Friday, May 06, 2011

Why School Portraits Matter

Why School Portraits Matter
By Linda Russell
    Years ago when first asked to photograph in a local school, I was a bit embarrassed.  At the time, I had built a reputation as a hot shot portrait and wedding photographer whose work had been published in books and magazines such as Town and Country and Rolling Stone.  Why would someone of my caliber photograph kids in school?  That was the bottom rung of the photography industry.  But I loved photographing children and as a single parent I never felt I could turn down revenue opportunities.

     What ended up being really appealing about photographing in school was it was a great place to photograph children.  There were no parents to nourish power struggles and the culture of school is one of respect and cooperation.  I learned how to work fast, how to manage daylight all day and, most importantly, systems to manage images and data.  Parents were delighted.  I was able to market my portrait work to a very targeted group of consumers.  It was a win-win.  

    The demand for my school photography grew.  My couple of schools grew into double digits.  Soon I found myself inspiring and employing other photographers and team members.  As business grew I discovered the many needs of the schools.  I started fantasizing about the ways the entire industry could be re-envisioned.  Digital Photography offered new distribution channels.  What was possible led me down the path of website development.  New, simpler ways for parents to view and order photos- progressive systems that allowed more flexibility and less school administration responsibility regarding collecting money and distributing prints.  An innovative customer service, parent-focused school photography company was emerging.  But what really propelled me were the children in front of my yearly lens.  As they grew up before me I discovered the power of the good photograph.  

    When a professional photographer points their camera at a subject, a bit of them is invested in every image.  We want to create an image that is successful.  It is a passion.  When a student experiences a photographer who cares, they care.  Instead of feeling defeated or defiant they respond to creative energy.  They become a participant in a process and the results begin to move from institutional to individual.  This transformation nurtures cooperation and we frequently see classmates encouraging each other to put their best face forward.  Now there are kids complementing each others photographs. Children whose main experience of photography is an on demand call for “cheese” when a camera is pointed toward them, learn to smile from an inner space.
     As the years have passed and I have watched adorable preschoolers grow into awkward middle schoolers then transform again into gorgeous young adults,  I am reminded over and over again that portraits created in school can be meaningful.  And while I recognize a school has many obligations and pressures to meet academically we in the photography community also have something to offer as well.  A yearly image that can provide parents with a record of not only growth but metamorphosis.  It breaks my heart to see this opportunity turned into a “fast food” industry focused on cheap and meaningless.  Creating quality portraits in school can be professional in all ways and don’t our children (and their parents) deserve what is possible?  

    We at MugsyClicks believe in what is possible, and our proud to associate our names to the school photography industry and all that comes with it.  We invite you to visit us and share in our vision.   Let’s work together in revitalizing the art of photography in school.  After all we are all in the same business of seeing our youth become citizens of the world that reflect our best intentions and their own unique gifts. 

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