photography

Regret, parenthood, and career

"Have you ever regretted having children? I'm wrapped up in my work right now, and I feel pretty good about my life; I like having "me" time occasionally. But if I don't have kids, will I regret it later? I don't want to be alone when I get old. What's the right choice?"

Parenthood path-5490

Regret is a hot button. Parenthood, likewise. Put them together, it's explosive, and everyone has an opinion.

As a former therapist, who has currently hung up her shingle to be a commercial/editorial portrait photographer full-time, I still sometimes still get asked the BIG questions. I even spoke about navigating through work/family snags at the Inspire photography conference last year, and have mentored those in the arts as well as those in technology careers, pulling on both my mental health therapist and career counseling background.

Several folks I'm spoken with about potential parenthood have given me the feedback that my thoughts on this topic have been helpful. So, today I'm posting my personal .02  in the hopes it will be useful for those who might be debating if and how to juggle intense careers with the possibility of eventually hearing the pitter-patter (ha, mostly clomp-clomp) of little feet. Because I am of the female persuasion, most of what I write is from a woman's perspective, but I believe there's a lot in here that also will relate to men. Enjoy, and let me know if you found this post helpful.

Finding your path, parenthood or no
Finding your path, parenthood or no

- The right choice (e.g. right-for-you choice), to have or to not have kids, or how many to have, is based solely on you and your circumstances - not what others think or what you feel pressured to do by your friends, your family, or society-at-large. There is no right answer, only your answer. This bears repeating ad nauseum. Knowing yourself, and your spouse, if applicable, and your resources (time, support, energy, goals, financial situation), and sitting with that knowledge for awhile without judgement can be helpful when trying to figure out whether creating a family is right for you. You don't need to make a decision immediately - consider waiting for some clarity, instead.

- It is neither selfish nor unselfish to choose to be childfree or child-full. Human beings bring beautiful things into this world. Unfortunately, this world also has more than enough people, many of who desperately need more than they have. Does the world need more artists, inventors, visionaries? Yes. Is the world being stripped of resources because there are too many people? Yes. Does all of this really matter when making your own personal decision? That's up to you.

- Liking having personal time isn’t selfish; it’s healthy. Those of us who live in the US (the only country I can really significantly speak to personally) live in a strange culture where mothers are supposed to sacrifice all their time to care for others, mostly because we don’t have enough institutional help and support so that we can take time for ourselves. And most of us live in small nuclear families away from the support of an extended family. But it can be done with careful planning and family/friend support. This situation doesn't appear to be the same for my family in Argentina and Europe - there seems to be more acceptance/support for woman to have a life outside of motherhood. Motherhood/parenthood in those areas seems to be just one aspect of a personality, rather than being a Mom with a capital M.

- It is really hard to make a decision if you’re not sure about having a family, and sadly, everyone and their mother has an opinion if you’re a woman of child-bearing age. But it’s not their life. They’re not paying for childcare and college, they’re not going to be there on sleepless nights when you all have stomach flu and you’re trying to figure out who gets the last bucket.

- We will all ultimately die alone. Please don’t make the relatively short period at the end of life the sole justification as to whether you want to bring another life into the world (unless this works for you and/or your spouse, see disclaimer above).

- If you lose a child, whether it is an only child, or one of many, no one is going to replace that child. It is going to hurt, and there’s nothing you can do to prevent or ameliorate that pain except having loving souls around you to be there for you as you mourn. If you have any control over the number of kids you have, have the number that is right for you.

- Friends can be as close as family, conversely, family is no guarantee of love. But if you’re a person in a happy family situation who wants to be there, it can feel like there is love flowing through your veins. However, being in the midst of a bad family situation can feel beyond lonely.

- There’s no guarantee in life. Make good friends, be a good friend. Ultimately, love, whether romantic, familial, or platonic, is one thing that makes life worth living, in all of its beautiful permutations. #steppingoffthesoapbox

P.S. As for me, no regrets.

Ladies Rock Camp

I had the great pleasure of photographing the bands of Boston's Ladies Rock Camp in Jamaica Plain on May 20th. The camp provides an opportunity for women who are 19 and older to let loose and learn to play rock together with similarly strong and awesome women. Ladies learn and/or practice bass, guitar, drums, vocals, or keyboard, form a band, and at the end of the experience, play live at TT the Bears in Central Square, Cambridge. The participants also take a variety of workshops relating to being a lady rocker - I happened to observe an inspiring workshop by Model Mugging Self-Defense right after I photographed the bands. Super cool! It was amazing walking into the building in which the camp was housed - you could feel the vibration of the drums throbbing up through your feet, and the excited "Yows!" and cheers of the participants charged everyone with a wonderfully contagious energy! I want to join next year (and I grew up playing classical piano and viola) - what an incredible group of women, what a great experience.

Here are a few of the bands I photographed.

 

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - Senator Scott Brown, Lansdowne Street, and hot dogs

Catching up on my blogging! On May 19, I photographed an event for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Phantom Gourmet that took over Boston's Landsdowne Street called the Hot Dog Safari. The indoor/outdoor event benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Joey Fund and features parties inside all the restaurants/bars plus food and fun all over Lansdowne Street. Senator Scott Brown and his wife were the VIPs of the event, and my job was to document the event, vendors, attendees, and the VIP area. Lots of candid portraits.

Boston's artists and authors, featuring Bradford Johnson

I'm embarking on a new project to create portraits of some of Boston's most talented artists and authors. Each artist is interviewed and then documented in the space that they work in, or a space inspired by their work. The goal of the project is to reveal through the photographs a real sense of the artist, to tell their stories visually and through narrative, and to gain an understanding of where their work comes from. The first artist I'm featuring is Somerville, MA-based artist Bradford Johnson. Brad's wonderful warm intelligence, wry wit, and good humor was a joy to be around, and spending time with him in his studio was delightful. His work is based on painting the people and places first captured by distant photographers (hmm, wonder why I like this guy?). One of his projects that I find most intriguing is entitled, "Tangible Dreams of a Dying Explorer", and it is based upon the real-life experiences of an Arctic explorer who perished more than one hundred years ago, but whose photographic film was discovered 30 years after the expedition's demise.

As Brad explains: "In 1897, on a barren Arctic island, photographer Nils Strindberg finally escapes the brutal cold when he slips into hypothermia. Shortly thereafter, he becomes the first member of S.A. Andree's Polar Expedition to perish. As Strindberg loses consciousness, he cannot know if his human remains or exposed film will ever be returned to civilization. His compatriots bury him in a rocky grave, and their demise soon follows his. Months earlier, in a daring attempt to explore the North Pole, Strindberg, Knut Fraenkel and Andree pilot a hydrogen balloon into the polar region under the flag of Sweden. Strindberg conscientiously documents key moments even when they crash far short of the pole and are forced to trek for months across the pack ice in an attempt to return home. The remnants of their final camp are discovered over 30 years after their deaths. Among the detritus returned to civilization are detailed diaries and 5 rolls of Strindberg's exposed film. 93 viable negatives are miraculously salvaged."

I photographed Brad in his studio, after chatting with him about how he was drawn to art, what he studied, how he defined himself as an artist, and how he combined his work with being a dad to two kids.

The moment he started to feel like an artist: Brad fell into art in high school - it was his sanctuary. Like many, high school was kind of a drag for him - he didn't really have any energy for the academics, but painting was something that drew him in. During his senior year when thinking about his future, Brad felt kind of lost, but his art teacher suggested that after graduation, he apply to RISD - the Rhode Island School of Design (one of the nation's top art schools) -  and he got in.

Three words that describe Brad's work: "Narrative, material, hand-rendered."

But it wasn't easy: Sometimes its easy to doubt your own abilities. While at RISD, Brad felt like an imposter, despite his abilities, surrounded by other talented artists who were Artists with a capital A. He transferred to a small, vigorously academic liberal arts school, where he enrolled in the drama department, and found like-minded souls. But eventually, the visual arts kept calling, and he switched back to studying fine art, continuing his studies with a MFA from Hunter College in New York, where he lived for five years before moving to Boston to be with his wife.

Finally: "I'm an artist, finally, because I'm unsatisfied with any given answer."

Artist as adult: Artists are often considered solitary creatures, huddled in a garret somewhere, but artists merge into adulthood like those of us in more traditional professions, with all the responsibilities that entails. Brad has two children and a wonderful, supportive wife, Jackie. I asked Brad how the balance works for him, and how difficult it is to pursue his vocation while wrangling pre-schoolers. His response - "it's a whole lot harder, but doable", thanks to great childcare, and a wife with a more traditional employment situation. He also credits a network of fellow creative friends who bounce ideas and provide support for each others' ventures.

Steampunk: Take two

Lots of requests for more Steampunk photographs from the Watch City Festival aka Steampunk Festival in Waltham, MA! Here they are. Steampunkers, please keep in touch via my blog and via www.facebook.com/sharonajacobsphotography. I had so many amazing people who were photographed - thank you all for being so wonderfully interesting to photograph.

Steampunk Festival, Waltham, MA: corsets, goggles, and gorgeousness

I was recently asked how I wanted to spend my Mother's Day - my answer: photograph portraits of amazingly costumed people at Waltham's Steampunk Festival. Assisted by the author Jon Papernick and my family (it was Mother's Day, after all), I had the most amazing time photographing some incredible faces and outfits. Enjoy the gallery, and thank you to everyone who participated!

 

Documenting the shoot: The boots meant for walkin'

I'm going to start a theme that I'll return to every now and then called Documenting The Shoot, where I'll show you what went into a shoot, what didn't work, and then what did with the final image. A before/after, if you will. My model was kind enough to give me her time to work on a personal project (thank you!), my 52 week project on Flickr, where each week I explore a different topic resulting in a weekly image. This particular week's topic was "Getting from Point A to Point B" and I decided to set up a fashion-type shoot featuring an amazing pair of boots and some fun cross-lighting techniques. We shot in my, shall we say, petite/cozy/tiny home studio which has low ceilings but works great for headshots. Full-body stuff is more challenging - I have to shoot from the very corners of the room, practically Spiderman-style, to avoid distortion. And you do not want distortion when photographing a person's legs.

Here are a few "before" images - you can see a few test shoots against a crappy dark background that shows off lint beautifully. I was trying to get some angles that showed off  the boots awesomeness, my models great legs, and a sense of movement as well. I had Audrey walk around a bit, but what worked best was to have her stand still, point her feet exactly as directed, and hang on to my ceiling for dear life (man, in hindsight, I really wished I shot that - next time!). The angle that looked the most "natural" was highly unnatural, but man, she was a trouper. I had a softbox behind her on the ground highlighting her shape and the laces, and an LED panel in front of her - really close - less than a foot, for detail.

I knew it when I got the final image in camera the moment I hit the button. So all I had to do was go into Lightroom, get rid of lint, and burn out the light walls of my studio in the background. And here's that final image:

Let me know what you think of this series and if you want more!

Portraits of a dancer

Audrey is a dream to work with as a photographer. As a modern dancer and a dance therapist, she is lovely, inside and out. We worked together both outdoors and in the studio, playing with lights and modifiers, moods and movement.

Olmstead's Paine + novelist + kid + portraits = one glorious day in Waltham, MA

Yesterday was an insanely beautiful day in the Boston area - warm, sunny, mid-seventies with a hint of breeze blowing in the smell of Spring! To take advantage of this very odd, but lovely Boston spring weather, I grabbed my kid, home for Spring vacation,  and drove to Stonehurst, the Robert Treat Paine Estate, where I met up with fiction writer Jon Papernick in his hometown of Waltham, MA.

 

Stonehurst was designed by noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson and visionary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, and it was completed in 1886 on behalf of Robert Treat Paine and Lydia Lyman Paine.

It is full of cavernous rooms full of beautiful mahogany carvings, eight-foot tall portraits of great detail, and furniture that looks as though the moment you'd turn around would surreptitiously slither away.

Of course Jon felt right at home among rooms full of books, and began chatting away with the caretaker as I clicked away, occasionally pulling a face and making me chuckle behind the camera.

 

Call me crazy, but when I visit old estates, I'm invariably curious about the bathrooms that were used back then. When I used to work at the George Eastman House, Mr. Eastman's bathroom hadn't been fully renovated for visitors, but as staff, we got to peek in. Here, my curiosity was assuaged by viewing an exquisite bathroom with a metal-lined tub with a carved wooden exterior.

Wandering the grounds and exploring the house, camera in hand, was the perfect way to enjoy the day.