In honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to post about two of my most favorite photographers. These ladies have been influential in shaping my venture into documentary photography, and I’m thankful both for their talent and their willingness to share with others.
When I was just getting started as a photographer I joined the Schenectady Photographic Society (SPS), which meets weekly in a church in downtown Schenectady, NY. I was lucky to find a group of real-life, actual photographers who were happy to be mentors and share their photography knowledge with me. SPS had a speaker night once a month, when they would invite local photographers to come share their enthusiasm and expertise on a wide range of topics. That’s how I met Emma Dodge Hanson. She came to share her thoughts on making portraits that tell stories. I loved her talk, her images, her ideas, and her authoritative yet humble way of talking about documentary photography. She shared images from her own personal projects, ones that she had taken for families with very ill children. Her ideas were so different from the typical “family portrait” photographers that I was used to – it was like she was opening a new door to a world of photography that was meaningful, difficult, and worth exploring.
Twice a month SPS invited local photographers to come act as “judges” for their print and projected competitions. Emma came as a judge later that year and I was able to learn from her thought processes while she critiqued the competition entries. I wrote down her phrases. “It’s not your art.” “That’s a soccer mom snap shot.” “Don’t use Photoshop as a crutch.” “At the end of the day you have to have a good subject (not a sneaker).” I thought about her comments and let them push my own work forward.
Much later, years later in fact, I somehow stumbled upon Kirsten Lewis. I probably googled “Family Documentary Photographer.” Kirsten is the guru of family documentary photography sessions. She created “Day in the Life” Sessions where she stays with a family for 24 hours to document their life. She’s taught three Creative Live classes on family documentary photography. I’ve loved learning from her. She has pushed my work forward – she taught me about back button focus, about finding action and a moment, and about finding purpose while photographing family moments. She shared her tips and business ideas too in her last Creative Live class, and made it seem possible to do what I love for people who want what I do.