It was almost four months ago that I wrote a blog called Polar Express. In that post, I talked about my day job, United Portrait Studios, a three person company - the three being my wife, Christina, our partner Adrienne Wall, and me.
Adrienne takes amazing portraits of children at day care centers and Christina and I show and sell them to the children's parents and, in many cases, grandparents.
When Adrienne suggested that we replace our traditional Christmas set with a Polar Express set, I was reluctant - the full story is in the post mentioned in the first paragraph.
Last Saturday, I conducted the final sale of the season, which included fifteen shoots of the Polar Express. It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words, or, in the case of children, maybe ten thousand words. Take a look, and you'll see what I'm talking about.
We have a number of sets: Spring, Summer, Fall, Vintage, and Winnie the Pooh, Studio, Traditional Christmas and now, Polar Express. The children we photograph love Adrienne. The little girls think she is their new playmate and of course, the boys think she is their new girlfriend. She is the master of getting the perfect picture of each of them, and she leaves them with pleasant memories of the experience. So pleasant, that there have been a number of times when I've arrived with the pictures and been greeted by one of the children saying, "We don't want you. Where's the picture girl?"
That's to be be expected, considering how much fun they had with the "picture girl." Thousands of times I've heard parents say, "She (or he) never smiles that way for us. We just don't know how Adrienne does it."
Well, I know how she does it, and I'm going to share her secret, which is more than tickling them with a feather, telling them their father wears pantie hose, or blowing bubbles, although she does all of those things and dozens of others.
Adrienne's secret, her real secret, is that she listens to each of her subjects. In fact, each child is a subject for her. A subject that demands, and receives, her full attention. She listens to the children and she speaks to them, really speaks to them. To put it another way, she gets in their moment with them and only begins taking pictures when she is sure they are joined in time.
Does that work? Well, take a look. I believe you'll agree with me that it does. It helps to have a set that the kids love, and obviously they love Polar Express. It doesn't hurt at all to have Lucius, the reindeer ham who rivals Rudolph. But those aren't the ultimate keys to what you see in these pictures - which is Adrienne Wall, an adult who takes the time to join the children in their space, before asking a thing of them.
There's a lesson here for all of us. When we listen, really listen, and form a bond of love and trust, then magic happens. It happens everywhere, not just on a photo set. It happens in traffic, in Walmart, at a convenience store, in school - it happens anywhere two people meet without fear, without an agenda, and with love and respect for each other.
May you be engulfed by childlike, unconditional love, this holiday season and every moment for the rest of your lives.
Tomorrow I will post the fourth in my Norman Rockwell series of blogs. I call it Duck Hunting and here's the illustration: