Archive for November, 2010

I’ve been trying to find the words for this post… sometimes I think we become photographers so we can say things words fall short of accurately expressing.  The source I can’t recall at this moment, but heard somewhere, someone say “there must be a separate heaven for children.”  Last year I joined Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, but conveniently ‘forgot’ to send in the agreement after paying the donation because I wasnt sure it was something I could do.  For those of you that are unfamiliar with the organization they are a collection of photographers that provide memorial portraiture to families whose infants will not, or did not survive.  We essentially provide the very first and last portrait session for that child and family in hopes that the images might help with the grieving and healing process, and give them a way to hold onto those few, precious, fleeting moments.

I actually consider myself to be a pretty good source of strength in a crisis.  I tend to fall apart afterwards on my own, but in the moment I am often very calm and collected momentarily until the worst has passed…perhaps it just takes that long for my mind to process what just happened.  So when I received the call from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia I was both apprehensive and honored to be a part of such an intimate and personal experience, and to be able to preserve those few stolen moments they had with her, so they could hold onto them after.  No one should have to watch their children die… Just at CHOP alone they have on average 2-3 a week.  I can’t imagine a pain more deep or cutting.  It has been agony for me, and I am just the photographer.

I consider myself very lucky that this sweet little girl’s ailments was entirely interior, and outside she was just a beautiful little cherub of a baby, I know some of my fellow photographers have had some really intense sessions with children who have injuries and other disfigurations that are very hard to see, let alone photograph in a manner that allows people to see the beloved little souls the parents hoped for and not their wounds or illnesses, I’m not sure I’d have had the courage for such an undertaking in my first session, it has been haunting me on it’s own, and she was perfect looking.  My heart aches for all the parents that have lost their children…  so much.   I dont think I’ve ever held my kids as tightly as I did that night.  There was a few minutes where I slipped into my familiar photographer cloak, and it felt momentarily like any other newborn session I have photographed…the mother cried the entire session of course, and I have no words for my admiration of her courage and strength in those few hours we spent together.  At one moment it completely overwhelmed her, and at her request I took her sweet little girl to take some photos of her by herself, in the maybe 5 steps from her mother’s arms on the chair, to the pillow we had laid out for her, the photographer armor melted completely away from me and the vulnerability of being a mother myself ached to just set the camera down and hold her.  She reminded me so much of Cadence when she was born, probably more of a psychological than an actual physical resemblance.  She only lived about 15 minutes off life support, which she had been on since she was born.  Her mother had never gotten to hold her freely, and in the midst of all that agony, and heartbreak, and sorrow, there was a moment when her mother took her in her arms and looked at her for the first time without a breathing tube and wires, and she opened her eyes and looked back, and new her mother, recognized her; even though it was the first time she was really getting to see her.  That, and her father’s lips on her forehead, her little hand wrapped tightly around her mother’s finger, and the immense love, and peace of being in their arms, I photographed all of it, and was grateful that any part of my being there, or anything I could give them might bring them even the smallest comfort, even if not for some time.  I suppose that sentiment, is what inspired the creation of the organization, and what fills the hearts of the volunteers with enough strength to photograph session after session.

I of course felt an immense sense of despondency the entire way home… it didn’t help that I borrowed Martha’s car, and promptly locked the keys and my cell phone in the car at the gas station after the session, which resulted in a 45 minute wait and $75 fee to get the car unlocked.  I was exhausted when I got home, snuck quietly upstairs to tuck my kids in a second time, kissed Cadence and Steven, went in my room and cried until I heard Michael climbing the stairs to see where I disappeared to.

I talked to my dad about it the next day, he told me it was a pretty version of death, and something that should make me consider if I took this so hard would I be able to handle Uganda when there aren’t sterile hospitals, and I watch children laying in the dirt sick or dying, and filling me with the same sense of hopelessness that I can do nothing to change their situation… I guess, just like these moments were captured and preserved for her family to have in their mourning, and their healing, so they could hold some piece of her always, I feel that photographing children, people; who have no voice of their own I can give them one through their images, to say the things words do not convey.

I am grateful for the experience, although it has been haunting me, my grandfather told me, whenever you feel sorry for yourself do something for someone else who is worse off.  It certainly does change your perception on your own situation.  It’s also reinforced again how important our photographs are, because these moments are just that: moments.  And then they are gone… This may not be the last photo you’ll have of them, but it’s the last one you’ll take at this moment, this time, this age, this memory.

It’s not about the photos, it’s about what they represent, what they capture, and that the emotion and essence of that moment will come right back to you every time you see the image… what matters more?  What are you waiting for?  Would you be more inclined to pull out your camera, to hire a photographer if someone in your family was terminally ill?  Was dying?  Was leaving?  How many more moments would you have to cherish if you treated every moment like it was?


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Tell me your story…

If you follow my blog regularly or know me personally, you’re familiar with my mention of my dear friend Ashley who passed away in 2005.  Yesterday would have been her 24th birthday.  I wish I had more photos of her.  Of us.  I wish that about most people I have lost, and for being still a fairly young person, I have lost a lot of people that mattered deeply to me, though thankfully, none since Ashley.  It seems the older I get, the more time behind me, the faster time is passing me by.  I remember when a year seemed forever, now I cant imagine where the last 6 years went.  My grandmother shares that sentiment but adds a 0 behind the 6.  Time is like water finding it’s way, it carves a path, becomes a trickle and sculpts and widens it’s way until it rushes by in rapids, and we are as powerless to stop it as we would be fighting the force of the waterfall; and what remains besides the photographs?  Besides home videos, and letters and cards, and inanimate objects that care a far higher value sentimentally than monetarily because they remind us of loved ones, of moments we cherish and can never return to.  It’s a bittersweet nostalgia at times, because for me I’ve found no pain to be as heart wrenchingly suffocating as being inundated with the memory of moments of love and joy when you are overwhelmed by a time of current grief and loss.

In my humble opinion Love is the mother of all other emotions, in it’s own time it has the potential to inspire every other thing we feel, even hate in a misguided way.  Mostly though I find things done with love have the power to reciprocate and grow exponentially in this world more love in other hearts, and for me photographs inspire a lot of love and memories of love.

In memory of Ashley, and in the spirit of Help Portrait I will be extending our offer until Thanksgiving, because there is so much for me to be thankful this year, and a big component of that is how many amazing people I know and have met this year who have been sharing their stories, and personal struggles, and strength with us.

So between now and then Send us an email to JessicaLark@CoutureManor.com and tell us why you or someone you know deserves a complimentary photo session from our studio this holiday season.  Tell us your story, tell us your struggle, tell us who matters most to you and what you want to preserve, tell us why it’s important to you.  It doesnt have to be tragic, you dont have to be up for the nobel peace prize or do anything amazing to some crazy standard, everyone deserves to have the moments and people that matter to them preserved and kept sacred and safe, just tell us what you cherish about yourself and life and what/who you want photographed, and why.

Please be sure that you are willing for your stories to be shared as we will be sharing the winners on various social mediums.  Thank you all for letting me have a little room in your life and world, each of you are inspirational and wonderful people and I am blessed to know you, even if only as online acquaintances.  ❤

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Leon Lamborghini

So I had the unique experience of getting to shoot the insanely gorgeous Mandy Leon, an incredibly sexy girl, that if she looks familiar may warrant a second look at your favorite car mags.  She had asked me to work together before and we just couldnt coincide schedules but when she told me she would be shooting on a Lamborghini backdrop, how could I resist?  The owner of this gorgeous car is Steve, who owns Elegant Arrivals, a limo company catering mostly to high end wedding clients.  This one however, along with about 30 others is part of his personal collection, and incidentally happens to be one he’s willing to part with…that car is going to make someone very happy someday 🙂

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I am at heart a scholar of sorts, though in a more abstract bohemian artist kind of way.  I am ceaselessly intrigued by intellect, especially in philosophical realms, I attach more to ideas than information, which would easily explain why Dane Sanders is one of my preferred instructors.  The gift to inspire is to me an extremely admirable quality that is far too often overlooked for it’s greatness.  {Let me insert a disclaimer here that I am not actually affiliated with Dane, or his fasttrack photographer book/program, this is not an advertising or networking pitch, it’s simply in me sharing someone who in my humble opinion is not only a great inspiration but a great resource professionally and scholarly speaking}

I got up at 6:30 on central time, so round that up to 5:30am for us east coasters, to hear his lecture at PPA.  He did not disappoint.  I had happened upon his site before when there was a publication naming his one of the best photographer websites period… that first impression was a lasting one.  Now with all due respect I didnt think the website itself was anything special.  Actually it was pretty standard.  BUT.  He had this intro this little video promo entitled 2×2, {anyone familiar with him knows what I’m talking about}  That little video left such an impression to me as a photographer and a bride that I wanted to hire him to shoot my wedding…without knowing the cost, or HAVING SEEN ANY OF HIS IMAGES.  That really got me thinking, because I have plenty of people I love to share in their wisdom and adore their personalities that I would never entrust with preserving the moments of a milestone like marrying the love of my life.  In fact, someone like Jerry Ghionis, or Yervant would have topped my list of potentials because of the amazing imagery I have seen them produce.  How could this guy I’d never met, or seen any of his work suddenly push past that amazing artistry and solidify in my mind as a top contender?  Very simply, as Maya Angelou once said: “People will forget what you said, People will forget what you did, But people will never forget how you made them feel.”  By the end of his promo I was more than a little choked up… which is not a hard feat to accomplish, I’m one of those overly sensitive emotional artist types, but still, he moved me.  I felt that he understood, what these memories would mean, today, and 50 years from now, the importance of these images, and what they represent when the moments and people in them have passed.  This was no longer me looking at a professional, it was a passionate creator’s emphatic communication with somewhere much deeper than a buying decision part of my mind.  What he did was so powerful it surpassed the marketing research that says you need 15+ impressions before someone remembers you or your brand, it beat out competition on the actual product and service he was offering, with imagery that was breathtaking and proven to be a fantastic and above desirable result compared to never having seen his actual images.  So much so that many months later half way across the country inundated with talent, wisdom and expertise, at a much more acceptable hour to a non morning person, his name was circled and starred on my itinerary, and I showed up bright and early, 20 minutes before the start to guarantee my entry, even without coffee.  And hung on his every word.

So why am I waxing poetic about Dane Sanders on a monday morning?  Lately some unfortunate circumstances put into place the need for a change in perception and direction, and a little self assessment professionally and personally, and something Dane said came back to me.  BE ALL IN.  I left from that seminar feeling motivated to take on the world, ready to be all in.  I bought his book, which since has had it’s share of being passed around to other friends and colleagues and has more than a few pages dog eared in it, and that motivation was reinforced by his inscription on the inside cover:  “Jessica, Lead Us”

Dont we all love great leaders, dont we look at people like MLK, Ghandi, Mother Theresa, or watch movies like Braveheart, and 300 and applaud their tireless efforts to create and lead a revolution?  They change perception, and the accepted norms, and break boundaries, and  set the bar higher…and inspire others to do the same.

I think the one thing that Dane may have left out, is that you not only have to commit, you have to recommit.  There’s so much going on in life, and friction, and obstacles, and distractions that it’s easy to lose momentum and resolve, you start slowing down, and if you aren’t paying attention you stop all together.  The stereotype is that of course when you are encountering hardships that’s when you are endanger of losing your grip on the progress you’ve made, mostly because it’s a downward spiral, and once you lose just a little bit of your footing, it’s easy to coast, slip and fall the rest of the way down.  The misrepresentation is that the momentum is not just as easily lost on the climb.  It’s like riding a bike,  up hill.  And then up a mountain.  It’s difficult, and exhausting, and leaves you sore and sometimes you just cant push those petals and the wheels start sliding backwards.  When you finally make it to a plateau, it’s such a relief to be able to ease up a little, rest and collect yourself, and grin knowingly at everyone still at the bottom and the journey they are about to embark on, that you forget there is still much more to scale, and higher to climb instead of resting on the half way.  Sometimes when you look at how far you’ve come, you feel you’ve earned a reprieve, and you’re right!  As long as you dont get stuck at the top of the hill and call it a mountain.  Recommitting is a fresh start, have the ultimate goal in mind, but have a series of quarter-milestones to celebrate along the way, so long as you understand they are markers and not the finish line.

I think recommitting is not only essential for your own resolve, but as you travel the path you pick up more knowledge, equipment, expertise, and hone your talents, recommitting along the way allows you to implement all the new assets and perhaps move you along further than you would have.

It seems that a lot of our industry has become extremely guarded, trying to keep the secrets we have learned from those we perceive as competition, assuming that our knowledge and expertise can further the distance between us and them and keep us ahead of the race.  This is a hare mentality, and in case you forgot the hare didnt win the race.  If you want to go fast you go alone, if you want to go far go together.  It’s amazing how easily the hand you extend to help someone else up, may just as easily be reached for to help you back.

How can I help?  This is me granting open access, from images to marketing, retouching, to client interaction, if you think something I’m doing may help you in your business {photography related or not}  I will do my best to answer questions or offer recommendations, and far more importantly than my limited knowledge and expertise, chances are I can recommend someone else as an excellent resource, because really most of what anyone says is just paraphrased wisdom or ideals they heard elsewhere.


sometimes the moment you witness is more potent than the one you create





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I have been doing a lot of soul searching the last few days… few months… few years… well most of my life; but particularly in the last 4 years, and the last 4 days.  I’ve been told many times I am an “old soul”  an interesting concept, leading me to wonder how souls are born.  I can’t imagine this life is all there is, at the same time I can understand our need to believe in something after because it makes the loss of loved ones, and facing our own mortality easier to swallow.  I wonder sometimes why it is so difficult for us to be good to each other and genuinely happy for each other’s successes and good fortunes.  I sometimes think that Jealousy is one of our most basic human characteristics, mostly because we find it so much easier to count someone else’s blessings rather than our own.

I spent a lot of my childhood and young adult life trying very hard to be all things to all people, and be who I assumed I should be based on their expectations and demands.  A fairly common trait in young girls of broken families I’m sure.  It ends with said girl feeling uncomfortable in her own skin and never reaching her potential, shining brightly equates to standing out, drawing attention to yourself, and that seems like a dangerous proposition for a fragile heart with thin skin.  I think the thin skin is because I didnt quite fit in it, and a lot of me was screaming and scratching at the surface to get out.

It’s so easy to listen to everyone that says it’s silly to keep your head in the clouds and at some point growing up is synonymous with quitting all these foolish dreams.  It’s a strange thing to observe adults, especially now that I have not only joined their ranks but have children.  Why do the same people that wholeheartedly encouraged our belief in the tooth fairy, and santa claus, and our aspirations to be artists, and singers, and actresses and heart surgeons suddenly change their perceptions and instead encourage us to “grow up” choose stability and mediocrity?  It’s safer?  It’s not that it’s safer it’s that you dont have to try as hard, so the chances of failure are less…it never fails to amaze me how many people would rather say they never failed, than they didnt succeed; and how many are oblivious to the fact that failure is a temporary condition, made permanent by giving up.  My husband has told me on several occasions that one thing he admires in me is that when I decide I want something I will find a road, a path, or carve one to get to the goal.  I forget that not everyone is as stubborn as I am.  The older you get the more resources you have at your disposal, the more defined your talents are… what are you waiting for?  Eventually I just got tired of waiting and trying to talk down the part of me that was aching to be great at something.  To express myself, to be artistic, to understand that everyone is not going to like me, or my work and that’s ok.  My personal need to please translated very heavily into photography the first year.  Every time someone criticized my work or found something they didn’t like I would change my style to conform, trying to be better, and it actually would take me longer to shoot and retouch because I would fight with my basic artistic instinct.  I shot whatever someone wanted to pay me to shoot, I gave them whatever they wanted because I was craving acceptance and adopted a more distorted version of “the customer is always right”  It’s more of the same personal fight of “what if they don’t like me”  Only now it wasnt just personal, it was my career.  I undercharged, and undervalued what I was doing, and how good I was at it, and I was killing myself trying to go above and beyond for my clients, because it was important to me that I was giving not only fantastic images, but also great service, I genuinely care about them, and I love them for letting me share in their moments, and translating that gratitude into customer service was a vital part of my business plan.

I took a leap of faith and more than doubled my prices… no one batted an eye.  In fact my business doubled.  Partly because I was undercharging before, partly because my work had gotten significantly better, and partly because when you see the value in yourself and what you do, it’s so much easier for others to see it.  It took me a while to settle into my new found self confidence, a trait that I had never possessed because I spent so long letting other opinions define me and assuming that their opinion of me was more important than my opinion of me.  On the other hand I’ve noticed that I have a strong ability to recognize others struggling with the same issue, and they are more likely to be negative, question your abilities, call your confidence arrogance, cut down your abilities and talents because trying to make you feel small takes far less effort than standing tall themselves.  I find it amusing how easy it is for me to allow their perceptions to redefine my truth in my life and what I do.  I’m also not ashamed to say that I have found a certain sense of pride in myself that I am much more courageous in sticking to what I know works and what I believe is right, for me personally, and the ethics and standards I hold my business too.  I’ve met so many that bend and break the rules, lower their integrity, and take on a persona of servitude beneath people they assume are above them, worth more than the average person/client, or can help them get to where they want to be.  They are intimidated by their perceived power, influence or notoriety, and people assume that fame or money or position of power somehow entitles them to special treatment.  I dont.  There are people that I would absolutely do anything for, and completely question my choices and ethics and practices at their suggestion, but it is only because I consider them extremely wise, and also compassionate.  People that do for others make me want to do for them, and people that are always sharing their expertise will hold me captivated at their feet hanging on every word like a child listening to stories.  It’s natural for people to want to connect to people more accomplished than themselves so they can climb personal or professional ladders and achieve a higher status in life and society, we are all ambitious to some extent.  What I cant understand is why some people will covet scraps of wisdom or aid from people they consider above them, but then look down at the people beneath them.  Some people assume that by going the extra mile for people of influence they will get further in life.  It has been my experience and served me well that I go above and beyond as much for the house wife next door that saved up for months for a session as I do for the high end bride that doesnt bat an eye at signing a $10000 check for her wedding.  It has ended up being a pleasant surprise when I have professionally and personally treated everyone with the same kindness and respect, and someone I have treated well just for the sake of treating well has ended up being someone of influence, and been all the more willing to help without my asking because they know the special treatment was not made with expectation of what they could do for me.  In equal measure nothing could turn me off more than a sense of entitlement or expectation for me to act in a different manner because they consider themselves worthy of special treatment different than any of my other beloved clients.

I struggle sometimes with feeling conceited about my craft.  The fact is I am really really good at photography.  Having confidence in that gives my clients confidence in that as well because they are entrusting me with some of the most important moments of their lives, and that in a sense is it’s own immortality, that allows us to carry those we have love and lost, and will allow those that love us to carry us when we are gone.  It is not just a picture of a moment, it is an emotion, a feeling, a piece of our souls, our creativity, our connection to each other.  I understand that, more importantly I have a profound respect for that and that has led me to realize that I am actually doing a disservice to clients if I agree to photograph what they want if I am not passionate about it, because there is another photographer that is.  If I dont connect with someone on a personal level I can not capture them with the same intimacy and honesty and heart that pours out of my images, I actually serve them better to send them away than to shoot them, and by being true to my talents and what I know allows me to provide the absolute best images, if people dont trust in my ability to do that than I am not the right photographer for them, regardless of talent or proficiency in my craft.  It’s so difficult when people try to measure who is the best, because no one can be the best anything for everyone solely based on their talents.  There is a humanity that ties us to each other and allows our souls to converse, especially in artistry.

There is much I still want to accomplish in my career, in many way’s I’m just getting started, but lately I have been looking at my ambition and dedication and the drive that I have maintained for my business and a lot of the sacrifice has come at the expense of my family.  I’ve been grateful lately for Martha, she not only keeps everything flowing at the studio, helps keep everything straightened and tidy and maintaining the artistic flow and creativity that is so vital for me, but she also adores my kids, and sometimes I think she is better to them than I am, she’s an ear, and sound advice, and sometimes just empathy, she watches sports and stupid movies with Mike that I dont care about, and really kind of fills in the role of me with my family when I am focused on the art.  It’s an amazing gift that my assistant is also really the best friend I have aside from Michael.  It also keeps things in perspective for me, because every now and then when the kids are bragging about the masks they made out of paper plates, or I see them on the swings outside playing with Michael and Martha while I sift through 3 weddings worth of images I realize that what would be their sacrifice is less so, and more my own… I can not believe that my daughter is 5 and my son already 3… and I look through the photographs of the last several years and realize that most of them I am not in, obviously because I am usually behind the lens, some because I was not there at all, and I realize that the moments they are in that they will cherish and rejoice in, that I love and ache for them to have so many of I have sacrificed being a part of…  in hopes that what I am building will be greater and outlast my own brief moment here, creating and becoming a legacy that they can be proud of and will provide for them a comfortable lifestyle later in their lives and for their children as well… Images like this one remind me to occasionally take time to realize that my greatest blessings do not lie in my talents but in my family, and that what is important lies solely here, in how they see me, and my place in their hearts.

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