Upstaging: Atlanta Fashion Walk Summer edition

Once was not enough, I told myself as I registered Chi for the summer runway show.  Surely if we register early, my girl will be selected for a stunning gown or eccentric couture – that’s what the intern told us back in December.  But when she picked up her two outfits, we discovered a grandeur promenade was not to be.

In true Chi fashion, however, there was nothing but positivity. She makes every situation monumental. And she illuminates the stage with devoted energy.

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Setting up the shoot

It dawned on me that I rarely – if ever – have shown the preparations for my planned and plotted concept shoots.

In my head, I get this picture of what I’d like to accomplish – of how my finished editorial will look. And then I spend countless hours searching for inexpensive wardrobe pieces and props. I think about how I can craft things, adapt things, borrow things to make my project into something real.

I tend to stay away from other photographers’ work, as I never want inspiration to appear as copying. And though I know concepts have been done (and done, again), I don’t want to emulate another artist’s style. I want to create my own.

So this “graffiti shoot” has been months in the works. It started with an instagram shot – the guy in it was surrounded in street art. Colorful, ecclectic. It reminded me of the NY Train Art coffee table book I’d had as a kid. I just knew I had to shoot in that spot.
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I spent a lot of time on AliExpress, a hit-or-miss website collaborative of Chinese-based wholesalers who offer their goods for pennies on the dollar. That is, if they actually deliver the items.

For Rico, Ya, and Chi, I chose harem pants – the ones tantamount to Hammer pants of yesteryear. Splatter paint in neon? Why, yes. And basic black for the teen. For my youngest man, I found some eccentric bibbed pants with contrast pockets – perfect for stashing in. Jay proved a little more difficult. He’d shot up a size and it seems that 10 is just not a size anyone readily stocks online (for cheap). So, I went classic baggy jeans and over-sized neon tee.

For baby girl, I wanted something quirky – bubble shorts and suspenders. I found something on my go-to site, but decided to have a custom creation made especially for her.

I had to accessorize: chunky chains, headphones (a modern touch), and for the girls, bright sneakers and boots.

Now, I’ve shot the five over two days in B’more and I can’t show a single image online… the collection is up for publication consideration and until I get ::ahem:: rejected or, better, printed, I can’t even sneak a peek to anyone. AGONY.

Let’s just say the results are amazing. You’ll have to trust me.

A little bit vintage (backdrops and studio shots)

This winter was a testy one. Though it never seems to be wintery enough for a “White Christmas,” we always seem to have these spurts of bitter cold followed by unpredictable rain, sleet, hail and snow. And no, the mail man does not cease to deliver despite delays. The weather makes for shooting outdoors a bit… painful. I nearly froze trying to shoot a playoff game during football season. And my “models” – aka kids – are even less appeasing to Mommy’s “hey, let’s go shooting” whims when it is freezing. Trust, I don’t blame them, but the urge is real sometimes.

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w IMG0074 fairy w IMG0172Last year’s taxes paid for a light kit – one of the cheaper ones with three lights, a collapsible stand, and two “drops” in white and black thin cloth. The kids (or dog, or nobody, or somebody else) knocked the one un-umbrella’d light over. The light bulb shattered. The casing that holds the light bulb broke, too (something with the adapter ring now being a free moving metal piece and not a stationary, useful one). Nevertheless, the two remaining lights pack a bit of power, so I’m not upset [anymore].
As soon as the weather turned foul, I started buying backdrops from a wholesaler. THEY TAKE FOREVER to arrive and come folded up. The creases (oh, the creases!) are a PhotoShop nightmare. We know Rachelle does not iron. And, I’m afraid the ultra thin vinyl things are going to melt or, worse, bleed. Anyway, they are great “fixes” for moving away from my preferred white drop [read: off white bed throw], and they’ve become the staple feature in my most recent fashion shoots of Ri.
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Congratulations, again.

Once again, you’ve selected. And once again I’m reminded how rare it is that my 5 shades of brown family is ideal representation.

When are businesses and publications going to realize that diversity can add a larger client base? And, more importantly, when are they going to act on it?

I comb through the contest albums, scrutinizing the many beautiful faces contained there. Each child unique, each child special. I linger at my favorites – the kids who immediatly captivate with infectious smiles, quirky features, freckle sprinklings, or that indescribable “it” factor that says star. The competition is often tough – if only judging the children.

But usually, these competitions are advertised as part model magic and part photographer ability.  I’d assume,then, that the child who wins does so because his portrait is amazing: crisp, lit well, staged to perfection – especially if the prize is publication or opportunity to receive products to model.  And yet, it seems there’s a caste system in this circuit. The best quality photo, the best showcased personality doesn’t always get the kudos.

Those at the top are long haired children with pale skin and bright colored eyes. Next, the children whose ethnicity is obscured by wild locks, vibrant eyes, soft tanned skinned, or any combination of these.  Occasionally,  an exotic child with uncommon features rises up in admiration. Last, though, seem to be the children of Black heritage.

Is there no marketability for these children?  Aren’t there consumers who identify with these models?

If I were to speak out, as one friend suggested, what would I say?  To call for diversity might be seen as a demand for some type of model quota.  And I’m not sure that’s what is needed.  But I’m always in awe when businesses have not a single face like ours in any of their advertising, or when every page of a magazine presents the same mold of child. 

I don’t expect to “win” them all. It’s not realistic. My children aren’t the perfect match for every entity searching for talent. But I expect to see results of competitions that are fair to all applicants.

In one magazine’s “Best of the Year” child-model competition,  I was rooting for another child (and her photographer ). The ‘tween is stunning. Confidence radiates from her. And her look? Straight out of a major editorial for a fashion magazine.  Though she was entered in several categories,  she wasn’t even recognized as an honorable mention.   I remain awed that her pictures didn’t earn publication.

And some of those who took top honors? Blurry, cluttered, color cast photos. Mere snapshots beating editorial images. How is that even permissible? What publication of merit will survive with subpar pictures?

As for the shops, I wonder if there is a consensus that people of color don’t buy from boutiques?  I hardly think there was a poll, or that demographics of customers support the generalization. There’s money to spend and fashion is a bridge across cultures and ethnicity. Not to showcase diversity in advertising, though, might lead clients to seek out creatives who do.

Frankly, I’m tired of the playing favorites. Contests, bookings, and publication shouldn’t be about who you know (or how much support you can buy).  There has to be some merit for quality and originality.  A great photo is worth the risk of breaking free of the “trendy.”  It’s the difference that makes memorable impact.

Frozen in time: no Disney here

I’ve worked a bit these past two years on shoots alluding to movies of the mainstream variety. I could argue that since I rely quite heavily on the novel descriptions and not on the cinematic adaptations, that I’m shooting my way through popular literature. Very slowly. As in, one or two shoots a year.

Lately, though, I’ve wanted to delve more into editorial shoots without the novelty of popular influence – – namely, capturing fashion and tween-dom in pictures without the fanfare.

Chi reluctantly obliges. And when she does, she insists I “make her up” with a little eye shadow and, ocassionally, some lip color. But the rest is all her – the hair, the poses, the beauty. She is my original muse and the camera loves her.

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I shot her…

And it felt good.

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You see, RiAnne and I were given the opportunity to work with an online vendor who sells beautiful pieces at reasonable prices. And because she trusted us, we really wanted to give her our best. But Ri and headbands don’t always agree. This time, though, she really worked with me and the shots, I think, are beautiful.


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