Day 53 - Want Your Picture Taken?
How do you know you are talking to a real photographer without seeing her work? When she says things like I want my ashes strewn when the light is perfect.
I met Shazam a long time ago, when our now grown-up daughters were little girls taking horseback riding lessons. Shazam looks like creativity and happiness and curiousity on two skinny legs, and I wanted to be her friend as soon as I saw her. Luckily, the feeling was mutual, and we have been close ever since. I have been pushing her to make a website for her photography for almost as long as I have known her. She is wildly talented and is, like many of us, more afraid of success, I think, than failure.
She got her first camera from her father when she was 15 and headed to a trip to Yugoslavia with her mom. Her father’s instructions? Just put it at 125 f-11 and don’t change it. So Shazam went to Yugoslavia and did what her dad said. She soon learned there was a little more to photography than 125 f-11. Her mother was, as always the president of her fan club, and when she saw what Shazam had captured of their trip said, Honey, you are the best photographer, and Shazam was hooked. By high school, she had her own darkroom, and then life took over, but all the while, photography was there, the camera close by.
After her first child was born, Shazam returned to taking classes, but every time the students had to turn in a photograph, the class and teacher would give her work a lot of attention, asking her what camera she used, how she got the shot, etc. etc. This attention scared her, and she finally ended up dropping out because, as she said, What if I screwed up? What if my next shot was not as good as my last?
I understand this fear. I didn’t write for decades because I was so afraid both of being wrong and of being right. I didn’t know which one was worse. I was so used to being in my mother’s shadow that, even when she was dead, I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of being big, and being well-received as a writer felt big to me. Truth be told, I’m still afraid.
However, I have a talent for seeing talent, and the reason I told Shazam not long after we met that I wasn’t calling her Susan any more, her given name, was because, to me, she was Shazam. She is a walking force of nature, an artistic superhero. I wanted others to have the opportunity to be seen through Shazam’s eyes. Being seen by another person is a gift. Having it documented and framed is even better. You really are as beautiful as people say you are. See?
The photographs she has taken of my daughter and me and of me alone are so valuable, both on a sentimental and a professional level. She got Keats and me, the feeling between us, and she does this all the time. The photographs she has taken of me are invaluable when I need one for social media and for those times when people ask for a photograph for one reason or another. Those were the times that used to leave me scrambling, looking for some shot, any, that was at least serviceable and didn’t have a dog or a balloon in it.
I asked Shazam to tell me one secret as to how she gets people she doesn’t even know to look so comfortable in her photographs. She said she puts people in situations they aren’t in normally. For example, she recently took a young man who was clearly nervous about having his picture taken outside and had him sit in her husband’s convertible while she ran upstairs to shoot the photographs from the second story of her house.
She tries to think of disarming situations, which can be simple. For example, she recently brought a fan into the room when taking photographs of a woman, and after a few minutes the woman couldn’t stop smiling. God, I love having the fan in my face, she said.
Something that surprised me today when I was talking with Shazam about her work is the fact that she worries about her age. She said she made sure to put a picture of herself on her website (that is under construction) so that people won’t be surprised when they come to the door. I forget how old she is exactly. Sixty-something. The thing is, I think her age works to her advantage. She has been honing her photography skill for a lot longer than any twenty year old.
She also knows that when it comes right down to it, her age works in her favor because, finally, when she is confronted with the fear of stepping out of her comfort zone, of working somewhere the light or background isn’t familiar to her, she tends now to think fuck it and play with what she has available to her. She’s working out of her comfort zone. She’s letting go of control. She said, I’m pushing myself because I feel I’ll regret not letting this flow out of me. Every time I take a photo, I get something out of it. I get to love everyone.
I think really one issue she might have with her age is that, and you'll see this as soon as you meet her, she's so, so young, and so the age she wears on her face does not represent the age she carries in her heart. I mean, she's not even twenty deep inside. She's probably about twelve. I could see how when meeting people for the first time Shazam could feel strange because she's thinking that the person people are seeing is not the person she feels she is.
But don't many of us feel this way? And this may be the key to her talent as a person who has the ability to capture other people's souls--she sees past the surface to the joy and deep truth of real identity.
I asked her to show me the one photograph she would use as a calling card for her work, and she chose this one of her daughter’s eyes. I feel I’m looking right into her soul, Shazam said.
The last time Shazam took my photograph was just a few weeks ago, and I ended up in the pool with a tablecloth wrapped around my body. It was such a wonderful afternoon. I do not love having my picture taken. When I was a kid, my mom once said to me, You’re so pretty, but I can never get a good picture of you. Maybe it was part of being adopted. Whenever I become aware that I was being observed my face stiffened and felt like a mask. I didn’t know who to be. I still get like this, but Shazam does things, makes me laugh, takes a shot when I don’t know she’s looking, and in the end I see myself in a way that is deeply familiar and also gratifying when I look at her work. She is also so herself that you just become yourself in response.
Being with Shazam is like being twelve again and hanging out with a great friend. So much fun. So much curiousity. So much what can we do next?
And then, click.
See you tomorrow.
A session with Shazam costs $400 and includes the best images, ready to be printed. She works out of her house in Los Gatos, California. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website will be up and running soon.
(I told her she should be charging a lot more than she is, so get your pose on now before she wakes up and realizes she needs to crank up the price for the number of hours she spends both on the shoot and on editing the photos.)
Here is a sample of her work (the shot of her camera she took on her phone as she and I talked. The last photo is the one I took after she and I hugged goodbye.):