Come As You Are [creating an authentic portrait under-cover!]

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If you haven’t seen the movie American Hustle yet – go now. Stop reading this blog and get in line at your nearest theater. You can read this later.

But if you’ve already seen it, I hope you were as equally blown away as I was by the depth of these characters, beneath their 70’s clothing, hyper coiffed hair, intimidating sunglasses, and occasional fake accents. Without giving away the story [I promise I wont!] there is a scene in which the character played by the brilliant actress Amy Adams makes a strong argument to a  critical FBI agent that we all use some kind of ‘cover’ in life, and it’s not such a bad thing. In fact in her particular case it was a survival mechanism as well as opened up a few opportunities she may not have normally had – including love.

[OK, I promise my lips are sealed about this film for the rest of this blog! And I hope you have at least gone on to Fandango by now to buy tickets.]

I recently had another under-cover experience in my world of portrait photography with a wonderfully bright and fashion conscious 13 year old girl, Betsy, who I’ve known for a very long time. I was not too surprised when her mother called to schedule a photo shoot with me, and asked me what I thought about Betsy wanting [more like insisting] on wearing a much loved and worn Harry Potter costume she has owned for many years. She is, and always has been  CRAZY about anything Harry Potter – smart girl that she is. That fantastic story resonated with Betsy’s childhood years so profoundly that she seizes every opportunity to don her signature replica H.P. quidditch cape. [And if you don’t know what quidditch is, stop reading this blog right now, and  go to your nearest library….wait, never mind!] My point is, what better opportunity than having a portrait taken  for Betsy to pull out the cape. In a way, it’s her “cover.” And more importantly, it is her wise and authentic self demanding to be documented. What a great opportunity she saw.

My response was, “Of course I think she should wear it. Every day if possible. But seriously, yes, definitely tell her to bring all her Harry Potter ‘gear’ and any extra stuff I might want to wear!”

Ahhhh, if only all photo shoots could play out out so well. As a picky portrait photographer, my biggest desire is to capture something deep and real about a person. This week, Betsy, along with Amy Adams have taught me that a clever “cover” may not only be the ticket to the kind of honest portraiture I love to create – it seems fairly essential when involved in an FBI sting operation.

Darn’t, I’m trying not to give that plot away! Well, hopefully you have driven to the theater by now and are already in line.

Behind the Curtain


If you took me to a magic show, I would believe everything I see to be the honest-to-god truth. I would never suspect the guy who is randomly chosen out of the audience and quickly hypnotized on stage to be a plant, and that he’s “acting” as though he’s falling down drunk or speaking in a foreign language. These things would not cross my mind. And after the magician wakes him out of his unconscious state with a well rehearsed snap of the fingers, the guy swears he has never before spoken Hebrew in his lifetime. And if you don’t believe him,  ask his wife sitting in the audience – he’d never even left the Iowa state boarder! I would applaud for a bit too long after the show and assume the hypnotist was some kind of genius.

So, when my computer broke down last week and my excitable IT husband dismantled it within an hour, spreading hundreds of tiny electronic parts across the dining room table, it came to no one’s surprise that I was not the least bit interested in the details of how it was all going to be put back together. I was completely confident in the magician at hand. Gregg would somehow wave a bright colored handkerchief over the heap of metal pieces, a sudden cloud of smoke would blind us all for a few minutes, and we might even catch a white rabbit hopping across the kitchen floor just within peripheral vision. And presto, the computer would be fixed and in one piece again!

In reality, it took a week. No smoke. No bunnies. I overheard countless phone calls to Best Buy Geek Squads, and devoted Mac store employees. Terms like adding terabytes and replacing memory boards were discussed. Hard sells were attempted, and outright laughter at trying to fix a “relic” could be heard through the receiver. In more hushed tones, I overheard the phrase “could be the motherboard” – followed by a long pause. I sensed this is something that  should never again be mentioned, even with immediate family members.

But finally, my husband did in fact work some magic. And if you didn’t witness the week long process involved with the repair and simply popped over once it was all put back together again and working faster than ever, well….you might just think Gregg is a magician. Because you didn’t see the process ‘behind the curtain.’  You saw the finished result of someone who is highly trained and, as stated earlier, someone who gets very excited about broken stuff.

As I most gratefully sit down to edit some photos tonight, I think for a second, “Did Gregg just say goodnight wearing a black cape?”

I rub my eyes and don’t doubt any of it.