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talking to pretty girls: fashion photographer for a day

When I was in second grade, I stumbled on a biography series. Washington Elementary had a whole library bookshelf dedicated to a blue-spined collection on 18th and early 19th century Americans who had left their mark. The books were penned for children (and so glossed over what later reading of feminist theory and the stories of first peoples would fill in), but I still remember my surprise at being able to access the lives of blacksmiths, politicians, presidents, war generals, activists, and the worlds they inhabited—so different from my San Joaquin Valley childhood.
I think my taste for nonfiction explains why Spark + Tumble is not populated with models. The couples you see here are actually promising to intertwine their lives; the authors and poets really live by their pens. What we make together are like visual biographies of specific moments, and I’ve particularly enjoyed slipping into the worlds of folk who, like me, require a bit of work to capture well on film.
So, it was with curiosity and some skepticism that I joined in a recent fashion shoot. The process of discovering what animates a person fuels my fascination with the process of photographing people—so how to photograph someone trained to present themselves in the most photographable way? What worlds was I entering?

Here’s what I learned: like watching skilled dancers, it is a pleasure to see the artful movements of a good model. They understand light and lines and angles. And there are small ways in which their movements can inform the way I capture the everyday grace and vibrancy of the people I regularly photograph. As you already know, and I may have needed to remember: pretty girls are just as likely to be rude or intelligent or fascinating or tiresome as the rest of us.

I also learned something about me. Apparently, given a skilled subject, I will still want to do the work of exploring a personality. In the thrum of working alongside other photographers, I heard myself saying, Yes, good, but look up into the light like you’re in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. I asked a model to act as though she had a headache. And I asked this model, who was a total kick to work with, to really let go and scream. For both of us.

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