For many women, the evolution of becoming a mother is intense and complex. I know, for myself, I felt awash in a sea of gratitude for my daughter and simultaneously ashamed of what I perceived as the “physical toll” the pregnancy and childbirth had taken on my body. For the year following her birth, I reflexively avoided looking at myself in the mirror because I was terrified to acknowledge any physical changes, and to consider their permanence. Our cultural conversation around the postpartum body can be understood as a simple question- did she or didn’t she “snap back?”
This question is so formidable because of the embedded implication. If a women hasn’t “snapped back” then the alternative, it suggests, is she “let herself go.” A phrase that calls to mind the euthanasia of a pet. Her value, in this category, dead.
For me, appearing in photographs, albeit reluctantly (is there any better place to hide than behind a camera?) is a form of seeing myself anew. A beautiful photograph gives me the opportunity to see that yes, I am changed, but also contain a new, womanly beauty where there was simple girlishness before.
I have a plan. It’s like a boudoir session, but rather than being photographs of brides for grooms it will be photographs of mothers to gift to themselves. The session focus is the woman’s feminine, sensual, authentic beauty- no Photoshop, no overtly sexy “glamour posing”- but very intimate photographs that celebrate the beautiful truth of a woman.
I can absolutely see babies and toddlers being included in these sessions but, unlike family sessions, they won’t be the focus. After all, our story of motherhood wouldn’t exist without them! That said, it is equally important to refrain from allowing our children the entire stage of what is ultimately a conversation about our identity. Similarly, while a mother might choose to share photographs from this session, the principal goal will be a printed photograph, in her home, for her (unlike family photographs which are frequently generated entirely for presentation to the outside world.)
To this end, I am offering Self Love Mini Sessions in January. You can find all the details here but, to summarize, in January there is an opportunity to experience this type of session at a mini (read: substantially discounted) price. As we enter the gift giving season, and you shower your loved ones with presents, I hope you’ll give this gift to yourself.
Ehem, may I have your attention please?
Announcing a unique opportunity in January: Self Love Mini Boudoir!
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. What more extraordinary gift could you give than a handcrafted, fine art boudoir portrait? I recommend you give a print to the person you love most in the world (and here’s hoping that person is you.)
All the details:
Self Love Mini Sessions are available exclusively on:
January 6th in Sacramento
January 12th in San Francisco
Self Love Clients Receive:
a relaxed 40 minute photo session (location TBA) in a beautiful space within the city
a session photographed entirely on film for that supremely artsy and elegant aesthetic known as “fine art”
an online gallery to select her favorite(s) image from 5-10 options
a beautifully handcrafted 8X10 photograph printed on archival paper
a glass of champagne? Yes! That too
all for the obscenely discounted prince of $265 (regular sessions $350-$1,250)
Clients have the opportunity to add on*:
individualized wardrobe styling with vintage and luxury lingerie
In order to reserve your session: book it here. After receiving your booking, you’ll communicate your scheduling preferences and I’ll connect with you to confirm a time.
Please note sessions occur in Sacramento on January 6th and in San Francisco on January 12th.
If those dates or locations don’t work- don’t worry! Simply book a full session here and we can schedule a date and location that works best for you.
*contact for package add-on price-list
Whenever possible, my personal location scouting mantra goes, take pictures near water. Light is the most essential tool in a photograph. Bodies of water operate like huge, wet mirrors, refracting luminosity in unusual directions. The lambent quality of water contributes a visual surreality to a photograph. That, in turn, invites the curious viewer to look closer.
In San Francisco, you can’t count on the sun beating out the fog, especially here at Ocean Beach (in the paradoxically named Sunset district.) This day was overcast, chilly, and now that I see it in black and white I can’t remember the moment having ever been in color.
In the 19th century, this area was known as the “Outside Lands.” Which, doesn't that just feel right?
I love looking at double exposures so I decided to create a roll of them on film. For these photographs I pulled the string lights off our tree and shot them against our dark grey bedsheets. The next day, I used the same roll of film to photograph our lunch at Drake Barn. You can see the frames from the two sessions don’t line up, which caused hard lines slicing the light orbs.
Now I’m planning how I might apply double exposures to an aesthetic end in my portrait sessions.
I’m very inspired by the work of Wendy Laurel in this area. If you haven’t seen her work, I suggest you do click through to her website, and prepare to be amazed.
In yesterday’s post, I shared why you must print your photographs. Today, I’ll share some tools to have those prints made easily and well.
First let’s review the tiny, technological bundle of solutions that are apps.
Apps & Sites
Ink Cards: this app was a complete game changer for me. I had always found thank you cards to be excruciating. The address and card procuring, the stamp purchasing, the attempting to personalize, plus the endless forgetting to actually put the card in the mail- it all felt penalizing. Since downloading this app I enjoy sending cards. I personalize each one with a photograph the recipient will love and potentially even save. You can send one for free here.
Zno: this site stands out for affordability (they are perpetually running a sale.) My favorite Zno products are their “lay-flat hard page books.” The pages are colorful, glossy and hard. They remind me of a nice quality baby board book. I can’t think of a better way to share photos with the small, sticky handed members of your family.
Artifact Uprising: this site/app offers products with unparalleled graphic design. The photo product world is particularly bogged down by ugly design options so this site stands out.
Before becoming a professional, I didn’t realize photographers have access to different printing companies than consumers. When you order fine art prints through Rachel Sima Photography you will receive beautifully handcrafted, archival prints rich in color, texture and quality. They are completely incomparable to consumer prints. I believe, having invested in professional portraiture you owe it to yourself to fully realize the photograph in print.
Imagine the scene: an old woman has died. Her bereaved adult children are gathered together in her living room, perhaps in their childhood home, sorting through her photographs. They are piecing together a history, an origin story, from these slips of paper. Did their mother believe she was making these photographs to give her children a measure of peace after her death? No. She had them developed because she wanted to remember the family trip they took to Cancun or a grade school graduation lunch. She received the photographs as prints because, in those days, that’s what you got. Ultimately, though, they serve both purposes.
Although we make thousands of photographs a year, exponentially more than ever before in history, they live and die in our phones. Thousands of our images dissipate into “the cloud” or “exist” as code encrypted on outdated hard drives. When we die no one will be gathering around our hard drives, or digging through our DropBox accounts, tissue in hand, calling out to his sister, “my God, look at this one!”
We all plan to “do something” with our digital images someday. But, what are you doing with yours? The images on your phone, on your computer, and on your social media accounts don’t, in a literal sense, exist. They are files: inaccessible as soon as your device phases out of viability.
There is good news. As with many modern problems, there are convenient and accessible solutions. Please stop back by Fancy Deli tomorrow for a list of some of my favorites.
I created Fancy Deli, my photography blog, because I wanted to share, entertain, serve and delight people like you. In fact, I likely had you, specifically, in mind. It’s a new venture and you’re my BETA audience. Therefore, I would HUGELY appreciate knowing what content you’d like to see more of (and what you could happily skip!) Please take a minute and fill out this survey (live on my site) to share your honest feedback. Thank you!
We spent yesterday wandering around a Christmas Tree Farm, trying to pick out the perfect one to take home. It was the sort of bright, mildly chilly, smell of a wood burning stove on the wind kind of morning only the best winter memories are made of. I definitely want to bring families up here for winter photo sessions. Who needs photographs taken? Reach out ASAP and let’s make it happen!
This is The Gilded Drifter Inn, a 118 year-old Victorian mansion in the Sierra Valley. We came here when the recent California wildfires caused the air quality in Sacramento and the Bay Area to plummet to hazardous levels.
Just before we left town I started rereading White Noise. Don Delillo is my favorite writer, but when I started the book I had forgotten (or only subconsciously remembered) that the family in the novel must evacuate their home due to a “toxic airborne event.” It was an eerie and uncomfortable connection.
Rereading the Most Photographed Barn in America passage (included below) also inspired me. I photographed a barn when we arrived in Loyalton.
There were 40 cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. We walked along a cowpath to the slightly elevated spot set aside for viewing and photographing. All the people had cameras; some had tripods, telephoto lenses, filter kits. A man in a booth sold postcards and slides -- pictures of the barn taken from the elevated spot. We stood near a grove of trees and watched the photographers. Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book.
"No one sees the barn," he said finally.
A long silence followed.
"Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn."
He fell silent once more. People with cameras left the elevated site, replaced by others.
We're not here to capture an image, we're here to maintain one. Every photograph reinforces the aura. Can you feel it, Jack? An accumulation of nameless energies."
There was an extended silence. The man in the booth sold postcards and slides.
"Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. It literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism."
Another silence ensued.
"They are taking pictures of taking pictures," he said.
He did not speak for a while. We listened to the incessant clicking of shutter release buttons, the rustling crank of levers that advanced the film.
"What was the barn like before it was photographed?" he said. "What did it look like, how was it different from the other barns, how was it similar to other barns?"
Did you catch the piece, “Toward a More Radical Selfie” in The Paris Review? Author India Enneng levels a harsh but honest critique of “an era characterized by the self-portrait… an era characterized by relentless anxiety around the self as a product: what it means, who owns it, what it costs, what it’s worth.” She ultimately finds redemption in a very specific self-portrait, albeit one from 1711, but not before defining the current zeitgeist with devastating clarity:
To be digitally femme means to bathe anxiously in the images of others and act impotently in response, liking a photo or congratulating others on their beauty. More stultifying is that this is done in spite of knowing the effort that went into each composition. The selfie is a cover-up, hiding both the means of its own production and the true self.
Selfies become even more difficult to fathom when one asks for whom they are made. Certainly not for the selfie taker, from whom they demand exhausting, self-negating labor, nor is it for the general viewer and their tepid responses. Perhaps they are for prospective mates, competitive friends, the general sphere of female spectatorship? Or maybe no one at all, maybe we don’t know who we want as an audience. Maybe selfies are what happen when a society sends a missive without a recipient.
I think an interesting diametric is the equally pervasive ‘woman who won’t be photographed.’ She doesn’t, “like her picture taken.” Her reactions to a raised camera exist on the spectrum between discomfort and violent aversion. The question about selfies and audience can be applied here in reverse. Who is this woman hiding from?
I believe, in both cases, the audience is the subject. From the woman who posts a bathroom selfie, “felt qt, might delete ltr” to the one who begins rattling off her physical imperfections when presented with a photograph of herself. Humans see photographs, even very constructed ones, as a clarification of reality. Even if she doesn’t see the photograph as conclusive proof, she feels it builds a strong argument.
I believe the portrait, and particularly the ultra intimate boudoir portrait, are opportunities for women to build more positive, honest stories about themselves. To be clear, I am not referring to “glamour” images meant for sexual consumption. I’m talking about intimate portraiture where the subjects don’t hide their bodies under swaths of clothing. I wish we could invent a new word for it, a word that would differentiate it from male gaze and objectification. In fact, I’m actively working on finding that word, and using it to champion a new kind of portraiture. If you have some ideas, let me know.
As fall transforms quietly into winter we begin the work of the holidays. In 2017, this included purchasing 1.6 billion greeting cards, many of which included a photograph, or rather, the annual photograph of a family. Like much of the holidays, the work occurs quietly behind the scenes only to be revealed in a flourish of snail mail between Christmas and New Years. And it begs the question: why do we participate in this tradition of creating, sharing and collecting family photos via holiday cards?
According to Yale anthropologist Micaela di Leonardo this “work of kinship” took hold amid postbellum industrialization because the demise of the family farm meant women were tasked with the challenge of nurturing (newly) long distance relationships. I know the cards we’ll mail this year will, almost exclusively, land across the country in the mailboxes of people we wish we lived closer to. I secretly hope the cards will linger around the households of our loved ones, reminding them we exist, a placeholder for our presence, and a small token of our affection across a vast country.
Almost a year ago, as I shuffled around my Brooklyn kitchen cleaning up after dinner, I listened to an episode of the podcast My Parenting Mojo titled, “What are the benefits of outdoor play?” that stayed with me.
My maternal grandparents lived on a farm and, growing up, my brother and I spent many days and weeks on the farm enjoying unstructured, outdoor play. The farm house they lived in was small, there wasn’t any internet and movies were limited to Flipper and The Sound of Music on VHS. Yet, I never felt bored there. I dug in the dirt, fed the horses and barn cats, wandered around in the alfalfa fields, jumped from bale to bale in the hayloft, captured toads, bats, moles and snapping turtles. Solitary play didn’t feel lonely there. The margin between the imagined universe and the real one was vaporous. Only coming in from play was like being jolted from a dream.
My daughter, conversely, was growing up largely indoors. By one year old she had been to many more cocktail parties in Manhattan than empty fields. She didn’t like her feet to touch dirt and watching her sit on the ground, at the park, with both feet suspended in the air to keep them from touching the grass, while hilarious, also made me feel a little sad.
Now that we live in California, I hope we can provide her with more unstructured free play outdoors, and I’m certain we can at least offer her more opportunities to acclimate to dirt. To that end, we went to Paradise Beach the other morning and just hung around in some sand. Delphine found a bunch of shells and put them in her hair, our butts and knees got wet from sitting on a waterlogged tree stump. We threw rocks into the river. All in all, it was a success.
“Over the years I've come to appreciate how animals enter our lives prepared to teach and far from being burdened by an inability to speak they have many different ways to communicate. It is up to us to listen more than hear, to look into more than past.”
On more than one occasion I’ve spoken to a client who worried her toddler wouldn’t be able to “handle” an upcoming photo session. I want to clarify here that your toddler won’t be expected to follow my directives, “sit still” or otherwise behave in any preordained way.
In fact, your toddler is invited to be exactly herself throughout the session.
That said, the best way to prepare your toddler, as in all situations, is ensure she is well rested and fed before the shoot.
The second crucial step is less obvious. You must provide ample time to ease her into the shoot.
It may seem counterintuitive, but particularly for toddlers, a longer session is easier than a shorter one.
This is because the toddler is able to familiarize herself with the space, the photographer, and the camera. It also allows her to move through a full range of emotional and physical expressions without those around her feeling anxious that time is “running out.” To this end, I recommend three ways to set your toddler up for success:
Arrive early for the photoshoot
Book (at least) an hour
I absolutely love working with this age, and look forward to creating beautiful images for your family!
Following a cross country move like ours, the early months are spent establishing care with a new constellation of providers. I set up appointments in order of the indispensability of the service, beginning with a pediatrician for my daughter and working down the list: gynecologist, ophthalmologist, orthopedicologist, hair dresser (full transparency: I found the hairdresser first.) Finally, it was time to select a therapist. I’m happy and well. I see no contradiction between that and seeing a therapist. I think of it like going to gym, you wouldn’t stop exercising because you’re healthy, would you? Likewise, I reason, you don’t stop studying your mind and patterns of behavior because you’re in a good place.
I pulled up Psychology Today for their directory of therapists, put in my zip code and a litany of therapists appeared, each with a little promotional blurbs about how this one provides “a safe space, free of judgement” as well as “positive change” to his clients. The blurbs are largely indistinguishable from one another except the ones that deviate in an unfavorable way (i.e. the therapist that announces he doesn’t want clients, “coming to [him] to complain!”)
I decide to inspect the photographs instead, I’m looking for some clue to understand more about each person, and therefore the therapeutic experience they will provide. A number of therapists use a cell phone photograph for their profile picture. The photographs are muddy and pixelated, a few were clearly originally photographs of them and some other, now cropped out person, largely although not wholly, absent. What does this communicate about the therapist? What clues does it give me, not only about their level of professionalism, but also about their ability to see themselves clearly? If their level of self-awareness in the two dimensional realm of the blurb (the most basic format of self-presentation) is this limited, what expectations can I have for these individuals to have the kind of self-knowledge to engage in the potentially dicey interpersonal complexities of a therapeutic relationship? I’m not hopeful.
As a positive example I give you my lovely client Asha, who came to me seeking a new headshot. She’s a psychologist (although, unfortunately for me, not a therapist.) She’s an incredibly warm, intelligent, funny person who I suspect would contribute enormously to any workspace. Although I know it’s self congratulatory to write, I’m so proud that you can see that in the photographs.
During our phone consultation she said, “do you know why I choose to contact you instead all of the other photographers on YELP?” I didn’t, and I was curious. “Because you’re the only photographer with brown people in your photographs!” I’m so pleased I was able to capture the same glimmer of warmth, frankness and wit I heard in her voice at that moment.
Yesterday is rained all day and cleared the wildfire smoke. This morning we walked outside on the still wet leaves and felt the sunlight on our faces. Grateful.
We’re headed to San Francisco to spend Thanksgiving with my dad. He moved to San Francisco when I was fifteen, landing in the Mission District, in an apartment overlooking Mission Dolores Park. I would say, ‘the neighborhood has really changed’ but it’d still be too extravagant of an understatement.
The park, physically, has since added a huge play structure and an ultra modern public restroom but it’s the demographic changes that are most apparent. When I used to stay with my dad in high school, the park was mostly unoccupied space except a few homeless people sleeping under blankets and one or two Mexican teens selling marijuana by the bridge.
Now, on a sunny day, every foot of the park is packed by mostly 20 and 30 somethings, splayed out on picnic blankets, drinking craft beer and scrolling on iPhones. There are still people selling marijuana but it’s legal here now, and the sellers are typically white people hawking Gluten Free and vegan edibles. Huge swaths of the park are off-leash areas although by mid-day on the weekend there’s far too much food on ground level to reasonably let a dog free.
Looking back, further into the history of the park, it was inhabited, in turns, by the Ohlone Indians, Spanish Missionaries, and a Jewish Cemetery before its present incarnation as a public park. It’s incredible to consider how supremely diverse this small physical space would be if you could collapse the single dimension of time.
Color is the sound an object makes in response to light. Objects don’t speak unless spoken to. An object does not have a color, it makes a color (the way a bell makes a sound). Sound is molecular motion. Color, too, is molecular motion. Color is the selective absorption and emission of light on the surface of an object. As an untouched drum makes no sound, an object in total darkness has no color.
- Teju Cole