The Knight of Staves- a card of impulsive passion, of full presence in the moment. A card of the body, of the heart, of energy and the uninhibited joy of life.
The colors needed to be warm, and I wanted as much sun involved as we could get without washing Steph out, so we went again to John Hinkle park in Berkeley, which is becoming a favorite shooting location. It has a large tiered ampitheater at one end, so I knew that I could get some height differences in the shots, which I thought would be important- straight forward shots are terrible for anything trying to show action, and that seemed key to this card.
I knew that I wanted as many of the Staves to be action shots as possible right from the beginning, and especially so for the court cards. My initial thought for the Knight had been something along the lines of tai chi, but we already had a sort of vaguely-fighting-motion going on in the Ace, so when Steph hit on belly dance, it seemed like it could work.
The immediate difficulty, of course, was that Stephanie has never studied belly dance, which I admit, as someone who has studied it (a bit), made me skeptical about how well she was going to be able to pull it off. Most forms of dance are difficult to mimic, because they’re so exacting in the lines of the body and ease of execution, but belly dance in particular requires a certain controlled abandon in order to look appealing, rather than silly.
Modeling is hard, at first, for most women. We are trained from an early age to either feel very awkward in front of the camera, or to ham it up in a specific set of poses, neither of which work well for artistic modeling. It requires a level of trust in the photographer, that they know what they are doing and are as invested in a good outcome as you are, and a trust in yourself, that you are actually able to look like “someone” who would appear in “art photos”*.
This is hard. It was hard for me when I started modeling 12 years ago, and it has been hard for Stephanie throughout this process. It helps that we are close friends, but that suspension of disbelief needed to fake an unknown skill in an uncomfortable situation was going to be key to this shoot.
I’ll be honest- I was prepared to have to shoot again. But Stephanie surprised me. She did her research, she gave herself over to the process, and in the end, we have one of my personal favorite shoots of all the staves. She let herself take the risk that she would look silly, or like she was faking it (and, of course, in some of the outtakes, she did), but she was able to convince herself enough that she convinced the camera.
Photographing people is a tricky business, which is part of why I agreed to this project in the first place- I wanted to become better at it. A truly gifted photographer can find the beauty in all persons, but most of us are not that good, and even the best are only preserving what is truly there. A camera and the person behind it can capture the best angle, sure, but there’s no invention, no CGI. Yes, perhaps that angle and lighting are not what you see in the bathroom mirror, or even what people see on a daily basis, but make no mistake- for that moment, you were that beautiful.
*We all have these constructs of “what kind of person” does “what kind of thing”- “someone who would appear in art photos”, “someone who can sing in public”, “someone who could be in charge”- it’s funny how we only seem to have constructs around things we think we can’t do. The things we do are simply downgraded to “things anyone could do”, while we don’t even consider the possibility that we are capable of or already doing the things in our untouchable constructs.
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