An Old Photograph
I took this photograph when I was a teenager in Miami Senior High School. It was one of the first portraits I've ever taken for a photography class. I asked my school crush, Zeidy, to let me take her picture. What's interesting enough was that while I took photography in my senior year, it was only with the full intent of napping since all my requirements for graduation have been met. Yes, I would show up to class, place my book bag on the table, and go to sleep. The teacher, Mr. Rodriguez, did try his best to get me to participate, but at the time, I found photography annoying, and I had no interest. I had no interest in anything back then. Everything seemed so.... dull. Uninteresting. Fast forward many years later, a girlfriend at the time gives me an old camera... and I start to play with it.
As I drive towards the Everglades, I notice something. I put on my emergency lights and park to the side. "Daddy, why are we stopping?" my daughter asks. "Look to your right, across the canal. What do you see?" I say to her. "Someone is walking," she responds. "Want to know what I see?" I tell her as I turn on my camera, "I see a man making a fateful decision to leave his hell in search of something better." Through my peripheral view, I see my daughter looking at me, then looking towards the figure walking in the distance. "I don't get it, daddy," she says in a low voice. "You will my love, one day you will," I tell her. And with a melancholic sense, I take my favorite photograph of 2019 thus far.
A Lucie in Miami
I took a look at Lucie's hair, and I could not help but feel compelled to reach out to her. A woman with such a distinct feature, one that I don't encounter much, needs to stand before my camera. With a contagious smile, she says she'd love to take a portrait with me.
Little did I know, that her portrait would turn out to be my favorite photographs taken thus far this year. This profound sense of power and control she exhibits in this shot surpassed the expectations I had set for the shoot.
Hands down, this French beauty is one of my favorite people to have shot this year, and perhaps the cover of my next portfolio publish.
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"I want to do a photo shoot of my Halloween outfit!"
"Oh? What are you wearing for Halloween?"
"Why not!? :("
"I don't do schoolgirl, yoga at the beach, bloody and gory stuff, train tracks, or graffiti wall stuff. I can recommend other photographers who would love to do the concept though. I'm open for shooting something else, however. I've been meaning to do an outdoor shoot of some sort."
"What if I buy you cheesecake?"
"Is that a yes??"
"Dammit... you know me too well..."
Sisters, Photo Shoot, and Another Round for Everyone
Yara messages me one day.
"My sister is in town, and I would love to do a photo shoot with her! Here is her IG (...), let's shoot!"
That was out of nowhere I say to myself, but I check out her sister's Instagram. What I see surprises me.
"I have a theory," I tell her.
"Yeah? What's that?"
"All women from Ukraine are beautiful. I may have to move there one day."
"Haha! It's nice there. We are usually very family oriented and good cooks (except for me), so you'll love it there."
They arrive at my home on time, and I help them bring their belongings upstairs. I kindly ask Alexa to play some music, and I introduce myself to her sister.
"I'm Ricardo, and it's great to have you here. What's your name?"
"I'm Sofia, and thank you for having us here," with a noticeable smile and a particular accent.
"Ahh, Sofia. Like the capital of Bulgaria?"
"Yes, do you know the area?"
"No, I just used to know someone from Bulgaria, that's all."
They notice Blu's hamster and ask about it.
"It's a Chinese Dwarf hamster."
"Can I hold her?" asks Yara.
"Sure, but I warn you, she bites."
And she opens the cage and reaches her hand inside!
"She bites, don't say I didn't warn you."
"They all bite because they are just trying to defend themselves, once hamsters realize you are not a threat, they won't bite anymore."
So she places her hand next to the hamster. The hamster bites, gently, and continues to sniff her hand. Yara then grabs the hamster, and the hamster tries to free herself. She cups the hamster with both hands and begins to blow hot air into her hands. The hamster attempts to free herself, without biting apparently, but the older sister keeps control of her. The hamster calms down, and after a bit, she is released back into her cage. I'm dumbfounded by what I have just seen and think how incredible this woman is with animals.
I tell the sisters to make themselves at home as I begin to set up the flooring I purchased at Home Depot specifically for this shoot. They walk around, looking at the things that make my home, home. After a bit, they insist on helping, despite my protest. That's when I learned: Ukrainian women are stubborn, in a good way.
We unroll the backdrop that I painted a few weeks ago and tell them how I originally bought one on Amazon.com, but it was terrible. I mention how I offered artists $350 online to make one for me, how that fell through, and how finally I decided to do it myself.
"You painted this?"
"And you have no experience painting?"
"Nope. YouTube helped though."
"Thanks," I reply with a slight sense of embarrassment for some reason.
Once we were done setting up, they begin changing into the many different outfits that were brought. I could not help but notice how fashionable these sisters are. We begin shooting.
I'm making changes on my camera, as Sofia walks unto the set. When I was done making the changes I wanted, I look up and see this.
"Please don't move! Stop smiling, serious face, and hold still!"
She tried hard not to smile, but she eventually got it. I look down at the camera, and go, "Woah!!"
Sofia starts laughing, and says, "I love how excited you get!", in her Ukrainian accent.
"And I love that Ukrainian accent. Keep talking."
Her face turns red.
"No, I have a bad accent," she responds.
I lift my camera again, and we continue shooting.
She is always smiling, so it is a challenge for her to keep a straight face. She also accuses me of being a contributing factor, so I tried to keep a more serious demeanor. It works. And we continue shooting as I begin to love the portraits we start to take.
I was impressed by Sofia's ability to take such strong portraits, and her sister equally impressed me. The color contrasts between the sisters' skin and the tone of the backdrop were nothing but excellent. I see myself getting closer and closer to the ultimate vision I have with hand-painted backdrops with each test shoot I do.
Another Round for Everyone!
We wrap up the shoot late, noticing that none of us ate dinner, I invite the sisters to dinner. Somewhere local.
They say something to each other in Ukrainian, and decline while shaking their heads no towards me.
"You were so amazing today, let us invite you instead!"
"Umm, no it's OK!"
Next thing I know, we are driving to South Beach. I help them carry their belongings to their place. They show me around the apartment, and I am offered a drink while they get ready. I can't help but look around, this... Eastern European feel inside this apartment. It's nice.
We walk towards Espanola Way and make our way to an Italian restaurant. On our way there, Yara is greeted by so many people! It seems like if she knows everyone, people saying hi to her, giving her hugs and kisses on the cheek. Her sister and I joke that she's the mayor of Espanola Way!
"I used to work here, so I know everyone," she says.
It was pretty nice, seeing what I just saw. Yara has that charming personality, and she is just so kind and sweet. It felt nice to be in her presence, for she emitted so many positive vibes, it was insane.
We order drinks. Yara orders a coconut mojito, Sofia.... a sweet drink that's name I forgot, and I ordered Maker's whiskey (after the wine tasted bad).
"On the rocks?" asks the waiter.
"No. Neat please."
"Neat? As in no ice?"
"Only way to drink whiskey, my friend."
He comes back with my whiskey and a glass of ice.
"On the side, just in case," he says. I thanked him and the ice goes unused.
Soon after ordering our drinks, the waiter arrives with a champagne bottle and glasses.
"What's this?" Yara asks, with a smile on her face.
"Compliments of Mario!" says the waiter.
We all look at each other and just smile, thinking what a grand gesture it was.
"He's such a sweetheart," Yana says and proceeds to tell us the story of Mario. The introvert in me begins to wish I was more extroverted, because this vibe, this energy, is soo... how do I describe it... amazing?
"Cheers! For new friendships!"
We look at the menu, and we start ordering. The first thing that arrives are oysters! Funny thing about oysters is that... well... I never tried them before. It just feels weird looking at something slimy and just eating it. I make my confession to the sisters.
"Here, I'll show you how to do this. Just squeeze some lemon on it, put some of this stuff too, and swallow."
"Oh? you don't chew?"
I look towards Sofia, who is already starting to prepare her first oyster for the night.
"Come on, eat up! It's an aphrodisiac!" laughs Yara.
I like oysters :).
The other entrees arrive, and soon after, two good friends of Yara arrive and join us. They just came from dinner from some fancy place (I forgot the name). They are visiting Miami Beach and are staying at The Delano. The two friends appeared madly in love. It was nice seeing how they interacted with each other.
"Boy, we LOVE The Delano, but ever since SBE bought Delano, it's just not the same anymore."
"Why don't you check out The Betsy? It's nearby," I slyly insert.
"The Betsy? We will have to check it out then!"
I loved the service at this place. When we were done, I offered to take the check. So did John, one of the two friends who came to say hi to Yara. Yara insisted that it would be on her, and that none of us will pay. John and I look at each other, and we then insisted we pay.
"Nope! I already paid. Too late," says Yara.
Impressive. I don't see that often these days. What a beautiful caring and giving person.
So an American, a Romanian, a Nicaraguan, and two Ukrainians walk into a Bar
So John says, "Guys, the night is young. Why don't we get drinks somewhere else? Faena? They have a great bar there. I'll order us an Uber!"
"I already ordered one," Yara responds, as she puts the phone away.
It was a weird feeling. Wanting to pay, or even contribute, but being denied and being insisted that the tab is already covered. I'll cover the bar tab at The Faena I decide.
We get to the Faena, and Yara tells Sofia and me that there is a woolly mammoth in the back part of the hotel, that we should check it out. So Sofia and I make our way to display.
Soon after we meet with the rest of the group for another round of drinks. Whiskey again for me, and this time, Yara too orders whiskey. I'm impressed by her choice. Unfortunately, we were not able to stay long, because the bar was closing, so we only had time for one round of drinks. Again, John and I were outmatched and the tab was once again covered. Ugh! Grateful, but still!
We walk towards the pool area of The Delano. I was the IT Director for Delano, and it's sister property for almost 6 years, and I never visited for drinks. Until now. When we get to the pool bar, both bartenders recognize me.
"Hey! What are you doing here!"
Laughs ensue, and drinks began to flow.
"Let's go in the pool!" says Sofia. I take another sip of my drink, curious to see where this leads.
Yara looks at us, and says, "Go in!"
Sofia starts to walk towards the pool. I take another sip of my drink.
Yara asks the bartenders, "Can we get some towels?"
"Yes, of course!"
I look towards Sofia, and her dress falls to her feet. Her body slightly illuminated by the nearby pool lights. Perfection.
"What are you doing?" Yara asks me. "Go in!"
I smile to myself. And in a reckless abandonment of who I usually am, I walk towards the pool, unbuttoning my shirt all the while.
As The Rain Falls
Recently I went to Gainsville to celebrate a friend's gender reveal party. She also has a friend that wanted to go but did not want to make the trip alone, so we carpooled. After the party was over, we make our way back to Miami.
Early into the drive, we get hammered with hard rain. "This place is so freaking beautiful!" I tell her. She agrees as we keep looking at our surroundings. As I drive down a road, I look to my left and notice an incredible scene! I slow down and stop the car. "What are you doing?" she asks. "I HAVE to take a look at something back there. It'll be quick!". So I turn the car around and come across a side road entrance. It looks incredible with the rain pouring down, windshield wipers singing their song and giving us view, all the while the headlights are peering in. We sit there for a moment, and I go, "You still have your dress from the party... would you mind getting wet?! Let's take a portrait of you in the rain!" "What? No, I'm going to get wet, and my makeup is going to run, and it's cold outside and..." "And I don't care come on! Trust me! It will be a great photo! Stop overthinking and let's go, I'm going to get soaked too, and so is my camera!," I interrupt. "Ok, but just for one minute and it has to be fast!" she says. "Yeah yeah, let's go!"
After what seemed like 5 minutes, we jump back into the car with our clothes completely soaked. I start backing the vehicle up unto the main road, turn on the heater and continue our way back home. With smiles on our faces.
Those who surround themselves with photographers tend to be in the unique position of always being subject to a possible candid portrait of sorts. Why? Because photographers, who are passionate about the craft, tend to always want to photography anything worth remembering.
And some of these individuals also tend to be the ones who inspire such photographers to play with their imagination.
Thank you, Valerie :). Your sense of curiosity and creativity comes to me as a refreshing glass of water.
Photo Shoot with Sara
So I walk down the stairs, trash bag in hand, to place into the dumpster. I noticed a red pick up truck parked in from of my neighbor's home. It was parked at a peculiar angle, engine running, with a faint image of a person behind the wheel. It was a bright day, and the reflection of the windshield prevented me from seeing who was behind the wheel. A woman, attractive, comes out of the car and gets something from the back seat. Walking back towards the main door, she looks at me and waves. I wave back.
"Your daughter goes to the ballet school across the street right?"
Hmm, how does she know? She does look a bit familiar.
"Yes, she does."
"I've seen you there, my daughter also attends."
"AHH! Yes, I remember you now haha! So what are you doing around here?
"I teach Yoga right next to you."
"What? There's a yoga studio next to my place? How cool!"
After talking for a bit, I take her info, and I attend one of her yoga classes. An excellent teacher, she had me bruised for days haha. That was incredible. She was also pretty damn impressive. Most yoga practitioners I know do very simple relaxed poses. She made my muscles question sanity during one of her classes. It was incredible.
I begin following her Instagram and notice her posts. Truly an inspirational person.
Weeks go by, and I begin experimenting with a new lighting technique; low key lighting. One day I say to myself, "I would like to photograph an athlete, to make muscles more pronounced with this style. That same day she posts on Instagram, and I quickly send her a message to see if she would be interested in a photo shoot. I explain the concept, and she was totally in!
Granted, it doesn't look like much, but I was pleasantly surprised with the final shot.
Sara made the entire photo shoot seem pleasant, and above all, very easy for me. In fact, she made me feel like a professional photographer haha. She helped me learned much from this technique, and I look forward to building upon what I learned. Now, low key wasn't the only technique we played with.
The antics of a photographer haha. Sara was such a pleasure to shoot with, and I look forward to more collaborative projects with her.