This 18th birthday photoshoot in the deserted and boarded up NYC will be remembered on more than one level.
An 18th birthday photoshoot is easily one of the best gift ideas for a young person marking the milestone of entering the adulthood. Although I actively work with young adults starting at age 12, the mere notion of not having to be accompanied by a parent/guardian makes it finally feel like a “real thing”. As many other activities and choices in life, such photo session becomes a way to introduce oneself in a symbolic yet legal capacity.
This is another way for the parents to demonstrate that they not only celebrate the milestone but acknowledge their child’s independence, character, and voice. Obviously, there are numerous other (and earlier!) opportunities for such an acknowledgement but an 18th birthday photoshoot is also fun and easy!
Many of my young adult photoshoots are part of an event package (Mitzvah, Quinceanera, Sweet 16) so they come as second nature. However, some moms treat their coming of age children to a session just for the sake of it. Another young lady comes to my mind: her mom opted for a full scale all-day photo adventure in lieu of a party. And those images…!
Back in January, my friend and fellow photographer Anna Maftser recommended me to Anastasia, a mom who saw a treat of photoshoot as a perfect gift for her daughter Maria’s 18th birthday. I prepared a neat gift certificate, eager to discuss the photoshoot after Maria receives it. We were all set but coronavirus hit along with the lockdown.
By the time Anastasia checked back with me in June, I had been already actively shooting. The clients were mostly expecting moms who could hardly wait to come out as the country was phasing into some sort of normalcy. I have about 10 maternity sessions in the works nowadays so it is great to mix them up with other types of portraiture.
We had a lively online meeting to discuss Maria’s interests and style. She’s among the millions of unfortunate graduates deprived of the prom, including my oldest daughter… Anastasia still got a prom gown for her dear child and it was to be given my full attention. We also included a graduation cape and hat for a brief appearance.
Another thing I learned about Maria was her devoted playing volleyball for school. I asked if they can arrange for a volleyball net as I had some crazy imagery in mind. It looked available during the preparation but unfortunately, we didn’t get it for the shoot.
Her 18th birthday photoshoot was set for half a day around NYC. The ladies had to reschedule it once. The forecast showed a chance of showers on the new date. The patience was thinning so we took a chance. To improve our odds of missing the morning rain, I suggested starting at the Grand Central. It is my go-to cover on a rainy day that is easy on the photo permit side.
You’ll notice one glaring characteristic throughout the shoot: almost empty hallways and streets. It was Monday afternoon rush hour — Grand Central would normally see a hectic foot traffic of the commuters rushing to the suburban trains. We saw the trace of the pandemic instead. The vast majority of Manhattan workforce is nowhere near resuming its business as usual, having completely switched to remote operating since March. Even when the coronavirus is over, I think at least 35% of the workforce will remain remote. Good news for the environment and families.
In one of the shots, I placed my light into an elevator. Maria’s friend Laura who joined for support, graciously helped me then and elsewhere. She’s hiding behind the gown. Knowing that I will inevitably go for soft feminine portraits at some point, I wanted to balance them with fierce imagery. That elevator series worked well. I borrowed the idea from myself when I shot a bride in the “fire-raging” caves of Mexico.
Then, we took an Uber to Soho. That’s where it poured for about half an hour. Reluctant to stop, I invited Maria to work in the rain. Determined and fearless her agreed with no hesitation. When it rained the heaviest, I tried to pull of that insane jump in the puddle right on the street, in front of her car blasting the headlight on us. I’m surprised not to see all that rain that showered me and Laura who hold the umbrella above us. My camera was wrapped in a protective plastic but we were drenched. Sadly, the images came short… If only someone could get a behind-the-scenes video to prove that furious setup! At least we will remember it that way.
Then comes another trait of this unique 18th birthday photoshoot: boarded up storefronts. In an attempt to protect themselves from the riots and looting that devastated NYC during the BLM protests since May, some business owners covered their entire storefronts with plywood. The prudent and creative ones hired street artists to paint the boards with cool graffiti, either political or not. I used some as a background, reflecting on the historic weight of this 18th birthday photoshoot in the Gotham City — a recent US epicenter of coronavirus, with the spike of gun violence highest in almost quarter of the century amidst the calls to defund the police, the city abandoned by almost half a million of its residents…
Tough times raise tough children.
Maria, I wish you and all young people (also thinking of my 16-17 year old daughters) confidence, courage, wisdom, diligence, objectivity, care, and individualism. Keep your mind open to all, listen to and absorb everything, then make own well-weighted decisions for you and people near and far. Happy birthday and welcome to the adulthood!
Click images for full size. Kindly refrain from re-uploading images to social media during the first week of feature. Share instead and give credit to @ZorzStudios!
Here’s Laura, Maria’s friend, who braved the pouring rain in the middle of a street with me trying to get a crazy shot.
Uncommonly, I hesitated between several candidates for this blog’s cover image. Narrowed them down to two and for the first time, ran a poll on Instagram story for my followers to help me choose.
The one you see now is not the one that had a four-fold preponderance. It’s the one that my elder daughter voted for even though she did not know the background story of this shoot yet. The bottom image is not as dynamic as the top but it supports the concept of the photoshoot in boarded-up NYC. I’m happy with your choice, Evelyn!