Much as I love photography, I’d rather be behind the lens than in front of it. I’ve endured way too many pictures of myself with half-closed eyes, bad lighting, or big, bad hair immortalized forever. I look drunk in photos before I’ve even touched a glass. Maybe I just have a lingering case of PTHSYS (post-traumatic high school yearbook syndrome). But it’s time to get over it, because I’m planning an overhaul of my website this year, and I have a book coming out, and I’m aware that I’ll need a headshot at some point. My current website photo likely won’t do; I’ve been told — gently, by some caring friends — that it’s nice but looks a little, er, formal, and a little, well, just a little like a yearbook photo.

The current photo in use was actually taken at a portrait studio in a mall, the one where I take my son for his milestone portraits and Christmas card pictures. I’m smiling in it because adorable children were running around in cute Christmas clothes and playing with the props, and this relaxed me. Plus I had a coupon and the thing was practically free. But that’s beside the point.

I knew it was time to update. And well in advance, so that if I didn’t like the results I’d have plenty of time to redo. So I got in touch with a brilliant professional photographer I know. Nicole Lewis specializes in photographing children and families, as well as beaming expectant mothers, so I figured she’d have a knack for making me relax. I also worked with her when I had maternity photos taken, and when I looked at her updated website, I discovered my belly on display to all the world in her maternity portrait gallery. (If you’re that curious, it’s featured in the first two pictures and the last one. The scarf is a souvenir from a trip to Turkey, my last big pre-baby trip).

So I got in touch with Nicole. She had time to work me in, and she thought doing an author headshot would be a fun change of pace. (I promised to wiggle and cry less than her usual subjects). She also had some creative ideas for some artier, edgier types of photos we could take outside for a different feel, if I wanted to throw something less traditional up on my website later. She had made some of my maternity photos arty and edgy, to great effect, so I was game.

The thing is, scheduling a photography session in the winter, during cold and flu season, adds a whole other layer of stress to what for me is an already stressful event. Massive snowstorms caused our session to be rescheduled; I also had to reschedule an accompanying appointment I had with someone who could make sense of my hair, as I lack ability in that department. Then my son had an ear infection, and stomach flu. He recovered, but when I brought him to school this morning, on the day of the shoot, it was like a time warp back to September, with renewed separation anxiety after his five-day absence. Between weather and illnesses — both his and mine — I felt like I was trying to land a plane through storm systems just to hit this morning’s shoot with Nicole.

But the stars aligned. My child calmed down at school. A trusted professional made sense of my hair. Nicole showed up with her trusty camera and her keen eye. We took a number of shots in the comfort of my own home, and it wasn’t painful at all, and they didn’t look remotely like yeabook photos (or drivers license photos, or passport photos, or party photos). And then we ventured outside, “on location.”

In my small suburban town, there’s a beautiful stone wall by an old railroad station, and a pedestrian underpass, going under the train tracks, that is dazzlingly decorated with graffitti art and murals. High school students should be hanging out there, skipping school — it looks like the perfect hideout — but incredibly, it was, as it always is, completely vacant. A long, empty tunnel of unappreciated art. Somehow Nicole made our pictures there look like somewhere very different, like somewhere in New York maybe — not a sleepy New England town. She also cut out the massive snow banks, the icicles, and the pile of dead Christmas trees abandoned by the local Lions Club. That aspect of photography fascinates me — the composition of subjects, the sleight of hand.

Oh, Nicole also braved temperatures in the low 20s to do this, balancing her little stepstool precariously on slanted, icy ground to try to get the perfect shots.

Most of all, she made it a fun experience for me. It was fun to collaborate with an artist in a different medium. And I felt like we were two kids skipping school. 

I now have a whole new appreciate for photographers after today — for what they do and how they see.

Though they are nowhere near as good Nicole’s, here are a few of my own photos of our local tunnel of art: