By Sheri Oneal
Over the weekend I photographed family portraits of my favorite couple “The Goldsteins,” over several hours my goal was to shoot various photos of Lisa and Rob with their beautiful daughter, Sara. As a commercial photographer this is a little out of my element and for whatever reason photographing friends always makes me nervous for fear they won’t tell me if they truly like the photos (yes even as a pro for almost 20 years I still doubt myself at times). When I went to their home I wanted to be sure and get the photos they wanted but I also wanted to capture something for myself. Because their daughter Sara would be headed off to college soon, their goal was to capture images with her and I knew like any parent they were anxious about their daughter starting a new life chapter. We’ve discussed doing the photos over the past year so I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to create with them in front of the camera. As a visual storyteller and as a professional commercial photographer my job is always to create a story through a single image. I wanted to capture more than just family photos, I wanted to be sure to show the love between the parents and their daughter.
As I thought back to my own connection with my mom at that time in my life I remembered how stressed out I was at that age due to my parents going through a divorce and my confusion over needing to figure out where I wanted to go to college. I never remember thinking at all about what my mother might be feeling as she watched me slowly move towards being a young independant woman, this really had me wanting to capture that bond between a mother and her daughter. On Saturday I knew this photoshoot was about more than just happy faces. My desire was leaning to something stoic yet subtle, the idea of shooting with very little color on black was my way of adding some drama so I was sure to bring along a black backdrop. I wanted to capture a feeling of gentleness between Lisa and Sara, I also wanted to try and tell something about each of them individually…this is what transpired.
After editing through all the images I thought about how I wish I had an image like this with my mom back at that age. I feel as if I have been able to convey their emotions in a deeper way and I hope that others will feel the same. I believe it captures the intimacy of the two combined with the innocence of her daughter and a mother who knows things are changing at home.
While going through the motions of shooting each family member this photo happened….
As I continued to look through all the shots of that day, I kept coming back to this one of Lisa alone. I think of the hundreds of thousands of photos I have taken this year, this is my absolute favorite. Perhaps it is because of how much I love and admire the person looking back, or because of the friendship that has developed with this person over the past year. Somehow she has helped me as an introvert realize how important sharing with friends is to my growth and happiness. I have learned through her to come out of my shell a bit and I have discovered many other amazing ladies along the way. For whatever reason this photo really speaks volumes to me. It carries a lot of hidden meaning as I have watched this woman go through so many changes, in fact a little over a year ago when I met her she was dealing with the treatment of colon cancer and not knowing if she would survive. Many of you were introduced to her with my “Fabulous Women Over 40” blog series earlier this year.
When I compare the woman in the cover story to my favorite photo of the year shot on black I see two very different people. As a photographer my work always begins with what I discover as I glare through the lens into the eyes of the person on the other side, that is always where the story starts. The photo I took last year of Lisa above, appears sad to me, Lisa was going through the cancer treatments at the time and it was shot a few days before her removal surgery. We had not yet developed a friendship and I had only known her for a week.
When I look at the image of Lisa on black I see an extremely strong, confident and gentle person. Someone I have grown to know so well in such a short time. As one would expect, her year has been littered with some very personal and emotional stages regarding health, relationships and career developments but most of all in the confusing discovery of reinventing life after surviving cancer. This week she heads to the doctor’s office to have some test done, something she will need to do the rest of her life as a cancer patient…something I am reminded of that so many beautiful people are dealing with every single day.
I love my job and that I have the ability to make a living taking pictures. My mindset is always to stop time in a single frame and capture a photo that portrays so much about a person without needing to say a single word. I have found that the connection of looking deep into their eyes offers something profound to the viewer and of course beautiful people always make my job a lot easier! What I love most about my work is that the story of the people I create in my photos will live on long after I am gone, that is so much more gratifying to me than a paycheck.
Thank you for reading!
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