I’ve been taking pictures since I was handed a Polaroid instant camera and 10 packs of film at my brother’s wedding reception in 1980. They’ve been trying to pry the camera out of my hands ever since. (Not the same camera. I’ve upgraded my equipment since then.)
Since then, I have shot weddings, theatre, still life, fine art, landscapes, cocktail parties and advertising, but headshots and portraits are my thing. Every person is unique, and understanding and capturing that distinctiveness is creatively exciting and fulfilling.
My road to photography was less than direct. The youngest of 6 kids in a crazy Midwestern family, I was surrounded by creativity. My father sang, played piano and wrote songs, my mother was a skilled yodeler, and all of my siblings sang and played instruments — two of them even performed with Chicago’s Lyric Opera. My father explored oil painting , my sister took up calligraphy, and everyone dabbled with some kind of writing. When my mother wasn’t poring through countless cookbooks in search of her next culinary adventure, she was churning out craft projects and driving us to lessons. And I tried it all.
After flirting with piano and violin, an emerging talent for singing put me on the stage, and my sister’s high school production of West Side Story kicked off my lifelong love of theatre. Creative writing and pottery were fiery high school passions, even as I was performing in choral groups and high school and community theatre. My professional acting career began at 19 and I toured most of the country over the next 10 years, always tucking into my bag a journal, a sketchbook, a notebook of poetry, or a camera every time I left NYC.
I moved into graphic design for support work between gigs, and one of those jobs expanded into an opportunity to learn studio lighting and shoot for an ad agency’s in-house studio, and I was suddenly shooting product photos, lifestyle and high-concept advertising campaigns.
And I realized that acting was crossing upstage left towards the wings, while photography was gracefully countering and claiming center stage. Ain’t that a flowery way to describe a career change? The final adjustment was to leave the stress and grind of the advertising world behind to focus on what I really loved — photographing people.
I still act, I still write, and this might be the year I revisit the potter’s wheel — and in all of these creative worlds, I’ve learned that certain artistic principles repeat themselves regardless of the medium. I can see the alliteration in a photograph. Or I can see if it’s pushing. I can see if the photo has got the audience leaning forward in interest, or if they’re coughing. I can tell if the composition is right on key, or if it’s a little pitchy.
In the same way, I learned that the marketing principles that work for a brand of shampoo also work for actors. There is a product to sell, competition to stand out from, and buyers who are hoping they will love you. And in each case, the product photography has to be accurate, interesting, and consistent with the marketing strategy. I just decided that people are more interesting than shampoo.
This is how I came to do what I do. And I love it.
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