As I write this my fingertips are stained bright pink and orange (sorry about the keyboard honey!) from a last-minute egg dying session and my head is spinning with all that I have been busy doing over the last few days. And it’s not over yet. It’s Easter Sunday tomorrow. Somehow this year it’s inconveniently occurring at the end of two weeks of spring break. Just when we need to be settling down and getting back to the routine of school and early nights, there is a festival of giddy anticipation and high fructose corn syrup to be celebrated.
The easter holiday kind of snuck up on me since I’ve been working so much the last two days. I am primarily a stay-at-home mama with lots of self-imposed (and unpaid) work to do, like volunteering for children’s schools and trying to get my vegetable garden in place before the hot weather hits (my kids will eat organic homegrown greens, dammit!). But, I am also fortunate enough to have the occasional gig of actual paid work assisting my best friend Justine Belson with her photography business.
Besides building a career doing a kick-ass job that she loves, Justine (aka Bean) is also my best friend of 20 years (gotta stop saying that – it makes us sound old), my # 1 comrade in Mothering and my sometimes co-conspirator on this very blog. I am lucky to have her in my life, and lucky that sometimes photo-shoots are a two-person job and she needs an assistant to come along.
And maybe this Spring season has snuck up on everyone else too because she’s been slammed packed with work, had a lot of clients booked and many shoots over the past few weeks. I helped her with an engagement session in Old Sacramento last weekend and this week we had a senior portrait to shoot on Friday and a family photo session with a group of moms and children Saturday morning. I really enjoy the variety of the work and I always learn so much from tagging along and seeing how Bean works in each of these different situations to get the kind of pictures her clients are looking for.
My job primarily consists of co-piloting directions to the location (I’ve failed miserably on a number of occasions getting us lost or missing the exit – rule #1 always leave more time to get to the site than you think you’ll need), carrying the equipment and props, and shooting the subjects from a secondary angle …or shooting details shots, or wide-angles… or whatever Bean tells me to do!
The job sounds easy (it isn’t) and fun (it is) and it’s a great opportunity for me because I’m an innate people-watcher, I need to get out of the house more anyways, and I’m working for a person who knows me well enough to finish my sentences.
So, Friday’s appointment took us up into the little town of Rescue, in the foothills of Placer County. It’s just far enough out of town to feel a little countrified and not so far that we had to leave hours ahead of time. The client was Summer, a high-school student who was having her Senior portraits done. For those of you who live under a rock like me (I’d never even heard of this phenomenon until a few years ago) senior portraits are becoming more and more popular as parents opt for a record of this exciting time of life, as their teens get ready to graduate. And it’s kind of a perfect time of life for such a portrait because most young people are at a peak of health, beauty and vitality at this age and make the perfect models! It usually takes a while for people to warm up to being photographed, especially when there are two cameras pointed at them. Our girl was quiet and had a simple beauty but she really started to glow as the session went on. Mom came along to help with outfit changes, and offer helpful advice to her daughter.
“Don’t do that thing with your teeth” she said as her daughter forced a grimace.“I don’t know how to smile without my teeth” the daughter moaned but she did, and once she settled into being comfortable with us paparazzi she hit her groove, mastering an expression of beatific sensuality with a sweet closed-mouth smile.
The location we were photographing at was perfect for the mood of these pictures. A small ranch outside of Rescue, it had a mound of blooming tulips that I was seriously distracted by (note to self: plant black and pink tulips next fall) as well as a gorgeous flowering pear tree covered in blossoms and a great backyard pool surrounded by natural rock.
And of course Bean made the most of all that was there. “Pretend you’re in Maui” she joked, training her lens on the girl in a colorful mini-dress, perched sweetly on a rock. “All your friends are gonna be like, ‘wow, you went to Hawaii for your portraits?!” Summer smiled that smile and her icy blue eyes twinkled. Click click.
The outfit changes, the variety of backgrounds and a few rounds using Bean’s new portable backdrop system (I felt like a real professional snapping together the poles and fabric and setting up an instant studio on the lawn) allowed us to get a lot of different images in one session. I’m sure both mother and daughter will be happy with the results and I was impressed with the efficiency with which we finished the shoot.
We stopped at a friend’s house in the area for a quick catch up and impromptu meal of pot stickers and then it was back ‘down the hill’ to Sacramento as the sun set swiftly, like a great red marble dropping below the horizon. We talked about the next day’s shoot, a photo-party at gathering of mothers and their children for family portraits. We’ll need props, Bean made her mental list out loud. “Definitely bunny ears”.
We stop at The Dollar Tree before getting home. Lots of cheap Easter crap to be found. No bunny ears. Run into the supermarket next door, headed down their ‘seasonal aisle’. Everything you could ever want to celebrate this Pagan-Christian mash-up of a holiday including a large chocolate Cross. No bunny ears. Who doesn’t want bunny ears?? Times they are a changin’.
Saturday we started again bright and early, fueled on coffee and breakfast sandwiches. Our itinerary took us North up the Jackson Highway and over to Wilton, where were meeting the clients. I was excited not only to be heading once again into some beautiful rural scenery; I was also looking forward doing a photo-shoot with children as I hadn’t assisted on one of those yet. I was curious to know if the old adage ‘it’s impossible to work with animals and children’ really held true.
The drive up was so great, with Bean and I ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the tumble-down barns and ramshackle farmhouses scattering the landscape. Other barren stretches were broken by massive mansions surrounded by great fields of monoculture. “Oh my Gawd! “ we both shrieked as we passed a palatial estate house that looked like something out of Gone With the Wind; complete with a 500 foot drive way , statuary and wrought-iron gates.
Once again the location of the shoot was excellent. The home of a friend of Bean’s client, it was a small urban homestead with a market garden and old converted turkey barns. The families who came were sweet and friendly, and happy to use the props and have fun with the pictures. The light overhead stayed pleasantly grey and even. All the markings of great pictures!
As it turns out I did learn a lot about photographing kids. Bean brought a plethora of props which not that not only jazzed up the portraits but also brought the kids out of themselves, made them laugh and got them comfortable in front of the camera. And Bean’s fun personality and ability to be playful really brought out some charming moments. One little boy’s mother mentioned to us that her son hardly ever smiled but when he got ahold of the old western hat he transformed from shy kid to sly cowboy.
There were no meltdowns, only a few tears and the occasional promises of chocolate just to get a smile. But sometimes, I think, it’s the ‘non-smile’ that evokes the most expression…
The drive home was too quick, there were so many great locations that we made a promise to head back up this way in the future. But mothering duties were calling, literally (feverish, hysterical children ringing the cellphones, oh my!). It occurred to us both simultaneously that Easter morning was looming and the basket shopping need to happen. Luckily there was a Target right off the freeway so we made a pit-stop, making the most of our child-free time. Bright orange plastic grass, Beatrix Potter chocolate bunnies, Sponge Bob egg dying kits, but of course no bunnies ears (good thing we didn’t hold our breath on that one!). Straddling at least three worlds at once and running through mental checklists we picked up household products, the Easter gifts and each found something quick to make for dinner.
A Mother’s work is never done
Home finally, exhausted and bearing preparations for Sunday’s festival, I limped in the door wondering how so many working mother’s do this every day? With nothing much in the cupboards and my husband suggesting that we make a pasta sauce and “throw some tofu in”, I quickly harvested some veggies from our tender young garden and tried out the new recipe I had found for Swiss Chard Pesto. Yum! Put a dozen eggs on to boil for tonight’s secret egg dying session, decorated the mantel with our collection of eggy decorations and set the table with flowers from our blooming garden. Ahh, beauty and order restored. For now.
Of course Easter morning came with all it’s activity: early morning basket-pillaging, egg hunts in the garden and serious sugar-induced attitudes. It was hard not to feel “The Overwhelm” begin to grow as I prepped the couscous salad for the Easter party we’d be attending (see Bean’s pics of that fabulous brunch here), and thought about the calendar of events and commitments that the next few weeks hold. There’s the school auction, field trips, May Day festival, the 5th grade Waldorf Penthathlon, basketball league play-offs, Mother’s day, birthdays…. argh, the list just makes my head spin. And is isn’t that where I started this blog, with colored eggs and a spinning head? But through it all I have to say I’m grounded by creative work, good friends and the beautiful images to prove that – Hey! We were here! We did it all! We had a great time!….and that salad was delicious!
HAPPY EASTER TO YOU!