It’s generally been my stance that newborns are most comfortable at home, so that’s where I typically photograph them. However, over the past year, I’ve upgraded my studio lighting and have found that I actually adore the simple, timeless portraits that working in the studio fosters. This momma wanted to do the photos in the studio, and her babe slept the whole time like newborns (sometimes) do. I kept her in her mom’s arms for most of the two hours, which is where I feel babies belong.
I remember after my son was born, the last thing I wanted was to be photographed. And, most new moms express that they do not want to be in the photos. But, one day your baby will grow up, and s/he will want to see pictorial evidence of how much s/he was loved. This mom reminded me of those first days and how we just stare in awe at our babes. What a miracle. I feel so grateful to celebrate these moments with you.
This senior portrait session stretched me: high key, low key…film, digital…in-studio and on the street…natural light, nightlife…and everything in between over the course of a couple hours. By the end, I was talking to myself and asking my brilliant assistant, Carly, about shutter speeds because my mind was fried. I love the adrenaline that comes with creating. And, I can think of few things more important than documenting for young women how beautiful and talented they are. I photograph people, but what I’m most interested in is always revealing the essence of who you are– as cliche as the term has become: the soul.
It’s not happened overnight, but nowadays, when I see a portrait online, I can say, “That’s an Amber Shumake photo.” Granted, I don’t speak of myself in the third person. But, I think, “Hey! I made that photo.” This feels important especially given that I am not a just a natural light photographer; I am not just a product photographer; I am not just a family photographer.
I see myself as an artist. As an artist, I’m interested in connection, and I create that through light and shadow and the always elusive attempt to make the subject feel comfortable in her skin even as I point a camera and a light in her face.
I specialize in the medium of photography. And, I own more cameras than I can count. I’ve got one in the Black Friday cart that I’m still weighing if it’s worth it to purchase. So, I use the correct tool for the job. And, my jobs invite me to photograph all sorts of people and places and products in all sorts of settings. I’m dynamic, I suppose.
I can distinguish my style in the skin tones and the composition, the energy (although that word is too woo-woo for some). And, yeah…I shoot a bunch of film. Maybe one day I will succinctly articulate why I prefer film to digital. As of late, I’m drawn to the detail in the highlights and shadows. Digital cameras read light as bright or dark. Film sees layers and shades of gray. I have a friend who’s colorblind, and he says he can distinguish colors better in film photos. Perhaps, it’s the layers of hidden tones like magenta and aqua. I’ve labeled these images below because I’m becoming extra nerdy as I age. With the exception of the portraits created at the West 7th Street Bridge in Fort Worth, everything else was created at the Darkroom, a community studio I adore. All of the film was scanned by Richard Photo Lab.
The transition from high school to life after high school is mind-blowing, really. I’ve only just begun on my parenting journey. But, I always like to conclude sessions with a photo of the mom with the senior. As we were standing at the West 7th Street bridge, her mom said, “She’s been a climber since she was one-year-old.”
Because I’m an older mom and perhaps an older soul, most of my friends are realizing they have just a few more years with their kids under their roof. Some are sending their kids off to college. And, I’m immersed in nursery rhymes (mostly truck tunes) and potty training. I feel blessed to experience the polarity because it helps me remember how fast this journey truly is.
I follow a couple of accounts on Instagram called @makemotherhooddiverse and #familieslikemine. They challenge the single story of family and motherhood that we commonly see.
Just the other day, I went to get my hair washed and styled on a cold, wet day because I could not be bothered to wash my own hair. It was a spontaneous decision after catching a glimpse of my roots in the mirror and realizing that my calendar was clear for an hour, so my typical stylist was not available on an hour’s notice. The stylist Google selected for me was lovely, and I adored the Brazilian wave look she created, but when she asked me what my husband did for a living, I wasn’t sure how to respond. I felt like I had two choices: 1. Explain that I don’t have a husband I have a wife (I was wearing my wedding rings); or 2. Lie.
I choose option 1 most of the time, but I find it makes the person feel so uncomfortable because either a. they are so embarrassed that they don’t have the education to know that in 2019 people marry the same gender, or b. they were comfortable when I was a straight woman sitting in the chair but now that I’m a lesbian sinner, they wish they would’ve passed me to the next person.
So, I chose 2. Sometimes to choose 2 feels so sickening. To hide who I am feels like soul suicide. But, it didn’t that day. It felt like self care because I didn’t want to talk about my husband or myself. Did I mention I was too tired to wash my own hair? And, choosing option 1 sometimes means I receive more questions to tell my coming out story or they tell me about other gay people they know so I don’t feel bad about myself. But, here’s the thing: I don’t feel bad about myself. We don’t need to do this dance of codependency where we take care of each others’ feelings. We could just say, “Oh, yes, I’m still learning how to be more inclusive…what does your wife do?” Or even better, don’t ask people what they do. I love my job more than your average person, but I don’t want to explain what I do. Ask people what they’re passionate about. Ask people what they do for fun. Ask people what breaks their heart.
What breaks my heart is the ways we exclude people from the table.
When my ovaries began to long for a child as they do when you’re biologically nearing the end of your window to bear a child, I wasn’t even sure where to begin. I was and am still married. But, to a woman. My prayer for a few years was “Thy Will Be Done and, by the way God, if I’m supposed to be a mother, please make it so blatantly obvious.” And, I’m a mother by adoption to my son, Samuel. His name means God has heard. There was never any question that was his name.
When I was searching for a family photographer for our family a couple years ago, I scrolled through portfolio after portfolio. Dallas Fort Worth has a number of talented family photographers. But, I gave up the hunt and set my camera on a tripod with a self timer and very low expectations. It’s not because I’m cheap…I am not…I’m a photographer’s dream client because I value the art. It’s not because my family is easy to photograph…they are not. They complain about the sight of a camera and a request to pose more than your average family. I have to bribe them just like you have to bribe yours. Cake pops, brunch, ice cream, screen-time, etc.
I gave up because I didn’t find photographer portfolios in Fort Worth of families who looked like mine.
That experience of not finding a portfolio with families like mine moved me to review my own portfolio. What story of family was I telling? Lo and behold, I saw that I was essentially telling the same, tired but beautiful traditional heteronormative nuclear story everyone else was. Slowly, I began to rewrite my definition of family and refine what it was I wanted to create in family photography.
This year, I’ve photographed some incredible families who challenge the single story of motherhood and family. Thankfully for me and so many children, there are many ways to become a mother; there are many ways to make a family. I’ve witnessed people walk through birth and death and everything in between. I’ve seen a number of miracles, too. In case there was ever any doubt: I am an inclusive photographer of all people and families including those in the LGBTQ community, as well as any person regardless of race, religion, culture, etc. I learn so much from the families I photograph and look forward to photographing people who think and live and love differently than I do. I’d love to tell the story of your uniquely beautiful family.