I never quite know who’s story I’m supposed to tell on this blog - yours or mine? Perhaps this is one is ours; it belongs to all of us because we belong to each other and we’re all just walking each other home. Those are the words of Ram Dass, not my own.
Most of the work I do these days is commercial in a studio. I’m manipulating the light with diffusers and metering every few minutes or so. Hopefully, everyone’s been to hair and makeup that morning. I love curating images to help people in their careers.
I try to stay as grateful as humanly possible, even though - if I’m honest, and I try to be - making a living as a photographer in an industry many say is saturated isn’t always easy. Sometimes I wonder…when I factor in healthcare, taxes and expenses, and depreciation - of my spine, neck, shoulders, and equipment - as well as all the time spent answering emails, culling images and editing images, delivering galleries, and ordering prints…is what I do still worth it? Granted, I crunch numbers quarterly, if not monthly, to ensure my business is financially sustainable. So, I suppose what I’m really wondering is if my work has value? Is it important? Is it making a difference in my community?
I hope so. Because, I love what I do, and I understand how unique and fortunate I am to do so. This brings me full-circle back to gratitude -
For the clients who continue to hire me and forward my newsletters and share my posts and say “Oh, you have got to work with Amber.”
For the moments I get to witness with a camera - moments so poignant, I’m laughing or crying…both…behind my lens.
For my friends and family - for, I can remember when they were the only ones asking me to photograph them.
This isn’t the usual stuff I post. I want to share some images from this adoption ceremony - not because it’s my best work…it’s not…but because I feel it’s some of my most meaningful. I remain in awe of portraiture as a medium through which to tell a story. And, these images tell a story of love and lifetime friendships and adoption, grief and redemption.
I would suggest that anyone who’s feeling down and disenchanted go sit in the courthouse on the Friday of the month when they finalize adoptions. They’re much the same every time. Crowds of people with children await the judge to arrive. The air feels full of anticipation and anxiety. Like cattle, we file into the courtroom which is always standing room only. A family’s name is called. The attorney goes before the judge with you and your soon-to-be-forever child and a few (or 40) of your chosen family. People cheer and cry, then cry and cheer. You take home a stuffed animal, which is a small consolation compared to the child for whom you’ve prayed.
I’ve been to Tarrant County adoption finalization ceremonies on three occasions now. First for their first son about 3 years ago.
Then for my own son about a year and a half ago.
And now, for their second son.
I hope I go again.
Whether I go as a photographer standing behind the judge or a parent standing before him, I’ll leave the details up to Divine will.
I envision my child(ren) in therapy years from now talking about how Mum-mum was always cleaning. People come into my home and say, “How does a toddler live here?” And, I don’t know. I might be neurotic. Or, I mean “Tidy, tidy tidy up” is my favorite Little Baby Bum song, so maybe I just value neatness. My wife wakes in the morning and says, “The elves must have come.” Let’s be clear: she means that I’ve cleaned. Meanwhile, at 5 am, I was standing at the espresso machine looking out into our open abode like “What slob lives here?” How can 3 people - one of whom has obsessive compulsive disorder - and a dog make such a mess? I wake ready to conquer the day. I am that morning person whom I used to hate, and then by the afternoon, my standards are far more realistic, and I can see the abstract art in the cheerios on the floor.
I am not sure if this is true for everyone or just for people like me: I am profoundly influenced by my environment. I identify as an artist; I’m happiest when I’m consciously seeking to find and create beauty - in everything.
When we moved into our minimalist, ultra-modern inspired home, I invited Debra Barrett to help me bring the front of our home to life. It was sterile. (I kinda like that…look, a blank canvas!) But, I didn’t have a vision for our space, and if it had been up to me, we would have lived on austerely until it was time to move. Purchasing paralysis. It’s how I feel about hanging portraits on my white walls, too. I have hundreds of photos and just never know which ones and should it be framed or metal or wood? So, I end up with white walls.
Yet, with a client’s walls, I have a vision. You need a framed canvas there. 16x20. I’m definitive.
Debra brought that sort of confidence to our home. Buy this rug. Hang this print. Use this fabric. What do you think of this? And with the pieces we had that were less than beautiful, she’d say, “Tell me about this.” And, if I could tell her about its importance, she gave it new life and incorporated it in the design. And, if I couldn’t, well Marie Kondo, buh-bye and thank you for serving us in our past space. I mean, we have* feathers and drumsticks on the mantle, if that tells you anything. But, every time I step through the threshold of our front door, I feel at home. And, I thank God for Debra. It’s the same for most of the people who visit us, too. Wow, what a room! I should take photos of it to post here, but it’s the afternoon and Mum-mum’s tired and it looks like a toddler tornado’s come through.
Anyway, you probably know people who infuse magic into everything. That’s Debra. If you live on the westside and wanna sell your house for full price overnight? Debra. Even if it’s been on the market for ages with another realtor, she’s gonna stage it to sell. Wanna figure out how to combine you and your spouse’s eclectic ideas about function and form? Debra. Wanna downsize, upsize? Debra. Wanna turn a book shelf into a work of art? Debra.
When she asked me to update her headshots, I was excited and knew I wanted to take her out of the studio into a place brimming in color and texture. Simple Things Furniture in Fort Worth was kind enough to host us. And, I love some of these images so much, I wish I could send them to people when someone requests my headshot.
A new client called this week and said, “I was on your website, and you know the beautiful woman with glasses - she must be a stylist or in design…” That’s how I know I’ve done my job: when the photo tells the story of who you are and all you have to offer the world. Recently, I wrote a blog about the importance of headshots HERE. Check it out if you’re unsure where to begin.
I wrote something on Instagram a while back about how the very mention of the word “headshot” makes me cringe. The word brings to mind those school pictures with two lights in front of a blue backdrop. Don’t get me wrong: I actually love studio lighting and utilize it - just not always in the conventional way. (Enneagram: 4:: individualist). So, when someone requests headshots, my first response is generally, “Please take a look at my website and visit my portfolio.” Once they reply, “Yes, I love your work, I’d love to work with you,” I send them a pdf file that’s probably a little long for some folks (some people love to know exactly what to expect; others want to ‘wing it’). Then, I set up a call to talk. And, the reason for this process is this: as much as I love my work, everyone views photographs differently. I don’t aspire to be Amber Shumake The high volume Dallas Fort Worth area headshot photographer. I want to work with a handful of clients every couple of weeks and create art that’s unique to each individual. I want you to ooze with pride when someone requests that you attach your “headshot.” I suppose I abhor that term because gone are the days when corporate photographs need to be tucked-in and stuffy. Photos of you are the first way in which clients and potential clients connect with your message and “meet” you. You might as well make a great first impression; otherwise, you’re likely turning your dream clients away.
And, if you’re reading this, I’d imagine you’ve been told something about the way you look that has traumatized you.
I’m gonna let that previous sentence sink in. I moonlight as a trauma therapist. Perhaps the message that “you’re not photogenic” or “you smile weird” or “your eye is lazy” or “your teeth are ugly” or “you look fat” or “you look sick and too skinny” or “your nose is too pointy” are not capital-T traumas. But, I’ve been providing commercial photographs for small business women in these parts for a few years now (I shirked this work in the beginning of my career because it’s not as easy as photographing a child…that’s for sure), and I’ve worked with exactly one woman who told me she loved how she looked. One. One out of hundreds. You probably read that and thought, “Omg, who was it? How arrogant!”
For me, it was absolutely refreshing.
You see, we live in a society that’s poisoned us into believing we should hate how we look - that our sole purpose should be to be smaller in body and…well, power. It took me about 33 years to realize the power piece. Because if I’m counting my carbs every day and making my macros (who am I kidding…I don’t even know what that means) and doing my cardio and practicing yoga and lifting weights and removing all the hair from my body and embarking on my nightly skin care regimen one hour before bed and getting eight hours of sleep and doing all of the other things that society has told me I need to do in the name of beauty, I don’t have time to pursue anything else. Side note: if all of the aforementioned things bring you joy, then - by all means - carry on. Live and let live. For the record, I do some of those things. Some of those things bring me endorphins and strong, stable joints that are capable of carrying a heavy son and photo equipment; some of those things bring me the mental clarity to become quiet enough to hear how I can best serve here.
So, I feel my work as a photographer who predominantly photographs women is an opportunity to invite you to set all that you’ve been told about how you look aside and instead see yourself from a place of power because it’s in you. You were born with It - we all were. It’s waiting for you to see it and own it and share it with other people who haven’t quite found their power yet. This is a role I don’t take lightly. So, I walk you through every step of the way. And, can I just say that more often than not at the end of the shoot, women say, “Wow, that was fun,” and “I loved spending time with you.”
Since writing about my disdain for the word “headshots” I receive emails with the subject: headshots? I don’t know what we’re going to call them. But, if you send an email with ‘headshots?’ as the subject, I’m gonna know we’re on the same portrait page.