On Being Photogenic by Miachelle DePiano

©2016, Miachelle D Photography, LLC MODEL: James M.

©2016, Miachelle D Photography, LLC MODEL: James M.

I saw an Instagram meme posted today that really struck a chord with me and my philosophy on photographing people. On @EmbraceYourFace.NYC, by Francesco Sapienza, a commercial photographer out of New York. it said “Being photogenic is not the subject’s duty, it’s the photographer’s.".  

I couldn’t agree more. 

Being a people photographer, I hear a lot of comments by individuals when I take their picture, especially in more candid situations such as events.

“Can you photoshop ten years/ten pounds off me?”
“Oh, no thank you, I’m not photogenic.” 
“Oh, photograph her. She’s much better looking.”


We each have a different mental image of ourselves, and often it’s much more critical than how others see us. Our mental image is created by life experiences, self-comparisons, and self-induced pressures to compete. 

I look around me, and I see photogenic people everywhere I go. I look beyond the conventional ideals that many use to evaluate and determine what “photogenic” is. I look at an individual, and I see the journey of a lifetime, and I see the character that has evolved out of the journey. You are already photogenic before I ever meet you, because of what life has made you and where it’s taken you. My role as a photographer is to capture that character I see and immortalize it. When I meet you, my first job isn’t to set up the lighting and the camera. 

My first job is to connect with you. 

Once I connect with you, the relationship between you and me, and therefore you and the camera, is established. The camera and the lighting is merely an extension of me. Then I focus (no pun intended) on setting up the lights, and the camera. I use my knowledge about lighting, camera settings, and posing to get the best representation of you.

Then WE create magic. 

One of the most rewarding things I hear is when someone says “I didn’t know I looked like that!” or “This is beyond my expectations!” That means I broke down a mental barrier about you had about yourself, and brought to light an aspect of you that you didn’t see before. I love showing you what I see about YOU. I love showing you that there is a YOU entirely different than the one you see when you look in the mirror. 

I love showing people just like YOU that you are, in fact, photogenic

Visions of GRANDeur by Miachelle DePiano

"Indeed!" as Marshall Shore likes to say.

Indeed, it has been a very long time since I blogged. I went through a period of really examining what I like to photograph, and a meeting last year turned into a project that solidified where I belong in photography, at least in my mind.

In September, 2015, I met Marshall Shore at a Roosevelt District Artist Meetup at Monorchid. Marshall was a breath of fresh air. The beard, the glasses, the bow tie clipped on a lapel and left to dangle, and that laugh. Those of you who know the Mah-velous Marshall know what I mean. I asked my friend Daniel Swadener to introduce us, and he kindly obliged. The first words out of my mouth were, "I MUST photograph you." He laughed and said, "Sure. When?"

That meeting resulted in a very fun shoot on October 24th, 2015. The result was a pretty iconic photo of Marshall, though we did get more than one good shot from the shoot. Mike Eller assisted me, and the three of us had fun working with Marshall's bow tie collection, blazer collection, and eyewear collection.

Fast forward to 2016. I'm on a magazine assignment at a festival on 7th Avenue, and there is Marshall, assisting vintage clothing boutique diva Jenny Kuller. He mentions he might have a project to collaborate with me on. Marshall, asking moi to collaborate? Say no more! It took a couple more weeks to get the deets, but it turned out that Marshall was getting Chartreuse Gallery for the month of September for his 50th birthday, and he was curating his own show. I was one of the invited artists, and his concept was a photo shoot with friends of his who also have unusual eyewear, as a result of that great photo I took of Marshall. He wanted that feel with these images.

We batted logistics and such about for a bit, but in the meantime, I was pondering things like backdrops, lighting, and lighting with eyeglasses. If you don't know, photographing people with eyeglasses is difficult. The lenses have this maddening way of catching the reflection of the studio lights. When you see commercial advertisements with eye wear or sunglasses, the lighting reflection is either very purposeful, or it's been shot to keep the light out and also edited to remove any reflection. My past experiences in photographing someone wearing eyeglasses resulted in lots of time editing the reflections out. I had to get it right "in camera" this time.

Eventually I decided to shoot everyone on white, black, and colored gel backdrops. Marshall's image was lit with both yellow and orange gels, and I wasn't sure how cohesive the photos would be. I decided to give myself options. Options are good--after the shoot, it's too late.

Marshall narrowed down his list of subjects to four people, from an original nine. "Man About Town" Oscar de las Salas, lovely Millye Bloodworth, the impish Deon Brown, and the inspirational ceramicist Patricia Sannit were the lucky models. Actually, at the end of this, I was the lucky one.

We photographed everyone in two weekends, each one with a two hour session. I was methodical. Start with the black backdrop, switch to the white, then change the lighting and add the gel for each subject. Marshall was present for all the shoots, and it was great, because the conversations that came out of those shoots were terrific. Each subject shared a bit of their history and background, and really opened up for the camera. Marshall and I didn't want sedate, serene posing. We wanted the life and personality that all of these people exude on a daily basis.

Ultimately as I edited and combed through the results, I fell in love with a number of the images, but as I thought about the body of work, I decided all of them had to have the gel backgrounds. Furthermore, as I test printed the images on 4x6 paper, and compared them all, I realized that they were beautiful as photographs, but the color was so intense, I was afraid the color would override the personality being captured. One of my reasons for loving black and white photography is that the absence of color frees you to examine the details and the emotion. I kept looking at these images, and decided I need to do something I don't do often. I decided these were going to transition from being photographed portraits to a photographic painting.

The editing began, and once I saw the results, I knew it was the right decision. The portraits had a different life in their new presentation.

The itself was terrific. Marshall did a great job selecting the artists, and a lot of people came to see all the wonderful things he brought together, from the specially made Marshall Muppet to Zarco Guerrero's sculptures to the Cudia City stage curtain Marshall rescued, to Hector Primero's fantastic merging of antique photos and his modern photos, and so many more artists.

Now that the show is over, I look at these portraits, and I'm reinvigorated by the freedom I had in creating these images from beginning to end. Marshall, thank you for inviting me to this show, and I hope there is more collaboration in our future.

Meraki by Miachelle DePiano

I saw a meme the other day on Facebook that provided the definition for the word meraki. Pronounced may-rah-kee, it's a Greek adjective meaning:

  1. To do something with soul, creativity, or love.
  2. To put “something of yourself” into what you’re doing.

My personal project, The Art of Living in Arizona, is intended to key in on this very aspect of being an artist. Yes, I want to show that Arizona has a very diverse art culture, and that it's not as underdeveloped as some would make it out to be. However, as I photograph my subjects, whether  in the midst of a discussion, in my studio, or working in their studio, there is one key element they share: meraki.

Some of my subjects are fortunate and have found partners willing to support them in their artistic endeavors. Others find that their muse is their sole lover and soul mate, and at times she is an unforgiving partner. Some accept it as fact; others are not as accepting. Regardless, they are all driven by and committed to putting something of themselves in their work.

The need to create and express oneself is essential to an artist's existence. With each piece of work, a bit of the artist is embedded inside. The need to make the audience feel something, preferably positive, is essential to the artist, but even a negative reaction can be interpreted as a positive. If your audience feels nothing about your work, you have failed.

I created the image above recently for my Project 52 course I am taking. Our assignment was to create a cd cover, using one red balloon. We had no other source of information from which to draw inspiration. No band/artist name, no song title or lyric. I struggled with this. I researched balloon imagery, and if I may say so, most of it is bland and typical. Balloons in the air, single balloons, balloon bunches, balloons filled with water being burst and captured at high rates of speed...Nothing I saw made me feel anything. Meanwhile, in my head, "sinister" kept sticking in my mind.

Finally, an idea began to emerge. Balloons typically symbolize childhood innocence or sweet romance. What about when someone hands you a balloon with a smile, but in reality has something much more sinister? I wanted to symbolize that nothing is as it seems in life, not even something as innocuous as a red balloon. The part of me that is in this image is that this is a lesson I've learned in life, and I know many others have as well. Everything comes with a price, and nothing is free. The question is, what price are you willing to pay?

I shot the image, thanks to my friends Jake and Mike, and had the image I sought. And the entire time, as I was shooting, then editing, this image, the thought was "What if it isn't liked in Project 52?" The answer that rang through my head was "Great! If they love it, great! If they hate it, great!" Why? Because then I've made the viewer feel something, stemming from the piece of me that I put into this image.

The image is done, and it was created with an element of meraki. I can't ask for more...unless of course there is some heavy metal thrash band that loves the image and wants to license it for use. :-) But then we're talking business, not art, and that's an entirely different topic of discussion.