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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today In A Stranger's Backyard ...

As I’ve stated in previous posts, my family has a tendency towards procrastination hidden deep in our genetic markers. So it was no real surprise when, a few short weeks ago, my oldest nephew announced that his yearbook “photo” was due and that no one had made a single inquiry or formulated a plan about having his “Senior Portraits” taken.

With the pervasiveness of the Internet and the pic-saturated world of Facebook, I figured that procuring pictures during their last year of prison … I mean high school … would be the furthest thing from the minds of our techno-savvy youth. And I would be wrong!

nephew has already collected dozens of formal and candid shots from classmates whose parents, no doubt, lit a fire under them months ago about crossing this senior-year task off their burdensome lists. Some of these photos, in my opinion, were better than others, displaying more care with lighting and location and even the clothing and props chosen. And some … according to my nephew … ran his classmates close to $700!!

Many moons ago (damn, I’m old) I, too, had the daunting task of having my image captured for posterity and exploitation during my last year of state-mandated education. My parents let me handle the process, promising to put $150 toward the project … I was responsible for anything more. So during the summer between junior and senior years, I called around to three or four photography studios, scouted locations, and solicited advice from my friends concerning their intentions. I ended up working with Ray Delgado of Delgado Imagery. He was a friendly guy … about 50 … who had been taking photos for more than 20 years while also dabbling in selling real estate. Because of his contacts, Mr. Delgado had permission to use the grounds of several fairly fancy homes for his photography business.

Delgado Imagery offered the “Senior Sizzler Package,” which included one hour’s worth of shooting time, five finished 8” X 10” photos of one pose, half a dozen 5” X 7” shots of two selected poses, 25 “wallets” of three selected poses, and a keepsake proof book with your 15 best shots all for the low, low price of $185. My Dad went with me to make the initial deposit and I asked Mr. Delgado if he and I could meet a few days before the scheduled shoot to discuss my “plan.” He smiled a really toothy grin and said, “I like your spunk, kid … how about Thursday around 4?”

I stopped by his studio, Mr. Delgado was finishing up taking some baby pictures. I waited in the small reception area but I could hear him working with the baby and the parent. He had a soothing voice that put people at ease. He had that baby squealing with delight so I figured he must be getting some really good shots. A little later, the photographer and I were sitting around a small bistro table and he was laughing about how prepared I was. I had six 4” X 6” note cards with me. One said “formal” and I think I had scribbled notes like “suit and tie? best colors? outside?” Other cards included “swing choir,” “art,” “reading,” and “sport.” And my last card just said “bridge” because there was a park with a small bridge on one of its trails that I had always loved and hoped it could be worked into a photo. For additional visual support, I had taped some images from magazines to all of the cards.

took about 30 minutes to address each card, but Mr. Delgado didn’t seem to mind taking the time. He asked me if I was comfortable in a suit and I told him a shirt and tie was more my style. “Shirt and tie it is,” he said. He also assured me that a pale solid shirt would work fine and that we could take a few nice outdoor poses with no problem. The “art” and “reading” poses were easy to plan and we agreed on a few props that I would provide. Under “sport” I explained that I had ran cross country for two years but it wasn’t anything recent and I felt odd claiming that as a non-participating senior. I also mentioned that I had played golf with my father a few times but didn’t really enjoy it. We jotted down a few ideas that seemed like winners. For “swing choir” I didn’t need to explain because Mr. Delgado knew about our school’s award-winning group. I did, however, have to explain the bridge and my desire to have at least one kind of “artsy” pose.

And just as we finished going over my notions, Mr. Delgado’s eyes grew wide and he blurted out, “could you pull yourself together for pictures by Saturday morning?” I was a bit shocked but told him “sure.” He gave me a card with an address on the “nice” side of town and told me to give him between two-and-a-half and three hours and we could “knock it out of the park.” I was excited but nervous because of the time.

Mr. Delgado … maybe I should scale back because I want to keep the price under control. My parents …“

put his hand on my shoulder. “Son,” he countered. “We’ll make this work.”

So at around 9 a.m. on Saturday, I pulled into a sprawling, tree-lined lot with a fairly modern looking single story home. The mailbox said “The Wellingtons,” which meant nothing to me. Mr. Delgado was in the driveway and escorted me inside. He explained that the Wellingtons were good friends of him and his wife, and that they were out of town for the weekend and had no problem with us using their home for a few photos.

We lugged my props into the entry way and then I was shown to a small guest bathroom where I changed into my “formal wear” and checked my hair and stuff. When I came out, Mr. Delgado fussed with me a bit, straightening my tie and running a lint brush over me. We moved into the living room area where Mr. Delgado had set up some lights and diffusers near a wall boasting a huge weaving showing coarse vertical bands of ecru, tan, and ochre. He had me work through a variety of stand poses before he clicked off the lights and ushered me outside into the Wellington's spacious and enclosed backyard. Several types of summer foliage were in bloom and Mr. Delgado used these as artful backdrops. The Wellingtons also had a rock garden alcove and I sat on a granite chunk for a few more pics. Formal ... check.

Mr. Delgado was very pleased with how well I took directions and he said we would be finished up “here” in no time. I wondered what he meant exactly when he scooted me inside to change into my jeans and casual pullover. Once dressed, we used a study in the home’s small office/library to shoot a few frames of me reading my all-time favorite book … Ursula LeGuin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea.” Reading … check.

Then Mr. Delgado surprised me when he threw me an old denim shirt. It was a little too long and covered with paint like it was used when doing chores, but I shrugged into it. “Just see if this works for you,” he said with a wink. We set up my easel complete with a large blank canvas for effect. I retrieved a few brushes from my art kit and removed my palette from a garbage bag. Mr. Delgado moved over his lights and took a couple of readings. He explained that he wanted to create some harsh shadows. I trusted his skills so I just nodded and did as I was told. As the photographer moved around me to try and get a moody portrait of an “artist at work,” his frown told me that he wasn’t happy with the set up. Suddenly he asked me if I had actual paints in my kit. “Yeah,” I said and that led to the man actually smearing small dabs of paint on my face and then he took more shots with much greater gusto. Art … check.

Once this scene was done, Mr. Delgado asked if I had any more clothing changes planned. I told him yes so he dismissed me and sent me into the restroom to wipe off my face and alter my attire. It didn’t take me long but I could tell the photog was slightly surprised when I emerged in cargo shorts, a t-shirt layered under a burgundy striped oxford, high tops, and spiked hair. I had also put in my earring and put on two chokers I almost always wear. “This is how I dress,” I explained firmly. “I figured since I am paying for part of this that I should look like ME.” He just gave me a resigned smile and directed me to follow him.

We exited the home proper through the kitchen into a well-lit garage. There, standing near a bluish gray wall, stood a recording microphone from like the '30s. "It's a prop from a community theatre play that I had stored at the studio. I thought you might like to try a few poses with it and we'll see how they turn out." Mr. Delgado also handed me a pair or matte gray headphones. They did't look exactly like recording studio equipment, but the neon yellow accents on them were really cool. I aped a few rocker poses and even did the "cupping your ears for the high note" pose. Through the headphone padding I'm sure I heard the photographer's muffled laughter. Swing choir ... check.

helped Mr. Delgado load the microphone into his Jeep Cherokee before we headed back into the Wellington’s yard. The photographer directed me back over toward the rock garden and I noticed for the first time the slightly Asian-looking red footbridge and a koi pond. Mr. Delgado suggested I take off my shoes and dangle my feet in the water. “George and Maggie haven’t had any fish in there for years,” he explained when he saw my reluctance. Mr. Delgado certainly was imaginative. He took shots of me from several angles, even from up and behind me. He never had me look at the camera and I hoped his artistic flair and forced perspectives would look cool. Bridge … check.

We broke down the lighting equipment inside and did a quick check of the library and bathroom to see that everything was in order. When we stood outside beside my old beater, I checked my watch and was amazed that it was only 10:40.

I was about to ask when he thought I could see proofs when Mr. Delgado asked if I had enough time for one quick stop. I assured him I had set aside the entire morning. He grinned and told me to follow him to Twilight Lanes, the local bowling alley. About 15 minutes later we were inside the lanes and shaking hands with the manager. Mr. Delgado explained that he had asked if we could spend a few minutes over in the far corner lane before business picked up for the day. The manager … a dude named Loren … was a buddy of his and said it wouldn’t be a problem. He even turned the overheads on over the back alleys so Mr. Delgado didn’t need any extra lights. I grabbed a blue-swirled ball and met the photographer on lane 22. He positioned himself to my left about a third of the way down lane 21 and had me throw about 10 balls. For the last three he closed the distance by half.

I felt like I was in a professional model shoot; my mind was filled with ideas I wished we had tried at the Wellingtons. Damn, I wish I would have climbed up into that treehouse, I thought. So I think Mr. Delgado was both surprised and pleased when I asked him if we could just take a few shots at one of the nearby pool tables because I loved shooting pool. Sport … check.

Long story short … I went with the outdoor formal pose for my yearbook shot and 8” X 10”s. And the art pose with paint smears and the dangling feet in the pond pose made it to 5” X 7”s and wallets. The shooting pool pose … a close-up with my face and a cue close to the felt … was awesome, but I liked the others better. The reading, singing, and bowling poses were fine too, but my family and I agreed that the other ones were better choices.

And Mr. Delgado was the most awesome prize of all. He offered to give me the whole package as planned for $220 dollars if he could use my proofs for promotional purposes. And when I picked up all my prints, he had made a 5” X 7” and a set of wallets (50) of the pool pose I liked so much for free!! I think it was the one picture that all my friends wanted too.

So back to my nephew. I ended up taking his yearbook photo. We picked out an awesome shirt and tie and then went to a nearby bookstore that has all these interesting nooks and alcoves. We took pics in about 10 locations and ended up with some truly good shots.

I also sat down with my oldest brother’s son and we created a plan. He isn’t a football star or a pet owner, but he does love rock climbing walls and taking care of his used car … his baby! So I suggested the climbing wall at a big sports complex in Columbus and maybe simple pictures of him checking his oil or washing the car or even gassing it up. I also suggested some shots of him playing with his Xbox and maybe some outdoor shots at a nearby playland on the jungle gyms or curly slides. There’s even a carousel nearby, but he thought that sounded “girly.”

“What about me with a guitar?” he suggested.

“But you don’t play guitar.”

“Who cares … it’s cool!”

POINT OF RANT: Why do I bother?

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