Discovering Environmental Portraiture: it already exists where you are

After I hit reply to my email thread with studio artist Tony Astone I re-read my response: "Don't worry about a thing, I'll make sure to bring my wide angle lens." He warned me about the size of the artwork (huge) and wanted to make sure it would work for our upcoming portrait session together. 

When I got to Tony's apartment in Somerville, MA, I walked in and was shocked: Lining the kitchen walls and all the hallways were 6+ feet canvasses. He wasn't lyin' about the sheer size of his art work. Luckily our photoshoot wasn’t a “copy photo session” (meaning the photographing of his paintings with even lighting, usually for portfolio reasons) but an individual lifestyle shoot to capture an environmental portrait for Tony’s recent achievement of being Somerville Arts Council Artist of the month. Before each shoot I always ask myself “what should be the backdrop of this environmental portrait?”, and within one second of walking into Tony’s kitchen I knew the paintings were the environment and perfect backdrop. So we photographed in front of them, gabbing the whole time over our shared love of American artist Cindy Sherman and my suggestions to channel his inner Dominic Chianese (The Godfather, The Sopranos). Tony easily and quickly relaxed with this suggestion, one hand on his kitchen windowsill, while his city-slicker cat, Zamboni, looked on. Zamboni is a black and white indoor-outdoor cat and is well known in the community and as friendly as his owner. But Tony has an intellectually charged deeper side in his artwork: the paintings are fantastically grotesque filled with brutal realities and metaphor. These paintings are fiery, political, sharp, honest, playful, and refreshing all in one colorful breath of a view. After our hour-long shoot together I asked myself: What makes a person dig this far into the depths of their creativity?

Tony’s latest politically charged oil painting lined an entire wall of his bedroom. In bold primary colors with comic book sensibility, I witnessed a painting of young children playing within a murderous scene in a classroom. This painting was intense - with a tension between playful and terrifying. The bold red color of the blood jumped out at me because it matched the same hue of red as the leather chair Tony sat on front of it. On a lighter note, Tony had amazing dark Italian hair with one strand that fell over his forehead, which I called “the Uncle Jesse strand” and we laughed and agreed John Stamos is a dream boat.

Tony’s sketchbook was another great element of discovery from the shoot. He opened the large black-bound book and with a tinge of vulnerability began showing me some of the most intricate sketches I’ve ever seen in a sketchbook. With tight line work and precise use of minuscule dots each drawing looked like a polished rendering. This is where his brainstorming occurs. After politely and directly telling me about the process I learned how Tony would spend months prepping each painting, sometimes laying them out in Photoshop, often changing the concept at the last minute, then spending hours (even days!) with a brush rendering them to a large scale.

Perhaps it was Tony’s schooling from Rhode Island School of Design, or the impressive amount of time he puts into his studio practice, but this work is impactful and liberating. It was an amazing photographic experience to witness an example of an artist who leaves behind no “should-haves” in his life. I highly recommend you see the paintings in person because they’ll swallow you in and spit you out covered in goopy insight.

If you’d like to see more of his work you can visit his website and read the full artist interview here. 

Boston Business Feature: styled photo shoot with Central Square Florist

For the last two months, I’ve been texting back and forth with Jackie of Central Square Florist in Cambridge, MA, designing a styled photo shoot. We initially met at a coffee shop with the idea to have this photo shoot and agreed on the theme of “casual outing”. From there we extended the collaboration to model/style & fashion blogger Victoria Hathaway and talented makeup artist Sydney Tess. The shoot would be in the beautiful setting of local business Cafe Luna and the surrounding Central Square community.

There were a lot of voices and styles that needed to come together for the shoot to be successful and working with Jackie to achieve our perfect vision had to be calculated. Our biggest challenge was giving each variable the attention it deserved.

Flowers by Central Square Florist

Flowers by Central Square Florist

The photo shoot happily fell on a Thursday night, one of the first warm days of spring. Jackie and I walked from her storefront to Cafe Luna holding boxes of succulents, a colorful arrangement, and a bouquet that was bursting to life with orange and purple hues. We chatted on the way to Cafe Luna, our first stop of the evening. As we peeked through the giant garage-sized windows, we saw the shop slowly simmering in the aftermath of a busy day. We walked through the doors, noticing the golden yellow walls and the table settings with white paper placemats and crayons available for coloring.

The staff was smiling and offered us beautifully plated dishes and the perfect cup of joe, complete with a rosette swirl on top. We began shooting still lifes of the glorious flowers and the magical looking plates, with Jackie working as an art director for different positioning. She is incredibly decisive and I adored working with her because of this.

Victoria’s makeup was minimal and gorgeous, the beautiful artwork of expert Sydney. She carried a huge travel bag filled with outfit options, still warm from their car ride from Rhode Island. I reacted quickly and instinctively to her outfit options, and Jackie stepped in to have the final say on which outfits would work best with her flowers’ color palettes.

After 30 minutes of photographing shots of Victoria sipping on a cup of perfectly prepared cappuccino (everyone enjoyed several during the shoot - not a problem in my opinion!) we began to wander outdoors.

One of my favorite spots was Modica Way, a public walkway in Central Square connecting City Parking Lot 5 to Massachusetts Avenue. Modica Way is completely covered in artist’s graffiti, an absolute must-see for anyone in Cambridge. Victoria and I share a love of street art, so this environment totally fit our styles. Victoria wore an all black jumper and held a single gorgeous sunflower, an excellent suggestion from Jackie.

With any on-location urban shoot, there is the challenge of dealing with passersby and looky-loos. But Victoria displayed an admirable confidence as we got lost in the alleys. She allowed me to “do my thing”, sporadically and playfully halting her mid-walk to snap a photograph or asking her to shake her hair wildly. Even though the street bustled with activity, Victoria was comfortable and didn’t hesitate when I asked her to chomp down on the sunflower stem with her teeth. We floated our way through the city streets and the results are saucy. Thanks to everyone who made this styled shoot so fantastic!

The team:

Flowers/Plants: @centralsquareflorist | www.centralsquareflorist.com

Model: @veehathaway | www.thestylegurudotnet.wordpress.com

Makeup Artist :@sydneytess_sydneytess@gmail.com

Interior Location: @cafelunacentral | www.cafeluna-centralsq.com

Outdoor Location: Modica Way (#modicaway)

All photography: @dakotalenoxphoto

 

Local Feature: Inspiration From Master Tinker-er, Jeffrey Warren

Jeffrey Warren, co-founder of Public Lab

Jeffrey Warren, co-founder of Public Lab

Artist Jeffrey Warren and I had only corresponded on email and had never met prior to his portrait photo shoot in Somerville, MA. I wasn't sure what to expect; I didn't know his age, projects, style, etc. But immediately upon meeting his warm smile, talkative and robust personality, and wired brain, I knew he'd be exciting to work with. I mean, he does share an office space with children all day, and their playfulness was rubbing off on him.

Jeffrey Warren is a co-founder of Public Lab, an open community and non-profit investigating environmental concerns. Jeffrey was recently featured as the Somerville Arts Council Artist of the Month, and we spent a Wednesday afternoon shooting some primo portraits.

I arrived with my camera backpack ready for action. We met at his office building, weaving our way through the toy-filled corridors of Parts & Crafts, a member-supported family makerspace and community workshop in Somerville. As we passed a small spinning kid, Jeffrey shared a nice "what's up?" and a high five. Jeffrey turned to me laughing, and told stories of the kiddo's pressing their luck while balancing on chairs in the facility. He's begun to take count of the risk-taker's failures on a white board in his office.

Somerville's Artist of the Month, April 2016

Somerville's Artist of the Month, April 2016

Jeffrey's office was filled with boxes and papers, reflective of the numerous ideas that flow through his head. I began to photograph while he enthusiastically showed me various small mechanisms he'd built, including a "Papercraft Spectrometer" for Public Lab. His face lit up with rainbow light as he tested his most recent project, "Spectagram Records", a project combining CDs and vinyl records (too friggin' cool, see below!). I'm known for my spontaneous shooting style so after he mentioned his new purple commuter bicycle, I had to get some pictures. We wandered around outside and, on the beautiful streets of Somerville, shot portraits next to his trusty 2-wheeled, metal steed. When the shoot was wrapping up, we walked back through the halls and I noticed some incredible skylights above beaming in.

"We have to shoot here," I exclaimed. "You'll look like a rad villain!"

The whole photo shoot took about an hour, and Jeffrey was extremely comfortable to be around and photograph. Also, did I mention his shoes paired with orange socks?! Dude's got style. I'm thankful to have met Jeffrey and observe his curiosity and bright, youthful attitude that effortlessly compliments his casual personality and impressive crafter/builder artistry. Jeffrey Warren is the artist to follow so keep an eye on this fella'!

To read more about Jeffrey Warren, visit the full interview here: http://www.somervilleartscouncil.org/artistmonth/warren

I Did A Boudoir Shoot So You Don't Have To : How modeling helped me understand all your feels.

Here I was. Half naked in the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge, MA, getting coaxed into sticking a hotel sliding closet door between my buttcheeks, thinking to myself that I should have had more wine before leaving my house. All I hear is: "“Eyes towards the camera, part your lips slightly, ohh yeah. That’s goooood.”

This whole thing is a covert operation. I self-tasked myself to book a boudoir photo shoot, costume up for the event in “negligees”, and put myself through an entire boudoir experience with a quantity-over-quality boudoir Boston photography company.  

That’s right, the photographer becomes the photograph-ee.

I didn't purchase any final photograph files so my partner, Ty, interpreted my boudoir images for you as post-it doodles. (All rights reserved to the artist)

I didn't purchase any final photograph files so my partner, Ty, interpreted my boudoir images for you as post-it doodles. (All rights reserved to the artist)

Before you hate my sneakiness please know I did it out of love! Often, when I suggest boudoir photography to someone I get weird looks anywhere from a distorted face of disgust or a quick dismissal of the idea because “that’s not for me”. So, instead of trying to sell the experience from a photographers stand point (I get to stay cozy, warm and clothed during your boudoir shoots) I wanted to fully understand what my clients are going though. Plus, it may end up being a little fun.

Before the shoot the boudoir company emailed a PDF document highlighting all their “add-on services”, which I found out means retouching EVERYTHING, including many items I wasn't concerned about until reading their list: Cellulite - $45, acne - $25, hair flyaways - $30, scars - $50. The company introduced me to their services by listing a potential slew of “faults” making me insecure about NOT being insecure about these things. Let’s not forget about hair and makeup, which the company recommended “Wear extra makeup for the camera”. I’ve heard this before, and no. Just no. If you're into that type of thing and want to get your makeup done, awesome. Hell, I’ve helped my clients have fun with makeup during shoots because I’ve been a makeup artist for years and I respect it as an art form. But it should never conceal, just reveal. Don’t ask me to pack it on.

All of these things conflict with my personal beliefs. In my practice if you fully understand your lighting, retouching should be nothing or extremely limited. Don't ever set up anyone for failure or flaws.


At 7pm I walked in from the dark winter night to the hotel lobby carrying a plastic Market Basket bag of wadded lingerie. I didn’t go shopping for anything new, despite the boudoir’s spokesperson assuring me that “all women love the preparation part of their photoshoots”. Nah, I'll pass. My hair was clean, exactly the goal I was aiming for. I’ve got a busy schedule and a red poof of curls on my head doing what they want. This was me-ish: trying the bare minimum on the surface while maintaining my gusto-filled personality on the inside.

The Hotel Marlowe has a beautiful lobby with gold walls and jewel-toned accents.  I clenched my plastic grocery bag as I over-relaxingly strolled by the front desk to the elevators wondering if anyone could see my wads of lace, quietly judging me as I passed. I texted my photographer and she answered, “Room 502, I’ll meet you at the room door.”

After ringing the bell to room 502 my photographer answered the door smiling. She was a blonde woman a bit shorter than me and wore a comfy sweater dress with knee high boots over teal tights. She invited me into the room and jokingly apologized for the bags under her eyes saying that it’s been a long day.

“How many clients have you had today?” I asked.

“Eight." She Huffed, "and you're the last one for the night!” 

I looked around the room, two softbox lights were set up in the divided suite - one in the living room area and the other in the bedroom area. The rooms were divided by a sliding door. My thoughts started racing. How many buttcheeks have been on this door today? Or this chair? Or the bed? The answer was at least sixteen buttcheeks. Did she sanitize after each client? I wish I was doing this at my home where I know where everyone’s buttcheeks have been… Yeesh.

How many buttcheeks have been on this door today? Or this chair? Or the bed?   (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

How many buttcheeks have been on this door today? Or this chair? Or the bed? (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

The photographer showed me to the bathroom and directed me to change into my first outfit out of the four allowed. I shut the door and thought about how weird it’s going to be when I stagger out uncomfortably in heels and underwear. For my own boudoir clients, we start with clothes on because my clients are participants the whole time: we work collaboratively from the beginning. I believe it’s about the journey and the comfortable stimulation happening during the process, not “TAKE IT OFF” right away. 

Stepping out of the bathroom covering myself and shivering in front of this stranger the awkward session began instantly. Other than the small talk about how tired the photographer is we didn't say much to each other. I’m standing in my skivvies and wasn’t asked anything about myself. Not what the session objective was, not what I think is sexy, or what my partner thinks is sexy about me, or how I preferred to be called “Jackie” instead of “Jaclyn”. There was no music and the silence made me start to yawn and drift away...

I started thinking about my own boudoir shoots. As a photographer, I need to know the person intimately to give them any truth with their portrait. For example, to begin sometimes I'll ask about their favorite celebrity and how we can channel them together. Then we'll talk about their feelings and most sexy attribute (mine is my clavicle), perhaps what their partner thinks is their sexiest attribute and how to portray it tastefully. I always strive to offer people my coined phrase, “familiar sexy”: the look only you or your partner truly sees and celebrates in you. Personally, my favorite trait on anyone is their laugh. I like loud laughs and relaxing grins because they trump uncomfortable “sex kitten” expressions (whatever those are) any day. 

“stick your booty out, Jaclyn”. (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

“stick your booty out, Jaclyn”. (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

The whole shoot lasted an hour. A cold, music-less, connection-less hour. The photographer kept telling me “to open my lips.”  She recommended textbook poses like “point your toes”, and said the words “now let’s do a closeup of your boobs” (I KNOW!), and despite my complete discomfort on so many levels, “stick your booty out, Jaclyn”. I didn't know who’s gaze this was for but it certainly wasn’t for mine or my partner’s.

I couldn't stop yawning. She never fully bothered to understand my comfort level of my body and missed the opportunity to treat the photographs with thoughtful and creative respect. Posing needs to happen strategically and artistically, everything is for the individual and out of love. Boudoir shoots are a complete luxury and this felt like a desperate bootcamp. The distance between me and my boudoir photographer left me feeling embarrassed and frustrated I had spent an hour without a voice in a vulnerable position. 

A week later, the photos were ready to view. Before my viewing session the spokesperson once again presented a price sheet with every retouching option, annoyingly priming me for insecurity. As my partner and I looked at the photographs I quickly realized this was not me. This was an open-lipped awkward woman photographed while being completely uncomfortable. The lighting was harsh and blasted. The poses didn't fit my body. I looked bored as I followed *her* idea of "sex kitten". This wasn’t my sexy.


The poses didn't fit my body. I looked bored as I followed *her* idea of "sex kitten". This wasn’t my sexy. (   All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

The poses didn't fit my body. I looked bored as I followed *her* idea of "sex kitten". This wasn’t my sexy. (All rights reserved to the doodle artist)

I have to face the facts that this company's business philosophy is quantity over quality and not everyone shoots this way, but there are more out there with this model. If you’ve had a rough past boudoir experience like mine without ever processing why something felt “off”, it’s most likely because raunchiness and disconnection has been created and you do not need to be shot in this way. Different photographers have different takes on boudoir.


Don't be discouraged from reading all this because I’m proud of you for having an interest in boudoir photography! DO IT!  Your curiosity in being photographed means you want to find a new side to yourself, possibly changing and metamorphosing, embracing your sexuality, and improving your ability to project yourself in the world. We are all allowed to be sexy, funny and attractive. What do we find attractive in ourselves? What does it mean to truly “feel natural”? Why are familiar moments in the present so damn sexy? To be in the moment is a gift in front of the camera. Your next steps are to find a photographer you trust, that makes you laugh, has the gift of putting you at ease, and whose imagery you love enough to take you on this journey. Talk with them before hand. See if they are listening to you because your sexuality and confidence is sacred. At the end of the day, YOU have to love the artwork and love HOW you want to be seen.

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