This blog has been great for me in so many ways, but it has also taken a toll on me. I started this for two reasons, the first was to get back in touch with my writing and see if I could redevelop a few skills. The second was a way to catalogue some of the changes I have been going through and all the emotions that come along with that.
That is great in theory but the reality is that it has gotten me into some hot water, hurt some people’s feelings, and exposed me in such a way that I am starting to take steps backwards. For the last month or so, I can’t sleep, can’t eat and can’t focus. I feel naked all the time, I feel inspected and prodded and examined and it puts me on the defensive. I’m pushing people away instead of drawing them in; I’m hiding out and have even been a little depressed if I’m honest about it.
I just can’t focus on all the shit that is not perfect or I think is missing from my life anymore and I’m tired of writing about it. It’s staring to hurt and I am just now starting to feel really good about myself. I preach a lot about finding gratitude so its time to get back to basics and do just that. I’m going to shift my focus back to all of things that make me happy. I need to focus on what I love and what I do well and on all of the ways that my life is blessed.
There is no place better to shift that focus than on to my work. Shooting has been and always will be my place of Zen, my place of solace. No matter how messy my life is, behind the camera has always been the place where all of my troubles go away. Nothing exists but “the square” when I am in it.
“The Square”… I think it was my friend Layne Sterling who first named it that. It was just one of those off the cuff comments about a set of photos, something like “Girl, you were in the square when you shot these”. I loved it as soon as it came out of her mouth and I have used it ever since. There is a place I go when I shoot. I am clearly physically present in the moment, but mentally, I am somewhere completely different.
It’s like I am taking in what is happening through this tiny microcosm that only I can see. I get to pick what is important to the story, I get to choose how it’s exposed, and how sharp the subject is. Even the subject is my choosing. For the time that I am in it, I get to visually control my whole world. That is the square. I see nothing and feel nothing except what I am creating in that moment. That is the place that has always drawn me to photography. The thrill of it is instant. You know as soon as you hit the shutter if you got it and you get a whole second rush when you get the film developed or pop that card into your hard drive and all of sudden, that world you created now suddenly exists for everyone else too.
I started doing music photography way back. We are talking junior high school here. I started sneaking my camera into concerts as soon as my boobs were big enough to stuff a lens in my bra. Somewhere along the way though, I started getting paid for it and thankfully, these days, myself and my lenses are welcome just about everywhere. The paycheck doesn’t suck either. In just the last couple of months I have had the opportunity to shoot some really amazing artists and have been lucky enough to be able to capture them in a variety of ways for a myriad of reasons. I’m blessed like that. Everyday is different, every client is different and every shoot is different. I am never, ever bored when I am at work and that makes me super fucking lucky with a side of happy cheese fries!
Last year, my friend Rod Picott and I made a whole slew of pretty pictures and videos for his new record. We had a ball! We had so much fun that when that project ended, we kept right on making things. We teamed up to create a little side company for projects that didn’t really have anything to do with either of our careers. It was just a way to keep hanging out, be creative and make art. If you haven’t seen the Mainely Movies with Elmer Pelke trailer and his Big Time Oscar Party, I suggest you get your ass over to YouTube and look for them.
Holy shitballs that was fun! We created the characters and Rod wrote the script, I had to learn a Maine accent (I never quite nailed it, but I did the best I could for a girl from Texas), we brought in some friends, borrowed a studio and made this little TV show. I loved it. It pushed us both out of our comfort zones but we learned things and we did something different and we laughed our asses off for weeks while we made it and then posted it for everyone.
At the beginning of this month we got back to real work, he took me out on the road with him and we started collecting footage and photos for all kinds of future projects. I love working with artists like Rod. We collaborate on everything but when it comes to the camera, he just hands me the reigns and lets me do my thing. He trusts that I will be in the square and get what he needs. We are at a point now where he is so used to me and the camera, that half the time he is almost unaware that I’m even shooting. That’s a great place to be with someone. I feel free to try anything and he is totally comfortable and able to be completely himself. That combination allows us to make some powerful and honest imagery.
Not all shoots are for clients that I’ve worked with before. This month I got the chance to shoot brand new clients. I love that opportunity too. Every single one of them was amazing. All of them had challenges, but all of them were incredibly gratifying in their own way.
Can we just start with Billy Joel? I mean really. I got to shoot Billy Joel in an arena for a magazine! That was a highlight for me this year and not just because it was Billy Joel. I haven’t shot an arena show in years. It’s really how I got my start and it took me back. I was flushed and excited and my heart was pounding and it just made me remember how I got here in the first place.
I have corporate clients like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and stock agencies, but for the most part, I tend to swim in the Americana stream for the majority of my work. That made it all the more exciting when Sasha Mullins called me up and told me she had a rock band for me to work with. I haven’t shot a rock band in ages so I was thrilled to get to do it.
The band is called Iron Glide and they are a young group, this was their first shoot as a band and for all of them, their first professional photo shoot period. Add in the fact that I took my new assistant Lauren with me for the first time and the fact that none of us had met and it made for a stressful situation for everyone.
There was a whole lot of awkward talk and enough energy through fidgeting alone to power all of East Nashville. In my head I was worried but I tried to just focus on all the good stuff we had to work with and the fact that we were going to be shooting under what I call the 12-minute sky. It happens just after sunset every day. It starts right when the sun is completely gone, just in that moment that everything goes dark. The sky turns a brilliant color of indigo blue before it fades to black and it is one of the most breathtaking moments of the day. It lasts for only twelve minutes, but they are spectacular minutes. I don’t care what problems myself or my subject might be facing, it’s hard to go wrong with that as your backdrop.
Sure enough, after shooting about thirty minutes worth of test shots to get everybody comfortable and get a few individual photos done, the sky started doing its thing, I got in my square and everything fell into place. The guys settled down, Lauren was spot on for every cue I gave and it worked. It just worked. The band loved the photos and booked me to go down to Alabama to shoot a music video for them in May.
After Iron Glide, my old friend, Eric Brace over at Red Beet records called me up and asked me to come shoot some things for them with Jerry Lawson and Fayssoux McLean. I am always happy to work with Red Beet. It is a small label but the work they put out is stellar. So stellar in fact that they were nominated for a Grammy with the remake of Tom T Hall’s “Songs of Fox Hollow”. I always say yes to Red Beet, not just because the work is good, but because they really care about what they are doing. Nothing is half assed over at Red Beet and besides all of that, they are just awesome fucking people. That is also a relationship that has blossomed over years of collaborating. They trust me to get what they need and because of it, I am free to take chances and have fun.
Jerry Lawson was exciting because this is a man who was the lead singer of The Persuasions, they were an a cappella group from the 70’s who had five of their twenty two albums on the billboard top 100 albums list. He has worked with everyone from Little Richard to Frank Zappa. Fuck yeah, I want to shoot that!
I had filmed Jerry at the Station Inn a few nights before, but our second encounter was for his album cover and promo photos. I carried my portable studio over to the Red Beet bunker and got all set up and in walked Jerry. He is one of the most charming, witty, kind and gracious people I have ever met. Every other word out of his mouth was some form of gratitude. It’s inspiring to be around people like that. And, it didn’t hurt that he started right off telling Al Green stories.
Jerry and I may have never worked together before, but this is a man who has done some photo shoots now. There wasn’t one awkward moment between us. From the first frame, I was in the square and Jerry was on the mark. He knew lights and how to hit them. He knew posing and expressions and he switched them up every single time he heard that shutter fire. I was screaming like a maniac I was so excited. My heart was racing and I was running around and he was on point. No need for coffee on an adrenaline rush like that. That is the shit I am talking about. And to do it for someone who is literally a living legend. You can bet your ass I am grateful that this is my life.
The next day we found ourselves in Joe Pisapia’s recording studio with the McCrary Sisters. That always sounds so technical until you wrap your head around what goes down there. Here is Jerry Lawson and he is directing The McCrary Sisters, Nashville royalty, the ladies who sang with everyone from Johnny Cash to Patty Griffin. Literally directing them, arms in the air, crescendo flair, the whole nine yards. And there I am. Trusted to capture it; trusted that the little world I create will tell the story. I get completely lost in the square in a recording studio. There is something unexplainable about being able to witness it, to hear it live, to watch them work up the harmonies and then go in the studio and gather around a microphone and lay the track. The whole process to me is fascinating.
My last shoot for the Red Beet folks this month was with Fayssoux McLean. I first met Fayssoux when I worked on the Fox Hollow project. Fayssoux sang a duet with Tom T on the album and her voice was just amazing. It came as no surprise that she spent many years singing backup for Emmylou Harris. Over the years, I have photographed Fayssoux many times on stage but this was our first chance to work together in a studio environment.
There were many emails and conversations about this particular shoot. Fayssoux had a very specific thing that she wanted recreated but the thing she wanted was originally captured live and there isn’t really a way to do that in a controlled studio environment. There isn’t a way to do that anyway. You will never get the same live shot again. After much back and forth, I finally convinced Fayssoux to trust me. I promised her that with the right light and makeup, we could get something that would capture the essence of what she wanted and that she would be happy.
As soon as we rolled into the studio, Fayssoux relaxed and I relaxed, we talked about wardrobe and I did a little makeup contouring for her. It took us a few minutes, but I would go over and let her preview what we were getting and she was surprised and happy just like I promised she would be and we both just settled in. I got in the square, she started trusting me and before we knew it, we were howling with laughter and the final shots were of her in purple stiletto converse. I can promise you this if nothing else, nobody, including Fayssoux or myself saw that coming. The best part is that while I am sure they will use my version of her original concept for the album, her favorites are the ones in the purple shoes.
They are her favorites because they capture who she really is. They are the ones where she let down her guard and showed herself to me. That trust is an integral piece to the puzzle of what I do.
I’ve been focusing on this one aspect of my life in this blog, but maybe that isn’t what I should be focused on. I’m a little like Fayssoux. I had this idea in my head of what this blog would be and I tried really hard to make it be that, but I need to stop trying so hard and just get comfortable being myself.
My life is good and blessed and I don’t face any struggles that any other person I know doesn’t face at some point in their lives. It’s time to just trust myself and the people around me so that I can throw on my own version of purple stilettos and get out there and be all Fayssoux fucking fabulous and shit!
This month, I captured some remarkable moments with some remarkable people. Why the fuck would I get on here and write about or focus on anything else?