upstate south carolina senior portraits

"Never Mind the Great Ideas, Just Life Itself"

When I was a freshman in college, I was part of a play with the theatre department called Hotel Cassiopeia by Charles Mee.  There were many parts of this abstract play and its existential dialogue that pulled at our heartstrings, but one scene stood out to us as we prepared for our final performance, the last time we would all be together onstage, the last time we would play a part in this story, and when the beautiful experience of putting together this show would all come to an end.  Here’s the dialogue from that scene (exactly as it is written):

MATTA
What sort of future do you see?
what sort of future of humanity and of the world

DUCHAMP
what new forms

MATTA
what new visions

DUCHAMP
this will be the job of the artist

MATTA
this will be the artist's only job

DUCHAMP
because the great changes in the world
the changes of consciousness
the changes of our sense of life itself
will not come from the reasoned arguments
of political scientists or philosophers
but from the visions of artists
not by arguing well
but by speaking differently

MATTA
or is this a promise that has failed, or is failing?
new visions are easy to come up with
but the world goes on ignoring the best of them
the world is littered with so many utopias

DUCHAMP
so many visions of wondrousness
so many great ideas

MATTA
and even ideas that were possible at one time or another
beautiful things

DUCHAMP
or never mind the great ideas
just life itself
the moments of life itself
transporting things
things that will last a moment
and then vanish forever
vanish forever
how does one cherish even what has happened
let alone what might have happened
how does one relish it
how does one relish life itself
it slips through the fingers so quickly

MATTA
this is where the work comes from
if one is an artist
from the shooting stars
water in a stream
a love
a young girl
a woman
a ballerina on the stage
snow flakes
the lifespan of a butterfly
all gone

The whole script is available for you to read online here.

One of my first photography adventures (and one of my first meetings with Clemson Photography) was to the penthouse of Clemson House.  Clemson House was built as a hotel in the 50s, but was later converted into a dorm.  We needed special permission to go up there and the view was stunning, especially at sunset.  I met Alex, who quickly became my friend and later became my co-president of the club, my roommate, and a trusted fellow photographer.

We've tried to recreate this picture because I was still new to using a DSLR, but he still likes this one the best, and edited it to look a little more vintage.

We've tried to recreate this picture because I was still new to using a DSLR, but he still likes this one the best, and edited it to look a little more vintage.

We went back to the penthouse with the club a few more times.  We somehow all climbed on the actual roof, which was one of my favorite memories of college.

Photo by Madeline Hemmingson

Photo by Madeline Hemmingson

Clemson House Clemson Photography

We played with light after sunset, which was always a good time. 

Playing with the steam from the laundry room coming through the pipe.  Photo by  Alex Stewart

Playing with the steam from the laundry room coming through the pipe.  Photo by Alex Stewart

Same spot, different day.  Photo by  Alex Stewart

Same spot, different day.  Photo by Alex Stewart

Here’s the photo that eventually went on my business card was taken at the penthouse.

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Clemson House was Dan’s freshman dorm (where he lived when we first started to become friends) and he eventually proposed to me at the penthouse. 

Photo by Michael Scott

Photo by Michael Scott

On our wedding day, we took some time to drive to the main part of campus for some pictures.  We went to Bowman to get Clemson House in the background.  We knew for a while that there were plans to demolish it, but we found out a little before the wedding that the demolition would start within the week after our wedding.  Right before it started storming, we took some wedding pictures with this building that meant so much to us and held so many important memories. 

One day on the honeymoon, not even a week after our wedding, we were just lying on the bed talking.  At some point, one of us was on Facebook and saw a Facebook Live video of the first step of the Clemson House demolition: removing the iconic neon sign.  This was where I met Alex and so many of my photography club friends, and where we climbed on the roof and collaborated on photo ideas we had.  This was where I took so many photos.  This was where Dan proposed to me.  This was where we took some of our wedding photos as the thunder started.  And now we were watching that place go away, and nobody else would get to experience what we did.

We were two of thousands who watched as this iconic part of campus was slowly taken apart.  We saw the Facebook comments rolling in:

“I lived here all 4 years!”

“I was married in the penthouse in 1974.”

“I made some of my best friends on the 4th floor.”

Throughout the day, several Clemson Photography alumni who shared some of those memories with me tagged me in some Instagram posts from our trips up there.  We saw that day that even though our connection to the building was unique, we were far from the only ones who felt such a strong connection to this place.

What was unique, though, was that our engagement was PROBABLY the last reservation made at the penthouse, and we MAY have been in the last photos ever taken of the building before the demolition.

Someday, our grandkids will be showing their kids our wedding pictures in front of a building they never got to see in person, and telling them, “That’s back when Clemson House was still there.  That’s where they got engaged and they think they were the last to reserve the penthouse and the last people to take pictures with it.”  If our descendants are Tigers, that’ll be something they can show their friends.  Future Tigers will see those pictures the same way we look at pictures taken with the “Hollywoodland” letters, Old Man on the Mountain, or the Pont des Arts.  I was in Clemson last week and saw that the windows have been removed from Clemson House.  We’ve been married for four months and our wedding portraits are practically already antiquities.

The thing is, we don’t always know when we take a picture that something in it won’t be there in a year.  It could be a building, a person, a connection, a time in your life, or a feeling.  That’s why it’s so important to have pictures, and that’s why so many of us have the drive to give people the best pictures possible. 

Note: Everything in this blog about Clemson House and my own wedding day was drafted before I actually started shooting weddings myself.  I hadn’t published it yet, but now I have something to add to it.

I was recently a second shooter for a major wedding photography company.  With this company, I’m hired to shoot for the whole day and then upload all my RAW (unedited and uncompressed) files for someone else to edit.  The couple receives their whole gallery within six weeks.  One night, a little under three weeks after that wedding, I got a text from the main shooter:

“Hey Christine, sorry for the late text, but can you check your email?”

Well, that’s a text that normally signifies something important.  I nervously opened my email.

“Hey Christine, do you have any pictures of the guy with the glasses?  He passed away and the couple would like some pictures to be able to show at his funeral.”

I froze when I saw the picture he attached.  It was a picture of the groom standing next to a guy with glasses holding his son, the little boy who’d caught the garter.  I remembered that he’d held his son on his shoulders so he could catch the garter.  The main shooter knew that I had pictures of this guy because he was a groomsman and I’d been assigned to take pictures of them getting ready and take group pictures of them.    I couldn’t even remember this guy’s name, but I apparently had some of the last pictures ever taken of him.  I knew that I’d have a picture of just him and the groom and a picture of him getting ready with the groom.  I looked through my pictures and saw pictures of him dancing with his young daughter at the reception, and then a few of him holding hands with his wife as they danced around their son and daughter.  They just seemed like sweet photo ops at the time I decided to take them, not very different from photos from other wedding receptions, but now they were so much more than that.  These moments were how he would be remembered because there are pictures of them.  

Things happen and it’s sometimes hard to explain to other people what life was like before then, but seeing pictures on a wall or in an album doesn’t always require an explanation. The groomsman’s children are 8 and 4.  They won’t have as many memories of him as they’d like, but they can look back on pictures of him to remember how he smiled or that day they all danced together at the wedding reception.  I won’t be able to show my future children where Dan proposed to me, but they’ll be able to see pictures from that day, and they’ll have a better understanding how perfect of a view that was for a proposal.  This is why I do what I do: of course we want to remember the significant events of life, but the little moments that aren't pre-planned or talked about are just as important to us to remember.

"Never mind the great ideas, just life itself." 

-- Charles Mee, Hotel Cassiopeia

Eva's Senior Portraits--Keswick Vineyards

I don’t normally take a weekend trip for portraits, but this was a little different.  First of all, it was in my hometown, where I could stay with my parents.  Second, despite being from the Monticello Wine Trail area, I’d never actually done a portrait session in one of the gorgeous vineyards that surround the city.  Third, it was for Eva.

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Not only did I used to babysit Eva, her mom babysat me.  I think I was actually a baby when Cindy and I first met, so we go way back.  Cindy had asked me around December about doing Eva’s senior pictures.  We decided on doing them in September in a vineyard.  We eventually chose Keswick Vineyards, where I actually had my own senior portrait session.  Eva and I explored the vines and the pond while our moms caught up on the porch over a glass of wine.

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Before Eva and Cindy arrived, my mom and I took a walk through the vines and marked the numbers of the ones that looked like they had the most grapes so I could come back to those with Eva.  What I wasn’t expecting was for a whole section of one row to turn red in mid-September. 

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Eva had a whole bag of outfits that fit a fall color scheme, so we had fun looking through that to pick out which ones to use.  I loved the burgundy against the blue and green of the landscape!

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Not pictured: me straddling the fence like a horse.  She's much taller than me so standing on the ground wasn't really an option.

Not pictured: me straddling the fence like a horse.  She's much taller than me so standing on the ground wasn't really an option.

I had so much fun with Eva's session and I hope to come back to Virginia for more vineyard sessions!

 

If you're interested in a portrait or headshot session in the Greenville, SC or Charlottesville, VA area, click here to get in touch.

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Tracy at Furman

Tracy and I did a session for fun with a few outfits we both liked.  I ended up getting some of my favorite pictures I’ve had in a while!

 

We went to Furman University in Greenville, which has a variety of cool backgrounds. 

 

I had fun pairing outfits with backgrounds.  Some of these pairings were planned and some were not.  Here we have green and gold.  The latter comes from the angle of the sun at that time of day.  We thought this part of campus looked like something out of a Disney movie.

I changed the angle between the previous one and the next one just a little and there’s a huge difference in color.  They both have the similar minor edits (like cropping), but the second one looks like it has a Photoshop layer over it.  This is why I love shooting right before the sunset is supposed to start.

Here we have bright blue and almost white.  This combination was planned, but we were so lost and couldn't remember how to get back to this fountain.  She’s actually facing a really orange sunset, which reflected some orange onto her.

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I like the red against the green here, and the vine design on the railing just happened to work perfectly with the style of the dress.

Here we have my favorite color combination in photography: red, blue, and green.  It looks like more of a December picture than a May picture.

Although I was looking for the other fountain to use with the dark blue dress, the shots by this fountain ended up being some of my favorites.  It reminds me of Greece for some reason, not that I've ever been there.

That's all for now!  Hopefully we get an opportunity to do another session soon.  But who says we need a reason?  

Also, I'm perfectly happy with going to Furman for another session if anyone wants to do that, even if you're not affiliated with Furman at all.

Spring 2017 Clemson Graduates

Spring 2017 Clemson Graduates

Highlights from Clemson's spring 2017 graduating class.

Tracy

This is one of the few shots I've ever posed Tracy for.

This is one of the few shots I've ever posed Tracy for.

I’ve known Tracy for a few years; our moms met through a mutual friend after we both committed to Clemson, we both danced there, and she helped me get my grade back up in the hardest psych class I ever took.  She was active in Clemson Miracle and helped raise something like $71,000 for Children’s Miracle Network.  And oh yeah, she competed to be Miss South Carolina and was Miss Clemson University.  So she’s pretty cool.

I had thought about asking Tracy if I could do her portraits so I could practice, but I wasn’t expecting her to ask me to do her portraits because I knew she had studio headshots done prior to competing for Miss South Carolina by someone presumably better at portraits than I was.  I’d never tried doing glamour shots and I don’t have much experience with indoor portraits and setting up artificial lighting.  She said she liked the work she had seen from me and would feel more comfortable if she knew the photographer, which I totally understand, and I thought it would help to get some portrait experience with someone I knew and someone who I wouldn’t have to pose much.  She also wanted portraits done on Clemson’s campus, and there aren’t a lot of professional photographers who actually live within 20 minutes of the campus.

We had the Miss Clemson session on what I think was the first nice day of 2016.  I eventually got tired of the lens I was using and ended up using my least favorite lens at the time—the 50 mm f/1.8 lens.  For the record, this is a good lens for portraits, but doesn’t always focus quickly enough for action shots, so I didn’t like it before I started doing portraits.   It was much sharper than I realized, since I bought it to use in difficult lighting situations and we were now outside on a sunny day, so that made me very happy.  Tracy’s session was the first portrait session I really felt confident editing and made me feel more ready to take on a spring graduation season.  She told me she wanted me to do her graduation portraits in the fall, and I was excited to do it all again with everything I had learned since that session. 

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This is both of our favorites, and the one she uses for her autograph cards.

This is both of our favorites, and the one she uses for her autograph cards.

 

Tracy texted me in July saying that she had gotten in touch with someone in the athletic department about when the stadium would be open for her to have Miss Clemson pictures.  The stadium is open during weekly business hours (which are difficult for me because of my job) and until 4 on the days after home games, so we decided to combine her Miss Clemson pictures with her graduation pictures and scheduled to have the session after the first home game.  At that time of year, 4 PM is not ideal for taking outdoor pictures because the light is still so harsh, so we decided to go to the stadium at 3, get something to eat, and then head back out at the golden hour (softer lighting as the sun is going down).  She asked me that a few hours before if she could get some pictures in her evening gown to surprise her mom for her birthday.  She showed up at the stadium in her gown and crown and everyone, including the security guard, got excited and wanted pictures with her.  Someone asked if he could have a picture with her for his daughter, and she offered him an autograph card, which happened to be my photo of her.  I guess having my picture signed and handed out is a cool milestone for me. 

The security guard eventually went from “you’re not allowed on the field” to “I’ll ask them to stop watering the field for a few minutes if you want to go down there.”  That’s the only portrait session where I got to go on the field.  I was scared when I remembered that the dress she wore to the Miss Clemson pageant was white because white is a difficult color to photograph without blowing out the details, especially in that lighting.  I caved in and used a flash, and I was happy with it.

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Trying not to drag that white gown through the trash that was left in the bleachers from the game the day before

Trying not to drag that white gown through the trash that was left in the bleachers from the game the day before

Trying to incorporate the cap before getting kicked off the field

Trying to incorporate the cap before getting kicked off the field

"You have to come back up now!"  "Do I have time to stand on the paw?"  "No."  "That's a paw.  Go stand there for a sec."

"You have to come back up now!"

"Do I have time to stand on the paw?"

"No."

"That's a paw.  Go stand there for a sec."

She changed out of her evening gown in her car (???) so she wouldn't burn up.  Turf fields at the beginning of football season are the worst, and I can't imagine how bad it would be in that gown.

She changed out of her evening gown in her car (???) so she wouldn't burn up.  Turf fields at the beginning of football season are the worst, and I can't imagine how bad it would be in that gown.

I was trying to be artsy before I burned up.

I was trying to be artsy before I burned up.

We both probably would have overheated if we’d been out there any longer, since Tracy was in a floor-length and long-sleeved evening gown and I was trying to get detail shots on the hot brick.  We went to McAllister’s where there was AC and headed back out to recreate some of our favorite pictures from the last session. 

This is the most fun picture I have at the carillon bell.

This is the most fun picture I have at the carillon bell.

This is the most fun picture I have at Sikes.

This is the most fun picture I have at Sikes.

Revisiting her autograph card picture, except the fountains weren’t on this time.

Revisiting her autograph card picture, except the fountains weren’t on this time.

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This is one of the best sunsets I've ever had for a portrait session.  I'm not the greatest with flash, but I had to get some of that color.

This is one of the best sunsets I've ever had for a portrait session.  I'm not the greatest with flash, but I had to get some of that color.

Not my best shot, but I do this shot with everyone now, so it would only make sense to do it again with her since she was the first one I did it with.

Not my best shot, but I do this shot with everyone now, so it would only make sense to do it again with her since she was the first one I did it with.

I (logically) set aside January for the side of photography that doesn’t involve my camera, since nobody wants outdoor portraits in January.  One of my fraternity brothers from college messaged me and told me that she was the director of this year’s Miss Clemson University pageant and asked if I wanted to be the photographer this year.  It was just a few hours after my Registered Behavior Technician exam in Greenville, but the timing worked out just right.

She led the opening dance number looking like a runway model.

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I took this as she was thanking me for perfectly exposing a white evening gown outside in midday.  No pressure here!

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After reflecting on her experience of holding the title of Miss Clemson University for the past year, Tracy crowned Brooklyn Garrett as the new Miss Clemson University.

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Miss Clemson University 2015, 2016, and 2017--yet another cute pageant photo idea I wouldn't have come up with myself.

Miss Clemson University 2015, 2016, and 2017--yet another cute pageant photo idea I wouldn't have come up with myself.

If Tracy hadn’t asked me to do her pictures, I would not have had the confidence to put myself out there as a portrait photographer.  Being a portrait photographer is not something I saw myself doing, but it's been a wonderful experience to connect with people and share their stories through my photos. Also, I most likely would not have had this experience of shooting the Miss Clemson University pageant if it wasn't for Tracy.  I can thank her for believing in me when I didn’t have a lot of portrait work that I was proud of yet, for being open to me experimenting, for continuing to come to me when there are other photographers who know more about pageants than I do, and as always, for being a friend.  I may not have an auditorium full of people who will hear me talk about Tracy, but my blog is the best I can do.      

Tracy and I with the ticket that has my photo of her.  

Tracy and I with the ticket that has my photo of her.  

To read more about Tracy's work with Children's Miracle Network and her time as Miss Clemson University 2016 and Miss Greater Easley 2015, to to tracyelizabethmcgee.com.