She was a jovial 18-year old with braces and skin that during that most delicate stage of our life presents the most problems. When she contacted me now, years later, about wanted to be photographed, I remembered her beaming face right away.
"How old is she now?" I wondered, "she must be around 25". So much time has passed since we used to see each other every day at the language school where she used to study and I used to work.
Karen was eager to be photographed as soon as possible so we scheduled her photoshoot for the following weekend. I asked Karen if she would be interested in participating in a little experiment in which my dear friend and a talented stylist and fashion blogger Sunnie Bell (check out her amazing work on www.sunniebell.com) would do the makeup and styling for the photoshoot, and I would photograph, of course. Karen agreed to participate in our experiment, which I thought was brave. Having control issues myself (which I am slowly overcoming :)), I think it is very brave to allow someone to dress you and make you up. Of course, Karen and Sunnie talked to each other prior to the shoot, but Karen was just so completely unattached and went along with every idea that we had.
"Would you be interested in doing a Goddess Reading?", I text Karen at 11 pm at night as we try to figure out a theme for her photos.
"Sounds like fun", she replies.
Goddess reading for this photoshoot was provided by Kimberly Moore of http://shaktiwomyn.com. Kimberly offers readings and teaches a variety of courses on spirituality, which makes her a very busy woman, and we were lucky to catch Kimberly for an over the phone goddess reading the following day, which was great because it gave us enough time to plan for the photoshoot which was now days away.
The intuitive goddess reading revealed that Karen's goddess was Saraswati, a Hindu goddess of knowledge and the arts. To become fully aware of her one must go beyond the pleasures of the senses and rejoice in the serenity of the spirit. Schools and libraries are her temples; books, pens, all tools of the artist and musical instruments are the symbols associated with her. Saraswati's colors are white (as a symbol of purity), yellow, and blue (associated with the throat/communication chakra). Saraswati is often portrayed riding a swan and another bird that is associated with her is a peacock. Saraswati is a goddess of wisdom and creativity. Kimberly provided us with a wealth of information on this goddess and Karen diligently studied it. (If you are curious about this and other goddesses, you might want to take a look at the website above as well as www.motherhouseofthegoddess.com)
Since Saraswati is a goddess of wisdom, the first idea that came to mind was to photograph in a library. but then an even more brilliant idea that our three-goddess team approved was to shoot in a very authentic used bookstore called Bookwise. (I also learned that in order to photograph in a library one must apply for a permit with the city, whereas things were much more easily arranged at the bookstore - a sincere heartfelt request and our wish was granted. Thank you, again, to Bookwise for giving us the opportunity to photograph there!)
The second part of the shoot was done near a lake (right next to the Spanish River Library, actually!) Goddess Photoshoots are often done in a nature setting, and, as you will see from the photos, there is something magical that happens when one connects with nature.
The stylist, Sunnie Bell, used the information about the colors and symbols of the goddess to choose the outfits for her. It is important to remember that Sunnie was looking at the goddess through the prism of her art - fashion - and had an objective of putting a modern twist on the goddess outfit. If we had wanted to go with the traditional look, we could have just clad our model in a white dress and be done with it. Just like in some statues Saraswati is portrayed with her breasts bare, which was acceptable for that time, Sunnie Bell wanted to depict the goddess' attire in a modern setting. The styling was inspired by the goddess reading, but by no means prescribed by it.
For the bookstore part of the photoshoot Karen was dressed in blue shorts, white top, fancy green shoes and blue knee-high socks (my favorite! as soon as I work up the nerve to wear knee-high socks, I will do it! I think they look so cool and remind me of my childhood :)) For all the details of Karen's outfit, please check out Sunnie Bell's blog www.sunniebell.com.
When visualizing this part of the shoot, in the bookstore, I was aiming for a fashion photography look so I asked Karen to pose accordingly (as you may notice, it is very different from the usual posing in my Goddess Photoshoots. Karen's super long legs look even longer because of the lens that I used for the shot where she is sitting on the floor, and, perhaps, the fact that the shorts are sitting on her waist visually lengthens her long legs even more. One thing I can swear is that I did not make her legs longer in Photoshop!
Bookwise is the most charming bookstore and we could have photographed there all night. Once we realized that the store had officially closed and the staff was staying just because of us, we promptly collected our things and dashed out. We still had to catch the last rays of light by the lake, to where we headed next.
Sunnie retouched the makeup on Karen, who by then had already changed into a blue dress. Her hair was also put into two thin braids that were tied in the back of her head and adorned with two peacock feathers, the symbols of the goddess. Sunnie created a necklace out of a yellow leather cord and a round medallion with a tree on it (both purchased at Hobby Lobby prior to the shoot). Sunnie said chokers were in vogue again and that she saw at a couture show how the ends were not tied. We believed her and obediently went along with this improvised choker. It had a double symbolism for me since this Goddess is associated with the throat chakra, and the medallion on the choker had a tree on it, a symbol of growth. (And I think I will try out this type of necklace for myself, since it is so effortless to make and looks so cool.)
"What is that moving in the water? Do they have alligators here?" Karen asked as we were photographing near the lake.
"Nooooo. There are no alligators here", I pacified her. "Why don't you swing your arms wide and twirl, as if you are dancing", I suggested quickly to switch her attention.
We played by the lake, Karen danced, and when we were about to leave, there was a giant pink cloud in the sky, reflecting the light of the setting sun.
"That's a wrap", I said, as I had seen it done on TV.
"We didn't have a chance to do the photos of my back", Karen reminded me politely.
The photo of the tattoo on her back was one of the important shots that I definitely wanted to take - I even sent Karen a photo, an idea of how I envisioned it when she revealed to me that she had gotten a tattoo a week prior to talking about the photoshoot.
"I am so glad you reminded me!", I exclaimed, slightly embarrassed but thankful that she brought it up. Because if she hadn't, and I remembered about it when I got home, I would have kicked myself. We ran to the car, changed in two seconds and ran back to the lake. There was a strong pull to get back home to our babies (after two hours of being away from them, both Sunnie and I start missing them like crazy) and to husbands, who were left on Daddy duty, and to whom it was promised that we would be back in a couple of hours (yeah, right!) But the artistic drive was strong and the goddess was waiting for us, so we had to work super fast.
"Why did you get a tattoo of a lotus?" I asked Karen before the photoshoot, when we were waiting for Sunnie to start doing her makeup.
"Because it symbolizes enlightenment", she explained.
Then we started talking about our spiritual journeys and she told to me that she was going to an ashram one week and one day after our Goddess Photoshoot. I envied her and was so happy for her at the same time. My first encounter with the word and concept of ashram was in the book "Eat. Pray. Love", and I had always wanted to go to one. Or at least to a silent retreat. Karen was the youngest person I met who was on her path to enlightenment so early in life. Good for her!
The sun was long gone and the sky was dark as we ran back to the lake to take that last photograph. Sunnie held the flash with a FlashBender (I LOVE their products!), I took a few shots and one of our most favorite images was from this part of the shoot.
"I have a confession to make", I said nervously looking at the water, when I saw that the girls had already left the grassy area by the water and were stepping onto the paved walkway. "There ARE alligators here. I have seen one and I have a story about it."
"I can't believe you didn't tell us there were alligators here!" they shrieked and kind of reprimanded me.
If I had told them there were alligators there, Karen wouldn't have been able to relax. In addition to that, I had seen it with my eyes before and it was small and the people who work in the library had explained that these alligators don't go around attacking people. And I was watching the water the entire time. I told the girls about it and the begged, "Tell us the story!"
"Ok, one time I had a dream... I saw my mom through a sliding glass door as she was sitting outside near water with one of my daughters, while the second one was also supposedly outside. Then I suddenly saw an alligator in the water and I screamed for my mom to get the girls back inside as soon as possible. When I woke up, I was under the impression of that dream for quite some time, as you can imagine. That same day, my youngest daughter and I went to the doctor and on the way back I decided to give us a treat and take us for a stroll, right here, where our family liked to walk. I park the car, put her in the stroller, start walking. As I daydream, I see a neon green lizard rush to the grass near the lake (you can always see animals that you don't see often; once I saw an otter here and twice a snake) I remember about my dream. As I wonder if it was one of those dreams predicting something, I see a sign that was not there before: "Warning! Alligators may be present." Can you imagine? Needless to say, I jogged to my car, my heart racing, promising to find another place for our strolls."
Our goddess party adjourned that night, tired but with a great sense of accomplishment. All three of us (plus my oldest daughter) met again exactly one week later at a Starbucks for the presentation of the final prints and digital photos. All excited about the job well done we high fived each other. I was concerned that the staff of the coffee shop would ask us to leave because we were talking so loudly and excitedly, interjecting our conversation with a lot of "oh my god!", and "I love this one!" as we were going through the pictures and remembered all the funny moments.
And while looking at the prints for the second or third time, Karen laughed,
"Look at these photos. It is not me in these photos, it's the Goddess. She definitely manifested herself."
You definitely want to check out the video below, it contains some of our behind the scenes silliness. And though the video itself might not be perfect, I will try to do a little better next time - videography is new to me and I am learning :)