Jess and Alan…a love story commentary from an outsider.

Let me start off by saying I have photographed MANY couples.  MANY MANY couples.  And like anyone else, they all have varying degrees of comfort with each other and with the camera.  Some people are more comfortable in front of a camera than others.  Some people are more comfortable with each other than others.  And then there are the times when both of those worlds come together, and true magic is made.

Last night we did a “BodyScapes” shoot.  In which we photograph various body parts in various poses using different lighting and different focal lengths.  The purpose being that the body is a beautiful thing and being able to look at it differently than we usually do brings a new perspective to the beauty that is the human body.  There is intrinsic beauty to both the male and the female form, and I’m not talking about “naughty bits”.  I think our society focuses so much on the taboo parts, that 1.) not much is left to the imagination, and 2.) we lose sight of the fact that there are so many beautiful aspects of the body that we often overlook.  It is the hope to rediscover those other beautiful parts that got me interested in bodyscapes to begin with.

Much like the “taboo” body parts that get so much attention in our society is the idea of sex.  It is sex in a relationship that often gets the press, not necessarily everything that goes into making a couple tick, or makes them cohesive, or just amazing. A sexy couple actually has very little to do with sex, and more to do with who they are together. So what does a couple have that say actors do not?  They have history.  True history, not a made up story, not lines to follow for a set amount of time.  They have history.   Love, infatuation, fights, hurt, tears, laughter, heat, passion, joy, pain, and all of these have forged them into the people that they are both individually and together.  So much more goes into chemistry then just how hot a couple is in the “bedroom scene”. Now that you have all of that random background stuff from my brain…Here is where my story begins.

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Jess as Mab

I met Jess last year, though it seems like we’ve known each other much longer than that.  She was a dancer in an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, and flawlessly portrayed the personification of Queen Mab from Mercutio’s vision. Her movement was intoxicating, and her will to do just about anything was a photographer’s dream. She was and is a woman with such a strong presence.  Her movements purposeful and exact, and her energy unwavering. I have seen her dance in subzero weather, crawl on the ground through rough weeds, walk through pond muck without a second thought, and virtually defy gravity.  The only problem (if you can call it that) was finding a male counterpart to play opposite her that could handle that strength.  A few could equal her presence, but her power still would still shine through. Even when a knight stood at her defense, sword in hand, she was not a damsel in distress, but a queen ready to take to battle if need be.  All of these observations became my opinions of her within 2 months of knowing this incredible woman.

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Then, and I don’t remember exactly when, I found out she was married.  That her husband was not on the performance scene, that I knew of, except to support her, and sweetest thing of all, they had been high school sweethearts.  Now, as an aside,  I have always had a soft spot for photographing couples.  It’s one of the reasons I enjoy doing weddings so much.  There is a peek into lives that you are not a part of, an exchange of glances, a private joke shared without words, it’s a beautiful thing to behold,  There is also a comfort, that this is the person you are most yourself with out of anyone in the whole world.  You have bared all to them body and soul, and trusted them with the most delicate parts of who you are.  To me, that is something you cannot hide, you cannot fake, it’s just something that is.  Being happily married myself, I can recognize these moments, and it makes me smile. Sometimes, as a photographer though, I almost feel like perhaps I should just walk away, that this is about them, and I’m being intrusive with my lenses and flashes and directions. However, It was these strong feelings of what actual couples, especially long term couples, bring to the table that led me to invite spouses, even non-performing spouses to the next large scale concept shoot that I staged.

Jess invited Alan, her husband, and he accepted.  I was thrilled.  Both Alan and Jess share a love of Halloween and dressing up, so this wasn’t foreign to either of them. They showed up to the shoot, went through costume and makeup and came out to the place where we were shooting, and went through their shoot.  Being that it was a subzero day we were working quickly to get our models back inside so we ran through poses and sent them on their way.  Later on, as I was editing pictures, I was hit square between the eyes by something I had never realized before.  Jess looked different.  I clicked through a couple of other images.  “What was different??”   Then realization struck.  They weren’t in my shoot.  They were in each other’s eyes.Jess looked vulnerable, soft, and in love.   Here was a man that did not take her power, but allowed her to lay it down. She was home. It almost moved me to tears. The power between them was shared, given and received, but there was no need for power.  So it just laid there ready to be picked up when needed. it was a beautiful thing to witness. When later I asked Jess about it, She said “It’s just how it is, if I have to portray that kind of vulnerability with anyone else, in a play or a dance or something,  I actually have to make a conscience effort, but not with Alan.”

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Fast Foward. Bodyscapes. (I knew we’d come back here eventually) We had three models 2 of which had done a BodyScapes shoot before, and knew what it was about, and this time Jess brought Alan. So we began our shoot. First were some individual things, then a few tandems between two of the models, and then it was Jess and Alan.  Jess being a dancer, and Alan who has taken a liking to Cross Fit, both extremely athletic and strong in their own rights.  We began our shoot.  And almost immediately strength and vulnerability, passion and laughter, history and future became our venue, and though we were leading a shoot, and there was lighting and flashes and talking, we were treading on something not ours. Alan framed Jess’s elegance as though it was what he was made to do.  Jess melted into his gaze, and it was beautiful.  The chemistry was palpable.  The engineer and the dancer, the high school sweethearts, created a beautiful, honest, impassioned  love story.  Every image I edit speaks to what I can only speculate on.  I am an outsider, a photographer, a friend, and I feel blessed to be able to catch a glimpse of their love story.

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Shades of the Past II: Victorian and Steampunk in Portsmouth

Shades of the Past II: Victorian and Steampunk in Portsmouth

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Kevin Condardo being dapper in the “Anti-Garden” at Prescott Park

My hands had no sooner finished unloading the images from Shades I, when I had instant messages springing up on my Facebook page.

“When is the next shoot?”

“I was so bummed that I couldn’t make this shoot, will there be others?”

“We should do more time frames.”

The response was overwhelming.  People were genuinely excited about this project.   So immediately I set my mind to work.  Where?  When?  What time frame?  Could we get the same caliber of professionals on board?  I decided to see what the response would be.  So I picked a date, working around some of the area actors who knew that shortly after the holidays their schedule would book up. So  January 4th  became our when.

We then picked a time frame that spoke to me of a time of elegance, of intrigue, and not just a little bit of magic.   The Victorian and Edwardian Eras have captured imaginations time and time again, and most currently in the genre of Steampunk, which is a genre of science fiction, set in the Victorian or Wild West times, that typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology.  The two ideas married each other almost seamlessly.   The place was a no brainer.  Portsmouth, NH heralds a gorgeous, historical district, full of old houses, ancient graveyards, narrow street ways, and eclectic gardens.  It was perfect.   Finding the who, what, when and where was not a problem.  I immediately had professionals that were anxious to be on board, lending help in any way that they could. Hairdressers, costumers, makeup artists, models, it was humbling and overwhelmingly wonderful.  No, my biggest problem was going to be where to house in upwards of 50 people in the middle of winter.

My anxiety was eased when Bill Humphrey’s responded that we could use Portsmouth’s own PPMtv studio as our home base.  It was PERFECT.  A less than 5 minute walk from all of our locations, it was big enough to be a home to our basecamp, keeping all of our artisans warm and cozy.

PPMtv in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth.

PPMtv in the heart of historic downtown Portsmouth.

The months leading up were busy, as the holidays always are.  And I discovered a wonderful network of individuals who helped me to find costuming, and accessories for our models.  As much as I should have been crazy, I found that the magic of this project was once again in full swing.  The right people were contacted, and were available, and things fell into place.  We made a schedule of events, and booked in our models at different venues for different times, our major concern was to keep everyone warm and safe.

The night before the event was here before we knew it, and much like Christmas Eve, anticipation filled the air.  A new blanket of snow had covered the ground, and temperatures ranging from negatives to the teens were in the forecast for the following day.   We got to our “home” and started setting up for the next morning.  It was then that I got the call from one of my hairdressers, that due to the storm that had just hit, and the massive cold front that the Polar Vortex had saddled us with, her plane was delayed from Texas, and she didn’t know when she would be home.

As an aside, when you are working on things of this magnitude, snags will happen; you just have to ride the wave.  Fight it and you just might go under.  I let my other hairdresser know that she would be flying solo, and wished her luck. (I am truly blessed to know people who are up for an adventure!)  It was on that note, that we finished what we could in set up and headed home for one more sleep.

 

The next day started, early.   We were out in the dark, cold morning, bundled up against the elements.  Our models began to arrive and our artisans were in full swing before we knew it.   Matt, Sean, and I took in one last breath of warm air, and headed outside.  Due to the extreme temperature difference, and tight time frame that we were working with, we knew our equipment would not have time to adjust to temperature shifts, so we accepted our chilly fate of at least 6 hours in the freezing cold, and stepped out the door.

 

Our first stop was at Pickwick’s Mercantile where we were able to do a few shots of our “Steampunk’d Alice in Wonderland” shoot, giving our models a false illusion of warmth before casting them out into the frigid morning.

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The cast of “Steampunk’d Alice” in Pickwick’s Mercantile on a frigid January morning.

From the frozen gardens of Prescott Park, to the deathly cold hallowed grounds of Point of Graves Cemetery, our art came to life.  Our models, keeping warm in cloaks and jackets till their turn, made each shot count.  Standing in snow drifts,  and putting on their best “warm” faces.   From 8 to 3 we were out in various venues, creating art.  It was a WONDERFUL experience.

 

Our day wrapped up in the inviting warmth of The Pressroom Restaurant.  We had a shoot that was set apart from the rest.  One of our costumers had developed an entire line of bodices based on the Zodiac signs.   As our weather worn bodies hit the warmth, and the smell of food that we had not had all day filled our nostrils, fatigue set in.  But knowing that there were miles to go before we slept, we forged on.  The creative energy of those around us, and the magic that kept pouring from it reenergized us, and we dove back in.  Dancer’s moving in hypnotic rhythms to music not there, actors embodying mythical characters, and delicious buffalo tenders that found their way to my stomach were second to none, and before I knew what was happening, we were wrapping up, and getting ready for the bracing chilly walk back “home”.

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The Zodiac Collection at The Pressroom

As we packed up the costumes, swept the floor, and said goodbye to our brave and enduring artists, we realized once again how truly awesome the experience had been.  And we knew, as we do now, that Shades will continue.

Still on the search for our next venue, we already know that we are looking to explore the beauty, glamor and intrigue of our next “Shade” the 1930’s and 40’s.

Shades of the Past: A Bucket List Shoot

Jess Soucy posing in authentic 20's dress in the pond at Madam Sherri's Castle

Jess Soucy posing in authentic 20’s dress in the pond at Madam Sherri’s Castle

It must have been at least 4 or 5 months ago when I first saw that iconic staircase.  i was searching the internet for photo ideas as I often do to keep up on the latest trends, and I stumbled across this image of a woman inside the arches of a giant stone staircase.  The picture was titled Madam Sherri’s Castle.  Immediately I thought “Just one more amazing set of ruins that Europe is hogging.”   Then I noticed the meta data.  Castle, woods, ruins, NH.

“What?” I said, more than likely out loud.
I started to dig deeper. Could it be true?  Could these beautiful ruins actually be in my own backyard?  It was.  Lo and behold.  The massive stone staircase, nicknamed “The Staircase to Heaven” by locals, the parlor, broken down, and over grown by fire and earth, the fireplace that had long since stopped giving heat, the arched foundation giving a view into the basement of the once great chalet mansion built in the 20’s by Madam Sherri as a respite, and place for her lavish parties.  Now stood as mere ruins a house gutted by time and a fire, now supposedly haunted by the Madam herself.   As I looked at the images, some in blurry black and white, others in crisp color, my imagination began to go wild as it often times does.   I needed to shoot here.  At about an hour and a half away from me, there was no excuse.
As summer was just gearing up, and with it the opportunity to be the

production shot from #ahranjay

production shot from #ahranjay

photographer for Shakespeare in Prescott Park’s/ Seven Stages Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet, I tabled this beautiful location in my mind.  It would always be there, and I had lots to do.  I met the cast of Romeo and Juliet (#ahranjay as it became known) and began to get to know them photographically.  What an  exciting time.  It’s quite a different experience shooting those who enjoy being in front of a camera, and play to it.  My imagination again came to life.  The photographic stories one could pull from such ancient writings.  A whole new aspect to something so beloved and old.   It was in these new formed relationships that Madam’s Castle crept back to my mind.  I had in front of my lens dancers, and actors, directors and costume designers just teaming with creativity and energy, and artistically we thought so similarly.  So one day, I broached the subject with the group.

“So guys, I have this place that has become a bucket list location for me, but I am a people photographer, not a landscape one, so I would like to get some people together to do some pictures, what do you think?  Would you be interested?”   Immediately, people were on board, and word spread like wildfire.  Dancer, actors from both NH and NYC, alike said they would lend their talents to me.  Their excitement reignited my own for the project which was now thrust back to the front burner.   I told them I would get the project together and get them dates.

The weekends of the show progressed, as did our musings of this shoot.  During one of the shows as we were chatting about what became known as “Shades of the Past” We were discussing the genres that I had in mind for the shoot; Modern Formal, 20s (the era that the ruins were built in), Medieval, and High Fantasy (which is really fantasy with a touch of snobbery) 🙂 Zhana, the costume designer/stage manager for #ahranjay said “I happen to have a ton of costumes and period clothing from the 20’s that belonged to my grandmother, they are fragile, and falling apart, and I’d love to have them photographed.  I’d love to be involved.”  I was humbled, and excited.  I almost feel like it was that moment that I felt, to quote Dr. Frankenstein, “It’s ALIVE!!!”

Meanwhile, in another circle of friends, a fellow photographer that I admire, and friend had just delved into the marvelous world of strobes.  He had been looking for models and opportunities to use them.  I found him on Facebook one day and said,

“So Matt, I have a shoot that is turning out to be something pretty epic, do you want to play?”  Immediately he was on board, reveling in how much light (rivaling the sun I believe was his quote) we were going to bring to this event.
One by one professionals and laity were on board, donating time, talent, money, costumes, and props to my dream.  Dancers, actors, hair dressers, makeup artists, creative directors,, videographers, LARPers, people I recruited from other shoots, all very excited, and fully committed to this project,  38 people in all. Overcoming many obstacles like no power or bathrooms, weather, and transportation, the day grew ever closer.   We watched as the 10 day forecast went from sunny and beautiful to rainy and cold.  It ticked down, and every day it seemed it changed.(Welcome to New England) Finally , it looked like we settled on high 60’s and overcast, which from a photographers perspective is amazing!  From the perspective of models you plan to throw in the water…maybe not so much.

The night before Shades, my husband, daughter, brother and Zhana all crashed overnight at a nearby hotel to alleviate having to get up at obscene o’clock. (which we did anyway)   I woke up the next morning feeling excited, anxious, and slightly overwhelmed.  “What if people didn’t have fun? What if the weather didn’t hold?  What if I didn’t get enough photos of everyone? What  if  this place didn’t live up to my expectations?”  But despite my feelings of anxiety, the excitement won.  We pulled up to Dunkin Donuts to get coffee and food, and chatted with the locals asking for directions.  They too were very excited about our project.

We, with relative ease, found our site.  As I stepped out of the car, and onto the ground, I felt a charge of excitement.  I was here. It was all I could do to not run to the site like a kid on Christmas morning running to the tree.  I helped unload the first round of the copious amount of stuff we brought, and with a calm I didn’t feel, I made my way up the path that I had only been on via virtual YouTube video, and as I went over the foot bridge, and around the path, my breath quickened, and then I saw it as I crested the hill, and my breath caught, and as corny as it sounds a tear came to my eye.  If it was possible, it was even more gorgeous than i imagined.  I dropped the stuff I was carrying and took out my camera and shot an image, as I reviewed the image of the staircase that I had seen so many times on the computer, the thought came to me.  “It’s in MY camera now!”

My first picture from the day

My first picture from the day

For the first time I saw live many of the costumes I had seen pieces of or heard about take on life as my amazing models donned them.  The beauty of the costumes and the majesty of the venue blended to make a seamless tapestry.  The moments that I had built up in my head were not let down.  In fact, real life was better than I had imagined.  It took but a few minutes once the shooting began to get into our groove.  Even the few technical difficulties that we had, were short lived if not in their resolve, in the amount of time we gave them.   A strobe that wouldn’t fire, tourists, a wedding, and another photography group were among the things that came our way, but with gorgeous natural lighting, and plenty of venue space on our side Matt and I and Sean began shooting as a pretty cohesive unit.  Grabbing different angles, sharing the strobe, moving models in a type of dance around the castle and the grounds.   We even had the opportunity to have a published author in our midst.  MA O’Connor was out for a “quiet” day at the Castle when she happened upon our “little” operation.  It wasn’t long before she donned Medieval garb and posed for a few pictures with our amazing cast.

MA OConnor, author of Haunted Hikes stopped by our "little" operation.

MA OConnor, author of Haunted Hikes stopped by our “little” operation.

As the sun began to set, and the temperature began to drop, we wrapped up our day.  Exhausted, and happy, excited about what we had captured, and ready for the whirlwind next two weeks of editing that end today.

This project keeps on giving, as spawned from it has come a gallery to take place in downtown Exeter, NH on Nov. 23, 2012 , and a spin off shoot in historic Portsmouth in January 2014.  With such amazing people, and beautiful venues, Shades of the Past will with no doubt go far into the future!