hat covering most of her face, a scarf dangling around her neck and off her shoulder. She was having a cup of tea, holding it with both her hands, sipping it slowly. In a shop mostly empty except for an old man reading a paper over a half eaten egg salad sandwich in a corner and a small group of lower east side twenty somethings busily chatting, she looked out of place.

I noticed her as soon as I walked in.

I walked up to her table and grabbed the back of the vacant chair across from her. "Seat taken?" I asked. She looked up and tilted her head at me for a second, looking at me, then waved her hand slightly toward the chair in a way that says it's all right, you may have a seat in her court. She happened to look as if she'd like to talk to someone and I happened to have felt like listening. A striking dark beauty. Her eyes drew you in. I had no choice. I wanted to photograph her.

At first she asked what I would do with the photos. I said I'd give them to her, it would be a gift. She was silent. Then she asked what size they would be, would they be digital, would she get them all. I told her none of that mattered. Those aren't the reasons I wanted to create a portrait of her and none of those are why anyone would ever appreciate a portrait.

You appreciate a photograph because it's a thing of beauty.

She agreed. The portraits I created of her showed her enjoying and reveling in a moment of happiness. They had a playfulness my guess is she hadn't felt in some time. As she looked upon the portraits, a smile flirted with her face. In the images she saw joy. She saw the beauty she'd forgotten was in her possession. She experienced something inside when the photos were taken and now she was feeling the emotions she had felt, again. She took a deep breath. Looked up at me. There was an aliveness in her eyes. And a tear.

I had handed The Contessa back the gift of herself.

It was what she really wanted.

I'll tell you this much. What photographs will do and can do for a person's soul can't be found when you're looking only at the mere logistics of it. What makes it worth having needs to be something you can't help but notice as soon as you first walk in.

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