They were ready to go as soon as I arrived so I grabbed my camera, flash, and bounce. Ben took off ahead of me and his mother Luann, who had me jump a golf cart with her to drive me to the location not far from their home.
"I don't usually use this," she said, her comment a display of Midwestern modesty. It's a display that always makes me feel at ease, though it wasn't hard to feel at ease around Luann. She's one of those women that exudes an effortless warmth, a true Midwestern mom with whom conversation is always natural and today we had a lot to talk about. Her daughter was moving to California, I was moving to New York, my younger sisters and her son were only a year away from graduating high school, which was why I was there; to take her son's senior portraits.
"I just love this barn," she said as we pulled up to the location of the shoot. She had an eye. The barn was beautifully crafted, and silo was the jewel of this backdrop. I got Ben into position and began snapping photos while Luann and I continued to catch up, both of us interrupting conversation with "smile" or "turn this way" or "that's great."
I'm always a little hesitant to have parents, namely mothers along for Senior Portraits. It can be... awkward. But Ben didn't seem to mind having her there, which was good because he didn't seem to have a choice. To her credit Luann was very in tune with the delicate nature of her being involved in this situation, and to help, once in awhile she would declare, "I'm not looking!" as I snapped photos.
With the barn shots out of the way, Luann and I hopped back in the golf cart with Ben on foot as we ventured to the next in a series of locations. First was creek-side, for some formal shots, then to an old abandoned car for some casual poses with everyday t-shirts, and on to the football field for sports shots where Luann went from "I'm not looking!" to "Throw me the ball!" After the sports shots we all went back to the house so that Ben could change for the last round of photos. Luann and I were nearly caught up, and our conversation drifted to the inevitable, of how quickly time flies and how in less than a year, Luann and my mom would see the last of their kids off to college. "What was my mother going to do?" she asked me. I laughed and told her I didn't know. "Well," she said, "I don't know what I'm going to do either."
Then Luann lowered her voice and half whispered, "I really want to get a picture of Ben playing his guitar. He plays in his room and doesn't really show anyone but he's SO good. I really want a picture of him with it. I hope he'll let you take one, but we'll see." I told her I would do what I could to help make this happen as Ben came upstairs, unaware of our plan. Ben and I left the house and I snapped shots of him in the foreground of some beautiful birch trees that stood at the edge of their woods. When we finished and got back in the house, Luann was there waiting for us.
"Okay, go get your guitar," she said. Ben threw her a look. "C'mon, please, these are just for me. No one's gonna see them." Ben looked at me. I promised him that they would indeed be just for his mother's viewing and that I wouldn't post them on Facebook or my site. Luann pleaded. Ben sighed and went downstairs to get his guitar. Luann looked at me, she was beaming.
The goal with any portrait is to capture the essence of a person, to show with one photo who they are. It's a nearly impossible goal, especially when the subject is at a point in their life when they are starting to form into someone different than the person everyone has always known them to be. Luann made sure we got photos of Ben in all of his forms, as the Midwestern teen on a farm, as the handsome guy by the creek, as the high school football star. But, on his parents' porch in the late afternoon light, playing the guitar he usually kept to himself, Luann gave me the opportunity to capture Ben in the form that was most important to her: as her little boy.
I know I'm breaking my promise to Ben, but I wanted to share one of his mother's favorite photos from that day in remembrance of her. Luann was an amazing woman, mother and friend, and she will be deeply missed by all. - hk