He's officially known as Pepper.
All names translate directly to his other Chinese moniker, Máfan 麻烦. Máfan means trouble. As in counter-surfing, floor-peeing, leg-nipping, garbage eating trouble. So far, he is living up to all his aliases.
It has taken me four months of procrastination, but I have just finished editing the photos from a newborn baby portrait session from last September.
Four months of forgetfulness, avoidance, and indecision. I couldn't decide which photos I liked, which I wanted to edit, or how I wanted the final shots to look. I was too busy with other things, and just too burned out with photo editing to bother. The mom even had to come to me and say..."uh, Kiley, I know you're busy, but remember those photos you took...?"
This isn't my normal professional behavior. I usually turn around my clients photographs within two weeks. But you see, this wasn't my normal "client", either. These photos were of my friend Rebecca and her baby Marty(pants), and these photos were special. They were the last of a long series that I started taking of Rebecca when she was 15 weeks pregnant, a series that documented her changing body and journey into motherhood, a series that grew as our friendship grew, and resulted in some of the best photos I have ever taken. These photos were also the last ones I had the privilege to shoot of this beautiful pair, before they left Qingdao to repatriate to the U.S.
It seems obvious to me now the putting off finishing the photos was my way of denying that this chapter is over, that Rebecca and Marty have moved on, and that an ocean and twelve time zones now separates me from my good friend. Although we only knew each other for two years, her influence remains. It shows most clearly in my photography, for which she patiently sat still over the course of eleven different sessions while I tested new techniques, new lighting, and new locations. But it also shows in other, subtler ways. Rebecca taught a 40-year old me to shake my booty, Latin style, as my Zumba teacher. As a devoted and confident Christian, she suffered through long discussions about faith, what it means, who the faithful are, and the loss of all faith I experienced when Miles died, all without defense or judgement. She got me hooked on Chinese massage, to the point that for a time, she and I were getting two massages a week. She is a business woman, a fashionista, a fitness instructor, a Christian, and a true friend.
I want to share some of my favorite photos from these sessions. Like this one, which I took while lying in the pool in my bikini, when Rebecca was so pregnant at 39.5 weeks that she could barely float.
Here, she is 30 weeks pregnant and still teaching Zumba 4 times a week.
Or these two, which I love for their simple beauty, taken as I was learning to wrangle off-camera flash, before her baby bump really even showed.
The photos are finally done, Rebecca. These are the last of them. I procrastinated because I miss you and didn't want our time together in Qingdao to end. With all my love.
Jet lagged and cold, and against all the instincts that told me, begged me, to stay home, be warm, and rest, I boarded the 8:30 am bus to Jimo City. Jimo is one of those ubiquitous, faceless towns that form the suburbs of Qingdao: without any obvious reason for being, sans any apparent charm or character, but housing millions of Chinese in apartment blocks notable only for their sprawl and anonymity. Or so it seems to me, through my critical, tired, myopic expat eyes.
When finally we arrived at the primary school, in the village beyond the reach of the urban sprawl, our bus was met by two long columns of children, clapping excitedly and proudly greeting us while waving tall red flags symbolic of the pride and heritage of China. The anonymity of the suburbs vanishes amidst this sea of young faces, so excited and optimistic, but also nervous and shy. The foreigners are here.
I came on a bus full of foerign students on their annual school charity project. Throughout the month of December, students and families from Vivian's international school collected bags full of basic necessities to share with needy families: cooking oil, rice, warm blankets and clothing, even coal for their coal-burning heaters. Today we would distribute the bags at a rural school, and my purpose on the trip was documentation.
It was the worst kind of day for photography; the skies were thick with coal smoke and the sun was so deeply shrouded that shadows were absent. Gray, gray, more gray. Plus cold, frigid cold...but still I managed to find scenes of surprising beauty in the grayness, in the faces, and in the moment.
This wasn't just a school event; it was a community event. The students from both schools were excited, and the excitement spread beyond the walls of the school. Look carefully at the photo below and behind the lone girl watching from a distance you see the crowd of families and friends waiting in anticipation behind the locked gate.
As always, my camera loves faces more than anything else; as always, my camera is not disappointed.
I really feel for everyone who has let me photograph them in the past year. Stepping in front of the camera is a like taking a leap of faith; it is hard to do. You have to trust that the photographer is going to be kind and will be able to see something that represents your best self. Or at least your real self.
That dynamic doesn't change when the subject and the photographer are the same person. The me that is taking the photo is not really the same me as the one in front of the camera. The subject me feels anxious and vulnerable and exposed while the photographer me just wants to capture an image that says something about who my subject is and why she is there.
When Vivian saw the photo of me with Twinkle on my head, she begged me to take the same shot of her. Since she has never actually asked me to photograph her before, obviously I obliged.
Just because she requested the photo shoot doesn't mean that she was all that cooperative (though she did manage to not squirm too much when little guinea pig claws dug into her scalp). Here's a few of the setup shots, when I was testing the light and exposure before bringing in the guinea pig.
Linking up to the Simple Things...only a day late.
I've been suffering from photographer's malaise. It started at the end of June when I ended my portrait work for the summer. I was feeling tired, uninspired, and I couldn't even be bothered to carry my camera with me when visiting such photogenic places as, say, Prague. One of the most photographically inspiring cities in the world, and all I carried was my iPhone. I feel like I am up against a creative wall. Its a feeling I know well, because I have here before. In the past, similar situations have led me to dramatic measures like a complete change of creative direction. The last time I was up against a creative wall was when I closed my Etsy shop (I used to design and handmake leather handbags). That's when this current photography bug hatched.
I am feeling frightened and anxious about this malaise. I don't want to burn out with photography, I want to get over this hump, not quit. I want to feel high on creative energy, full of ideas, and excited to press the shutter. I want to continue to grow my skills and my creativity, to build a portfolio of images of which I am supremely proud, and to build confidence.
Confidence is the kicker. I know my way around a camera. I have a good eye for composition. I can take a good picture. But when it comes to working with other people, to being "on" and needing to produce a pleasing, technically correct, and creative product, I sorta lose my confidence. And that, the losing it, I attribute to lack of experience. Some moments, when I am in a creative groove, and feeling it flow with the person I am photographing (a recent session in a swimming pool comes to mind, more later) I forget about myself and forget about the photographer-subject dynamic, and just flow. And the shots I love, the creative, well-composed, and well exposed shots, follow. In those moments, I am a photographer.
How do I get from malaise to flow? I need practice. I need hours behind the camera, experimenting with lighting, exposure, setting. I need a subject who never complains and never questions my creative vision. I need me.
Welcome to my self-portraiture project. I will be showing up here, weekly or semi-weekly, perhaps even twice a week, offering my creative vision of myself. For a photographer, being in front of the camera is to be in a vulnerable position. Please be gentle.
It hasn't taken long for the word to get out in Qingdao that I'm available for portrait photography. In May, I shot eight photo sessions: two families, three maternity sessions, one infant, and two children. Knowing that I tend to jump into new endeavors with both feet and get burned out fairly quickly, I am trying to pace myself and offer not more than one session per week and one per weekend. So eight sessions per month has been perfect.
Eight sessions per month may not sound like much to established professionals, but that's not all I have on my plate: I am now also working for two magazines, and I am in negotiations with another potential client. I suddenly have a ton of work, where before I used to work just for my own pleasure. Its an exciting change.
In between photo shoots, I have been working on my new website, Kiley Ariail Photography. About a month ago, I slipped a new link, "Portraiture," into the menu bar at the top of this page, but otherwise, I have been pretty quiet about the site. It's not exactly how I want it yet, but its getting enough content that it feels...somehow...official.
These are my favorite portrait shots from the month of May. I will be adding new shots to the galleries at Kiley Ariail Photography often so feel free to check in now and again.