Inti St. Clair’s images capture an emotional resonance that seems to vibrate from the very core of her subjects. While working as a commercial photographer she decided to take on an assignment of her own – photographing two beautiful little girls as she spent a day with them, documenting their time together.
The result is a striking portfolio of work she calls The Sweet Life of Sisters. If you go to her site you’ll find other work that is equally wonderful, but I’d like to share a few of the sisters images because they are so filled with light.
We often see childhood as blessed with innocence – and while there are plenty of difficult moments that can shadow a child’s days – their stalwart companions are pretend and play. Within those little moments of discovery are snatches of delight that are hard to recapture as adults. Children of a certain age are very Zen like in their approach to life’s wonders – totally in the moment and absorbed by whatever they are experiencing.
Be Here Now was a very popular book back when Americans were re-discovering those Zen traits of meditation and mindfulness. Young children find it easy “be here now” – it’s the essence of play and that’s captured in Inti’s images – a playful openness.
“I worked with two sisters, Naiya and Anandi, from the moment they woke up until they went to sleep that night. It being a late summer day in the Northwest made for an incredibly packed, intensely fun and utterly exhausting 15-hour shoot. Any day I’m taking pictures is wonderful for me, but this day was pure magic.”
The magic is clearly there, so much so that Inti St. Clair was recently named one of the American Society of Media Photographers Best of 2013. There’s a great interview on the ASMP site and her quotes come from there. So, what makes her work special?
I feel one of my biggest strengths is my unbridled enthusiasm while photographing. It’s truly my “happy place”, and you’ll find me laughing all through a shoot. I love collaborating to get the right shot, as much as I enjoy capturing the random, unexpected moments. I feel as if my passion and energy is infectious, and this is reflected both in how much fun everyone has on set, and comes across in my imagery as well.
You can see that Inti’s really connected with the sisters, too. In some of the images where they gaze into the camera, it feels like they’re looking right at us, but of course they are looking right at Inti – and there’s a lot of affection that comes across. I think that’s what makes the work so riveting – there’s so much energy and emotion.
Of course, kids are photogenic and that lowers the odds of getting an interesting image, just by being in the right place at the right time. But Inti is a person with her own sense of joy and that beams right back at her in some of the moments she’s captured.
My intention with this shoot was to give as little direction as possible; really just capture them as they were naturally throughout the day… Of course there’s magic in just capturing things as they naturally unfolded; and I believe that translates to an emotional intimacy in many of the images that wouldn’t have been there had I been directing them the whole time.
Her work feels very authentic. She claims the images weren’t posed, so we’ll take her word for that, they feel very true-to-life. But Inti was certainly there sharing their space and while the sisters know she’s there, after a while Inti was able to just blend into the moments, becoming fairly invisible. So the work allows us to feel we are there too – and we can just experience the sisters being children in all their exuberance and flights of fancy.
I arrived the night before, and spent the night so I could start shooting first thing in the morning, so we did have dinner together and hung out that night, but otherwise I didn’t prepare at all. I really let them run the show; so wherever they happened to be was where I was shooting, and I just dealt with the lighting situations on the fly.
Inti has a great eye for composition, yes, but also a keen sense of light and how it plays in space. And speaking of space, look at how the background is working for her subject. Her work has a wonderfully natural but uncluttered feeling, as if a virtual art director went into each space to remove the cornucopia of debris that usually hovers around just behind our focus of attention. Her backgrounds are fairly sparse and don’t get in the way. Look at how one of the sisters is positioned in the photo below. The framing, angle and background work together beautifully – while the overall effect feels so natural and intimate. It’s a great reminder that an image has foreground and background and they have to work together to create a special moment.
Inti shot 3000 images to arrive at a few hundred “finals.” Editing is so much a part of the creative process you have to say “no” to so many of your little darlings. There’s always so much left on the cutting room floor. So how did the girls respond to the experience?
They were definitely curious, and I showed them images throughout the day, which they loved. I generally do share images with models and clients throughout a shoot because I feel like it gives them a sense of confidence that they look good, and it builds enthusiasm and allows for them to relax and be more natural.
Inti’s interview at the ASMP site is full of information about her approach to photography and her image making. For me, when I experience her work I see all that enthusiasm and excitement about being alive reflected in her photographs. It was such a joy discovering it. And as Thanksgiving is so closeby, seeing all the light that emanates from these images reminds me I have a lot to be thankful for.
So, let me know what you think and if you find her work as joyful as I do. The last word goes to Inti St. Clair:
I feel like my images are absolutely a reflection of my personality. I am happy, goofy, and full of passion and positive energy. The truth is I’m never happier than I am when I’m taking pictures! I think that can be infectious on shoots, which I think in turn is reflected in my imagery.