I shot Vincent and Chareé with their four beautiful children in their Salt Lake home yesterday. This was my first session of 2019 and it proved to be the perfect embodiment of my intention to shoot after seeing and to take the time I need to take to create portraits that my clients and I both feel moved by. One of my artistic resolves for the coming year has been to process client surveys from each of my clients.
Having a business that is inherently vulnerable, both for my clients and for me, is work. Working to make valuable and honest portraits instigates a death-and-life cycle that touches my work, my artistic understanding, how my clients understand photography, and sometimes even their own values and self-concept.
I have systemized so much for Ashley Thalman Photography. I have been working for a decade, and after my divorce and quitting a brief time at a day-job, I got really serious about making my craft efficient (hiring an editor, partnering with a framer and doing much needed, time intensive research to expand my print products and design services). Business is good, processes work with minor flaws- and yet art cannot be systemized without relegating it to a craft. We can only show up for art every day by fine tuning that craft, and working to beat back the resistance.
My survey idea was one way to bring in more intentional aspects to planning and preparation both for me and for the client. My survey requires about 45 minutes of the client’s time to complete, and covers everything from allergies and special considerations, to prompts to define words like “candid”. I do not ask specific poses or places the client wants captured, I do not ask if there is something they don’t want to show. I want to show up prepared, having prepared my clients for my process and what it requires of them. Often preparation is a preparation for what is unexpected, a way to manage expectations. I want to know that I am showing up to see and this gives the client a chance to set an intention for what that is, or rather, what it might be. Writing is a powerful accompaniment to portrait work and my session with the McCallisters showed me that my survey is a good start to this effort.
I received one survey reply from Chareé and another from Vincent. Wednesday night, before the session, I sat on my bed and read their survey. I love it. I felt immediate reverence for that this family has weathered, what they are building, and I was excited to meet the individuals who make up the whole. The survey was full of conversational answers with spelling errors. That’s the truth and that’s what I want. I’m not expecting a polished essay but for real answers. This is a chance to set intention and determine if my clients and I are a good fit.
In an ideal session, like the one we created yesterday, clients show up for themselves and for their investment as much as they show up to be photographed.