Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Tag: portrait photography

Inti’s Images

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.


all photographs copyright by Inti St. Clair

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.


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Inti St. Clair, from her site


“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?

625578_10151780242158121_707567041_aI 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.


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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.

Home: Where the Heart Is

Home is such a simple word, but rich with meaning… remembered smells, tastes and moments we carry forever… perhaps a haven, a refuge… or perhaps not. So much feeling resides in that simple word… home.


all images copyrighted by Nadia Sablin

When I first saw this image, beyond its elegant lighting, composition and serene beauty, I was struck by the relationship between the two women. It is so intimate – you can feel the years they’ve shared together. 3 I discovered they are sisters and spend their summers in a rustic cabin built by their father. 4 In their summer home in Russia they spend their days as they did when they were girls, doing everything by hand. 5 I also learned that they are aunties to photographer Nadia Sablin. Nadia spent her first 12 summers in this home too, then left Russia with her parents for America. 8 Nadia didn’t go back to visit this home until she was all grown up. When she returned she found much that was familiar… like hazy sunshine warming languid summer days… or the chill of morning mists drifting through memory like a recurring dream. 9 Nadia Sablin, from an interview in Framed Magazine:

“Russia has always stayed for me this land of childhood. You know, the magical place… I walked into that house and not only was it a trip back in time, you know, it smelt exactly the same.”


“The tablecloth on the table was exactly the same; literally, it was the same tablecloth, with the same impressions that I remembered. There were the same faded spots that I remembered, now more faded.”

7Nadia’s photographs have a simple elegance that echoes her subject matter. I love her eye for composition and her attention to the small details that honor the routines of daily life. 10 If you go to Nadia’s website you’ll see she’s an accomplished portrait photographer – yet her aunties pose a more complex challenge. The portrait that Nadia tries to capture here is larger than a single image – it’s really a portrait of a life – in this case two lives intertwined. She calls her project Two Sisters. 1112 Rural life has often been romanticized… being at one with nature and the seasons… living the simple life. Still, there’s an important connection there that has become lost in the digital age. The virtual world that claims so much of our time seems like vapor next to the small daily tasks the aunties pursue to keep body and soul together. Gathering berries to make jam is almost a meditative experience…  life, lived in the moment… Nadia, from an interview in this is the what:

“The two women are in their seventies, but carry on the traditional Russian way of life, chopping wood for heating the house, bringing water from the well and making their own clothes.”


“My photographs of them are a meditation on aging, family and a sense of belonging.  The house in which Aleftina and Ludmila live was built by their father.  The rugs are weaved by their mother.”


“They contribute to the home as well, with new wallpapers, hand-sewn curtains, quilts and lace.  Handwritten recipes are folded to contain seeds for planting, or rolled up balls of stray hair.”


“Their environment is as much a character as they are themselves. The house smells exactly the same as it did when I was a child, like burning pine cones and old books.”

17 How many times has her aunt waited for the meal to cook, watching the pot as the liquid starts to raise little heat bubbles. There’s so much quiet history there. Nadia’s images capture a rich tapestry of these quiet moments. How different their lives are from our own. 18 These photos make me think about what we’ve lost in the frenetic pace of modern life… how distant we’ve come from those simple tasks that fulfill us. I like the stillness of these frozen moments – they suggest a world at peace with itself. Perhaps that’s what Nadia found so appealing, what she was trying to capture with her camera. 19

Or maybe it was just a chance to revisit those magical memories from childhood…  where each moment seems so fresh and unspoiled. As Nadia tells it, her aunties feel their lives are unremarkable – they didn’t understand why she wanted to photograph them. Perhaps so, but many others feel Nadia has created some remarkable images.


Her photographs leave space for the viewer to enter the frame. They invite you to see and reflect. Do they remind us of what we seek… or what we’ve lost?

As  Thomas Wolfe wrote in Look Homeward, Angel: 

“Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door.”

So tell me what you think. How do you connect with these images? Do they have meaning for you? Leave a comment and let me know.