I took another flight in the past few months, this time to work on a mother-daughter photoshoot in New Orleans. It felt spiritual sometimes and had a few allegorical outcomes.
Here is our Stephanie again! Remember her doing a stunning 3-day photo project with her friend in Las Vegas a month earlier? Well, this session here wasn’t even meant for herself first, but here’s how things developed.
Steph loved working with me in Vegas. Her daughter Syd is an up-and-coming artist in New Orleans and was “looking to create something a little sexy and a little weird for her album cover”. She’s a musician releasing new songs soon. The family planned to visit NYC in January and with me there, asked about doing a creative shoot for the young talent. We started preparing and putting together the resources but changed the location to New Orleans. Their preference leaned toward having the aspiring singer’s hometown as a backdrop instead of NYC, which makes sense for establishing a local presence.
And where there is one creative shoot for a family member, why not do another, if a photographer is flying to you? Steph agreed to continue her photography experience with me to incorporate her local background; the mother-daughter photoshoot was in order!
Few weeks later I was on the plane amid the pandemic-driven travel woes. As I’m writing this in March, almost third of the US population (98M vs 328M) received a dose of COVID vaccine since February, with restaurants and movie theaters on their way to full reopening. Back in January, however, the situation was far from this rosy. I had to monitor the airline travel advisory as selected locales and airports were shutting down and a requirement of COVID testing prior to any flight was looming, rather complicating the short-term trips. It was no fun, but all worked out.
We started with Stephanie a few hours after my arrival. The goal was to begin her half-day session before the sunset and work into the evening in the French Quarter. You may recall that she’s a gracious meditation instructor and practices yoga. With her professional portraits being the primary scope of the shoot, I expected many yoga poses.
Our first stop was Lincoln Beach in eastern New Orleans. The beach is a historical Black Heritage site but its fame is shameful: from 1939 to 1965 it housed an amusement park and swimming area designated for the “colored” population of NOLA. Its segregation counterpart, Pontchartrain Beach, was a larger version for “whites only”. After the desegregation in 1965, Lincoln Beach was abandoned.
I guess there could have been a proper entrance to the beach, but the guys led me across a train track where we had to climb over a wall. Not sure if there were any picturesque decaying structures to explore; we only had time to shoot on a rocky dam. (On my way from the airport I found out from the cab driver that there was also the abandoned Six Flags destroyed by hurricane Katrina. We didn’t pursue the idea.)
I saw the old wooden logs and suggested climbing one. Her husband Terrance helped with the balance. It was too difficult to do yoga tree pose, so I let them hold hands, later removing his. Once she was down, we made a painful discovery—Steph got a sizable splinter in her foot. No wonder that balance was problematic! Behind-the-scene videos below are from my Instagram stories.
As the sun was about to kiss the horizon, I rushed the family to the wooded area next to the beach. We tried throwing sand around, but most shots did not work out. Only got one decent but continued without the sand, to bring out that mysterious nymph character in her.
My Photoshop skills, which find more use in my fantasy art, helped set up the mood, too. Here’s a quick demo of dramatizing and mystifying the shot:
We headed back to the car. Train tracks attract a photographer and with the post-sunset sky behind them, I couldn’t resist stopping for a few shots. Terrance helped me with the off-camera flash, Syd did a quick behind-the-scenes video—full family support for a bonding mother-daughter photoshoot! This image was Stephanie’s favorite from the photo session:
Check us out in action, I found a cool music track for that IG story! 🙂
They surprised me by bringing back to the hotel so I protested, demanding finishing in the French Quarter as planned. Steph may have felt content with the results already, but I was eager to see what else might wait for us there. Eh… A broken flash. In a rush to make the last part quick, I didn’t fully secure it so it fell off… No external damage and the electronics work, just doesn’t fire, so maybe something minor internally.
Of course, COVID took its toll—the streets, usually bustling at night, looked dismal in an attempt of a few random tourists to make the most of their visit. What a difference from my 2018 visit during our cross-country photography tour! (I shot an underwater maternity client in NOLA then.) We didn’t stay long at all, I just wanted to get a shot with her meditating in the middle of a hectic crowd. Didn’t get a crowd, but a snake creeped in. That concluded the first portion of our mother-daughter photoshoot.
We wanted to give her daughter Syd some night scenes, too. The guys had an idea to set up a sort of urban ritual altar with a cityscape in the background. Opted for the Jackson Square. The trick was to illustrate the darkness with no people wandering around. That always means a pre-dawn hour and waking up at 4 AM. Old news.
Arrived to the spot and started setting up. I used my backup flash and worked on not just bursting a weak narrow beam of light (so to not overpower the candles’ faint light) but also using a long exposure to get the lights of the St. Louis Cathedral. These two goals contradict each other, so it took a while before I found the balance. It wasn’t warm, by the way.
Once I nailed it, invited Syd to mix it up with a cute, cheerful pic. Dad was painting with the light behind her. Here are your dragging the shutter and rear curtain flash techniques.
Next, we moved closer to the Cathedral in hopes to get more details of the architecture. A cleaning crew was working there, and I asked them for a moment of collaboration. They did the light for me, and a mist from the power washer. I believe this image is open to several allegorical interpretation for a young lady entering adult life.
To the French Quarter again, now completely quiet and empty. I spotted an archway with funky lights and made it my outdoor portrait studio.
We’ve done half of the time by then and drove to their home outside of New Orleans. The house is a museum. Ya, I didn’t mention of another artist in the family, Terrance himself. It’s a big one. If you want a valuable souvenir from New Orleans, something that would speak art and heart of the city, skip the gift shops (or get a magnet there) and head to his art gallery. Not in town? Find a jaw-picker and check out his Instagram. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t buy any painting of his! I’ve seen nothing so characteristic of The Big Easy. Anyway, their house hosts his studio, some of his work, and other masterpieces. Telling you, a museum.
Here’s my quick portrait of the maestro. I took the liberty of sticking it onto one of his works, “Evacuation Plan”.
Back to Syd. Her concluding piece would be honey-related to illustrate one of her upcoming singles. The diva was kind of done already (sleepy youngsters…) so it took a bit of prep talk to get her back on track. Didn’t she radiate at that, tho?!
How it looked backstage:
My favorite portrait of her wasn’t the brilliant one, however. This is the version I love — a subdued beauty of a soul.
Say, wasn’t this mother-daughter photoshoot something? I feel blessed meeting incredible people and artists like Steph, Syd, and Terrance, so another “thanks” goes to Alia who introduced me to them and started it all!
P.S. My next blog will be on a rare male boudoir shoot from a few weeks ago. Bookmark and check back or sign up for the blog updates (top of this page) to catch that and future coolest stories from Zorz Studios!