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  • Cynthia August is a Portrait Photographer in Boston.

Oo! And the commercial portrait photographer is Me!

Thanks to Boston Voyager for the great interview! Portrait photography is always fun to talk about. And you already know I love magazines!

You can check the Boston Voyager article out HERE

This interview makes me realize I think a LOT about taking portraits and business photographs. Maybe more than most photographers. I think I spend so much time planning so that the actual photoshoot goes effortlessly, and that we can make changes during the picture-taking with ease and confidence. Doing your research makes you well-equipped to handle whatever may happen in the moment.

But wow it still makes me sound like a HUGE photo and story nerd. Can’t help it!

Here are a few pictures and words from the very long article…

We are the rockstar heroes of our life’s journey. Really, I swear. You know that awesome picture of yourself that you held in your heart as a kid? The one where you were a superhero, or maybe royalty, or some wild un-tame-able spirit. Maybe a wolf. Or a butterfly. Or president. Take a second and try to remember the way it made you feel. Remember the story you wove around it, how you made yourself the hero and the way you saved the entire world right before you got called into dinner?

I LOVE that story. I love it in my subjects, and I love it in me. I’ve spent my entire life exploring it, from childhood when I would construct entire environments (and costumes) for my friends to play in, then in my years analyzing scripts as a professional costume and set designer, and in my current life as a commercial, editorial, and fine art portrait photographer. I’m obsessed. Here’s why – I think that powerful story jump starts our passions, sticks with us as we move into adulthood, and drives the genuine, authentic heart of what we ultimately choose to do with our lives.

 

 

For most businesses, it is a buyer’s market, and we don’t convert sales the way we used to. At all. Our websites are our storefronts, and the main page is the shop window. The portraits we use are what our potential clients see when they come up to the virtual counter.

The one thing that a business person has that sets them apart from their competitors is their individual view on their business and the world, their mission and purpose, which has a foundation in that first hero story. When we go beyond the “good photograph” and create the fantastic photograph, the dynamic photograph, the storytelling photograph that radiates with a person’s positive intention and energy, it connects on a higher level.

The subject’s unique character and strengths invite a closer look. It doesn’t matter the profession – I’ve photographed some terrifically charismatic dry cleaners. If you love what you do, it shows. The stories that inspire us, light us from within. And great photography is about capturing the light.

 

I appreciate the chance to talk about my work. To check out some of the other interviews, head to www.bostonvoyager.com

I have a little sign on my desk that I love. Here’s a photograph of it:

 

(It is also a photograph of my Lensball – if you don’t have one, get one! Seriously, coolest thing.)

I wrote it many years ago right after a terrific portrait session, and it has remained forever true. I really do love taking pictures for the people I work for, documenting their passionate pursuit of their work, the way they believe in what they do, and their commitment to giving. They light up when talking about their goals, and I love helping them show the world their strengths.

That’s why I had such a blast visiting one of my most inspiring clients, Lisa Cantalupo, in her New Hampshire studio last month in order to photograph her story for Boston Voyager magazine.

Lisa in her studio

Lisa’s Article in Boston Voyager

Lisa, in a word, is cool. Not in that trendy, hip, flash-in-the-pan way (although she does make pretty big splashes with her designs), but as a designer who has been tirelessly honing her craft for years and has never rested on her laurels. Her leatherwork is intricate, of the highest quality and perpetually stylish. Her spirit is unflappable and positive but pragmatic. And she’s a survivor. I won’t re-write the Boston Voyager article, you can read that for yourself, but if I had to sum things up I would say that the road has been challenging, as it is for many entrepreneurs who are also single parents. Lisa has maintained a commitment to her family AND her work that is really inspiring. And it has paid off.

Hanging with Lisa is always fun, too – and that is definitely a part of why she’s successful. Her happy energy immediately gets you into a comfortable place – with your life, yourself – so much so that you find yourself looking at one of her gorgeous and daring pieces and envisioning yourself in it. Then you try it, and what can I say? Magic. So spending a day roaming around her workspace with camera in hand, both of us laughing and even talking about the down and dirty aspects of making a go of a business in a buoyant manner was truly nourishing.

Witnessing the energy that makes a business successful and then capturing its essence in photographs is the heart of what I do. I shoot what I see. (The filters that exist on the images come from the spirit of the business, not Instagram, thank you very much!) Here are some of the images from our day.

 

 

  • Lisa Cantalupo - Dang it woman! You have me in tears – yet again! I so do appreciate and adore you! Everyone should be so lucky to have you as a friend. Thank God they can hire you! Really. SERIOUSLY! they should… Be tearing down what they have to in order to be on the other side of your lens. Worth every second and every dollar. Love you!ReplyCancel

Christopher is very very busy right now. Please take this photo later.

Here’s the scenario.

We’re in my photography studio, and we are getting ready to take a headshot or a business portrait. Everything is set to go and I lift the camera up. And then I hear something from my client that always makes me a little sad, and full of empathy.

OH MY GOSH I HATE MY _______________! (Insert body part here)

Deep sigh of understanding and compassion. Okay. Let’s put the camera back down for a minute.

I feel you. Believe me I do. One of the reasons I love to be behind the camera is that I don’t have to be part of the photograph happening in front of it, facing up to all those things the world has told me (and the things I’ve told myself) about my appearance. My years as a costume designer made me even more sensitive and sympathetic to those moments. I’ve seen many a Tony Award level actor crumble into self doubt when faced with a mirror, and it makes my heart hurt.  It shouldn’t be the way it is. (more on that in another post.)

But after taking photographs of people for so many years, I have learned some about what we see in ourselves vs. what others see in us. Here are some things to think about when the camera’s focus is on you, and you’re feeling, well, a little…uncomfortable in your skin:

 

We really are our own worst critic. The rest of the world sees you with far kinder eyes than you see yourself. It does. Even if there are a few loudmouths out there (tell me their names and I’ll give them a talking to!), the majority of us see you with a sense of wholeness and complete-ness that you don’t.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say ‘Ugh! My ____ is so _______!’ only to have my staff in the photoshoot say ‘I never even noticed it until you pointed it out!’ and mean it. Those things you obsess about? Even if someone else does notice them, they give far less focus, time and judgment to them than you do, and spend more time seeing your good stuff. And if they do dwell on it, you might want to consider revoking their invitation to the party that is your awesome life. So really. You are great. It’s okay. Honest.

There is a science to making a good photo. Yup, I said making, not taking. Ask anyone who has worked with me and they will tell you that I have ways to help you stand/sit/move that help you get your best shot without feeling awkward or forced. I research and test this stuff ALL THE TIME (Don’t believe me? Check it out: Proof.)

I can fix a lot of things in a way you’d never notice afterward. Eyes not open wide enough? Yup, can fix that a bit. Blemish? Gone. Rogue hair? Yes, absolutely, I do it every day. Wrinkles? Softened. Jawline smoother? Yup. And while that seems like a lot of Photoshop plastic surgery, remember that 1.) I’m an expert and 2.) I am committed to making your image a photo of you, not some plastic version of you. Natural, intuitive retouching. Always.

Consider what’s inside. Your mindset going in will help create a good photo. This is one of those things you have to do for yourself, and it may be hard if you really hate getting your picture taken, but believe me, it helps tremendously. Give yourself a pep talk, reflect on the good stuff, let it fill you up, and bring that to the shoot. It really helps! Need help with awesome self-talk? Learn from a master.

One last, important thing. You’re safe with me! If you’re reading this and I’m not your photographer, don’t worry. Good photographers feel this way and understand. (If you don’t have a photographer holding the space for you, find another one.) We’re here for one reason – to help you create a picture of yourself that reflects all the terrific things you are.  I personally won’t quit until that happens. Plus I’m nice. So relax. We’ve got this. Really. I promise.

You’re beautiful .

And maybe, just maybe, it’s not only in a photo.

 

I love when people refer to their home as their ‘digs’. For me, it brings up visions of snuggling down into a nest of warm comfortable blankets, or burrowing into the couch with a loved one, or even literally digging into a big bowl of popcorn. As safe, and comfortable, and as beautifully well-appointed as it gets. The whole visual picture is a photographer’s dream.

Enter my time taking photographs of KT Digs, a creative partnership between delightfully eclectic artists Kate Luchini and Tim Hansen. Inside their sunny and cheerful creative space in Lynn, MA at the Lydia Pinkham Studios, Kate and Tim dream up and produce gorgeous enamels, leather, jewelry, prints, interior designs and even indoor gardens if you are feeling confident about your green thumb. Bright and witty, the positive energy they create in conversation is completely infused into their work for home, fashion and design.

Take their enamels, for instance. Borrowing from nature’s palette, the day I visited revealed pieces of elegant birch bark, and dishes that had every delicate nuance that real mother-of-pearl possesses – to the point that I honestly thought they had found a large piece of it washed up on the beach somewhere. Well-toned whites with bronze, copper or gold, saturated hues chosen with a real understanding of nature’s color at its richest. Every single combination inspiring ‘I must have it’ levels of visceral response. Really. Hard to photograph when you just want to wear half and decorate your home with the other half.

I’m such a fan of artistic collaborations, and talking to Kate and Tim makes it clear that this is one for the books. They bring individual inspirations and life experiences that are exciting even in description – from Kate’s traditional blacksmithing training and stint in Santa Fe, to Tim’s connections to Cambodia and his California vibe. The pictures on their walls, the sketches in books (top secret), and the strong brand identity speak of the way it all falls together, beautifully.

Their work inspires me. I was so pleased to shoot a few photographs of their world for another article in PLACE in the Making. Please check them out yourselves at www.digsenamels.com/ or at the Pinkham Building during an Open Studio Weekend: http://www.lydia-pinkham.com

Photographing a Boston Woodshop

Tell me this doesn’t sound cool.

Navigating the twisty turns of a coastal road, watching the edge lest your car drop off into the ocean, you arrive in a tiny windswept town. Somewhere before the town center, you begin to slow down, searching for the house your GPS can’t quite find, looking for a mailbox, a porch with numbers, anything. It should be right here. You hang a left down a dirt alley, and emerge in the rear of…a…church?

Well, yes, but not a church anymore. The structure remains, but what is happening here in place of a Sunday service is a different kind of reverence, no less sincere but more…well…loud.  Instead of incense, the scent is of warm wood, linseed oil and sawdust. And the celestial hum is more of a buzz, coming from the biggest saw I’ve ever seen in someone’s backyard. And logs are everywhere.

Alyssa Pitman and Winston Daddario of Spire Woodshop

This is Spire Woodshop, the creative space and collaboration of Alyssa Pitman and Winston Daddario, who create everything from spoons to the table to place them on. Alyssa and Winston have a strong vision for their work  – beautiful, finely executed, highly functional objects made from wood that otherwise might have been wasted. Alyssa says: “Most of our products are created from locally sourced urban lumber, trees that are already being cut down or would have otherwise been discarded. We are interested in not only giving trees a second life but also telling a story of the community we live in through the furniture and goods that we create.”

Often an artisanal woodshop will be limited by size, since it can be hard to procure and process large trees on your own. But Alyssa and Winston have turned their backyard into a small lumber mill that can handle just about anything that comes to them – on this particular day, a large fallen birch tree with a trunk as wide as my arm’s length is lying next to the saw, wood red from the rain, its potential re-newed for having been salvaged by Alyssa as she headed back from a camping trip in Maine. I’d love to see that thing go through the mill.

I’m here for a different reason though, and that is to create an editorial photography spread of Alyssa carving a spoon for Place…in the Making magazine. I have no idea what I am getting into, my personal knowledge of carving is limited to thinking I knew how to do it when I was a kid and nearly slicing my thumb off with a steak knife. But I’ve always been a lover of wooden objects, so I’m excited.

 

 

 

Alyssa starts the process in the yard with a moist log about the size of a low stool and a sharp hatchet. First, she peels the bark off as easily as if it were a can label. (I’m already riveted.) By looking at the rings on the cut side and the knots on the peeled side, she can see things about the way the tree grew and makes informed decisions about the best place to make cuts – working with the grain, the unique growth aspects of this log and the structural strengths of certain areas above others. Quickly she decides on the ideal spot to create her first ‘blank’ – the roughly cut block the spoon will be carved from – and dives in.

 

 

 

I am immediately stunned by the extent and precision of the hatchet work. Alyssa does so much more than rough cutting and broad shaping with her tool, which is far far sharper than I ever expected it to be. Yes, it ‘hacks’, but in Alyssa’s capable hands it also cuts, and peels, and planes, and chips, and smooths. In almost no time, the rough block is a remarkably refined spoon. Astounding.

After a period of time and level of detail that I never expected from a hatchet is achieved, more exacting tools show up – a carving knife that is familiar in shape, and one that looks as if it was bent around a soda can. Both are used with very specific hand and body positions designed to increase accuracy and limit injury. (Where was this info when I was creating havoc with that steak knife?) Here again, Alyssa makes it look easy – her hand strength and tension causes long and even chips of planed wood to drop from the handle and bowl with elegance. I am reminded of the idea that sculpture is removing whatever doesn’t look like the thing you are trying to make. That’s definitely the case here – with every stroke of the knife, non-spoon disappears and spoon remains.

Soon, its time to head into the shop for sanding and waxing. This is another treat. We pass through spectacularly heavy red wooden doors with windows made from old ship portholes – Winston’s work – into the basement of the church where tables and smaller saws and a whole array of tools greet us. So does Billy, the precocious Siberian Husky.

Alyssa begins to sand the spoon using progressively finer grain sandpaper, re-moistening the wood as she goes. When she reaches a certain point, it is time to wax it and let it sit for 24-48 hours. So we wander over to an old crock pot on a side table. The 1980’s straw yellow color of the pot matches its contents almost perfectly,  a molten mixture of linseed oil and beeswax. It smells divine, and makes the wood’s color bloom, the little imperfections of the grain magically transformed into beautiful detail. The smooth spoon gets a generous coating of the stuff and is set aside to absorb. Long after I have gone home to process my photographs, Alyssa will slake off the wax, rub it down and add another coat or two. There are finished spoons on the table, each wonderfully weighted and a pleasure to hold. Totally satisfying.

The entire process seems to have flown by. I could watch this process for days and never tire of it, and I haven’t even seen Winston work. I’d also like to do some serious inspecting of the giant raw planks of wood against the wall that look like they are well on their way to becoming a table. But I have to leave everyone here to their work and go do mine. I’m determined to take one of their carving classes soon though, and try to redeem myself from my youthful ignorance. I will never make the wood chips fly like Alyssa, but after watching her work, I’m inspired to give carving a try.

Spire Woodshop is located in Rockport, MA. You can find them at www.spirewoodshop.com, or follow them on Instagram @spirewoodshop.