Out of Retirement and Modeling at 67

Anyone who's had the privilege of knowing Harriet Dobin knows that at 67 years old, she hasn't slowed down one iota.  When she told me in 2017 that she was retiring from the Mandell JCC, I knew it wouldn't last long. 

And it didn't.

This fall, she called from Philadelphia, where she moved to be closer to children and grandchildren. "Are you sitting down?" she asked. I was. "You know I've had some crazy ideas in the past, and I have a new one.  I want to be a model. What do you think?"

She's attractive, has great hair, and an energetic, outgoing personality. She's all spirit and spunk.  "I think that's great."

"Good, because I'm coming up and you're going to take the pictures for my portfolio."

She wouldn't hear that I wasn't really a fashion photographer. "You're the one." 

Again, if you know Harriet, you know there's NO arguing once the idea train has left the station.

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In her 'former' life, Harriet was well known in Greater Hartford as a PR person extraordinaire. She was the first person I called in July 2008 for advice when I was considering taking a buyout from the Hartford Courant and starting my own business. She was the first person who hired me for an assignment when I went freelance, and through her I worked for the Jewish Federation and the Mandell Jewish Community Center, shooting everything from summer camps to annual meetings, once climbing a ladder onto a hot tar roof in 100 degree weather to get a shot of a crowded pool at the JCC Swim and Tennis Club.  I loved her energy, her mile long shot list, and her go-go-go spirit. 

Flash forward to November 2017.  We had a great two hours in my Easthampton MA studio as she changed from a cocktail dress to exercise clothes to jeans and a red top. She looked great in everything.  

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She made a promo card and hit the streets of Philadelphia. Reception: warm. It was Thanksgiving Week and she was signed by the Reinhard Agency as a lifestyle model. Gigs: hair and health products on QVC. The need for older women as models was growing she was told. 

And then BOOM.

She read an article in Forbes Magazine about  ZANDWAGON, a new modeling management and talent casting company that represents models who are breaking beauty standards. Their homepage states "From Queer to Muslim, Cis to Punk, our goal is to bring beautiful faces to spotlight a beautiful future." OUT Magazine writes that the agency is "crushing binaries and promoting diversity of every kind." Founded by Kayvon Zand, an Iranian American Queer performance artist, Zandwagon promotes models who are trans, tattooed, pierced and uniquely edgy in their looks. Not your vanilla, preppy boy. The Forbes article said that calls were coming in for mature models and Zandwagon was looking to expand in that direction. Recognizing the value of older models to the fashion, beauty and media industry, the agency sees “the crucial role they are playing in supporting Zandwagon's core mission of fighting against ageism, changing perceptions of what it means to age and promoting genuine inclusivity in our youth-obsessed society.”  

Harriet called. Timing is everything.  

After a test shoot in Union Square in NYC, she was signed! No piercings, no tattoos, a Jewish grandmother of 9 is now on the Development page of their website. Check out Harriet's gorgeous pictures by Debora Spencer, (co founder and Creative Director) and her playful bio where she writes that she is 67 but looks 47 and acts 27. 

It's funny how things work out.  Back in 2008, Harriet was instrumental in helping me take a risk and move into a second career, and in 2018 I got to return the favor, and play a small part in helping her reinvent herself.  

GO HARRIET!!!!  Break down barriers and show us all about aging with grace, beauty and fun!!! 

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Mitzvah Signing Books

To the parents reading this, let's admit it - our kids want a signing board for their bar or bat mitzvah and we dutifully find a great picture or two, head to Kinko's or Staples and voila, we create one and it looks great. Signing boards are fun in the moment, no doubt about it.  A beautiful, spirited photograph of the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl in the center of a 18x24 board, with gushing well wishes from friends and family that are wonderful to read after the party is over. But then what?  Where do you put these giant boards?  I know that the three we have are somewhere in the basement collecting dust.  

A new alternative: Signing Books.

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What's a signing book?  It's a horizontal 10x8 book with 20 pages.  On each spread (two facing pages), one page has a photograph of the child and the other page is blank for signing.  The surface of the paper is matte so that you can write on it, as opposed to on a glossy page which will smudge.  

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To create a signing book you can 1) Do-It-Yourself if you have high enough quality images of your son or daughter that the images can blow up to 8x10 without getting fuzzy and pixelated, or 2) bring in your bar/bat mitzvah photograph to do a one-hour photo shoot with your child (and the rest of the family) and choose the best 11 pictures from that (10 for the book, 1 for the cover, unless you want a fabric/leather cover).  

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Such a shoot can be a wonderful opportunity to get great posed and candid shots of your 12-13 year old just being her or himself. We take so many pictures when our kids are young, and then that falls away and we're left with little documentation, besides generic school pictures, of them in these early teen years when they're emerging from childhood and finding out who they are. Let them pick their favorite outfit, a location they love, maybe an activity (soccer, dance) to include in a few of the images, bring in siblings, parents, and voila, you have a beautiful set of authentic pictures to cherish.  At the party, the blank pages will be filled with words of love and friendship that your daughter or son can keep by the bed as a reminder of how much they're loved. In the case of the young man, above, he was a reluctant 'model.'  He made his mom promise she'd never show the pictures to anyone.  She hid the book until the party when she brought it out.  When the party was over, he saw it, his eyes got wide and the biggest smile came across his face.  "My book," he exclaimed, and grabbing it, he ran off to read all the words.  I loved his unexpected excitement!!

For Ela (below), who had a tropical beach theme at her February bat mitzvah, we headed to a beach in late August to get some shots of her and her sister and parents.  

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As a photographer, specializing in bar and bat mitzvahs, the hour with the young man or woman is an incredible opportunity to create a bond, to help them relax in front of the camera, to build trust before their big day, and help me know how they look best. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE providing the family with a joyous set of pictures.  

This past November, on one of the coldest days of the year, Lili and I headed to the West Hartford reservoir for a shoot.  Her bat mitzvah theme for her spring bat mitzvah is travel so we brainstormed ideas and had a blast.  Here's what we produced on an overcast gray day in the fading colors of autumn. 

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Just as many weddings photographers include an engagement shoot as part of a wedding package, or an a la carte add-on, I have had a blast doing the same with my bar and bat mitzvah clients.  

Bar Mitzvah Preshoot....and my very young assistant

I love kids.  And when I sense a curiosity and spark in them, all the better.  While doing a bar mitzvah pre-shoot with Andy so that his parents could have pictures for an invitation, signing book and slideshow, Andy's younger sister Catie was helpful ("Can I carry your bag?") and interested ("What's the difference between your two cameras?") and beyond adorable. 

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I offered her the camera I wasn't using, showed her how to focus and do a light meter reading, and off she went to photograph her dog, her brother, and me as I climbed up to do a portrait of Andy through a basketball net!!

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I loved that she got up high for some shots and was willing to lay in the grass for others. She waited for fun moments and nailed them!!

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It's always really fun, as a photographer, to get to know a family before a big event, to learn more about the spirit and connections within a family and to just offer everyone an opportunity to get comfortable in front of the camera and with me.  The family is wonderful and I'm looking forward to the December bar mitzvah at the Basketball Hall of Fame, a perfect place for an athlete to celebrate with family and friends!!

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And one with Marvel, by his favorite brook in Forest Park to go swimming in!!

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Brothers

Every bar mitzvah is unique. 

That's what I love about photographing mitzvahs. 

This weekend's was no different. A wonderful young man, Matthew, came of age in the Jewish faith at Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford. On the bimah, he read from his great grandfather's prayer book, saved somehow from his childhood in Vienna, where he grew up in a vibrant Jewish community. That community was destroyed when the Nazis invaded, and his great grandfather was captured and sent to a concentration camp. His sister managed to be smuggled out to safety. The prayerbook miraculously survived. Written in German and Hebrew, it is inscribed by a rabbi to his great grandfather on the occasion of his bar mitzvah in Vienna in November of 1929.  The great grandfather emigrated to the US after the camps were liberated. The book is the only thing from his early life in Vienna to have survived and was handed to down to Matthew's older brother Andrew on the occasion of his bar mitzvah two years ago.  

What I loved, from the moment we did our bar mitzvah pre-shoot in Elizabeth Park, was his relationship with his two brothers, Andrew, 15, and Ian, 4.  Their smiles, their closeness, Matthew and Andrew's patience with Ian. In short, there was a strength and loveliness - if I can use those words together - to these three handsome, wonderful brothers. 

On the bimah of Congregation Beth Israel, in West Hartford, it was no different. LOVE!!

I also loved that Matthew's father is one of three brothers, and when the uncles joined Matthew at the bimah or during the candle lighting, you can just feel their love for each other and for Matthew. That's a very cool thing to hand down generation to generation. 

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Uncles MERLO, David, and Jeff

A beautiful party gathered friends and family from the Dominican Republic, California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Kansas, with dancing and games, courtesy of DJ Austin Dailey and Red Supreme Productions and incredible food and appetizers by Tallulah's Catering in the light filled Sarah Porter Memorial in Farmington.  

 Matthew gets a kiss from Ian, with father Steve looking on.  Sometimes it's the simple moments that speak volumes. 

Matthew gets a kiss from Ian, with father Steve looking on.  Sometimes it's the simple moments that speak volumes. 

Mazel tov Matthew, and his fun loving, spirited parents Steve and Tania, and of course Andrew and Ian.  What a beautiful family! What a joy to share this simcha with you!!

Amherst Commencement

There is something about Amherst students that is absolutely wonderful, and something about being on the idyllic campus that makes my heart feel open and expansive.  That combination always makes for good photographs and a good time.

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I enjoyed working with Amherst photographer Maria Stenzel and seeing Seth Kaye documenting the event for a family. The photojournalist in me relished finding the moments of joy for students that culminated four years of work and learning. I wish them all luck as they move out into the world.