She walked into the room with such a swift and sure stride that I was taken aback. This was not a bad feeling for me, but more a sense of jealousy at the comfort level at which she seemed to be. I had never photographed her, she had never been in a studio with me, nor had I ever even met her in person. Yet, suddenly, I had the sense that this would be a comfortable shoot. A shoot that would not need many frames to get the shot.
Her green eyes glinted and caught every light that came through the windows. The skin on her face caught my attention. It was dewy, flawless, peach and creamy. She wore inside-out French braids in her hair, like we had discussed in the emails about this shoot. I wanted her to look and feel how she looked to me on Instagram. She bounced her baby effortlessly on her knee as she told me her story.
She told me that she’s danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 14 years. She is a soloist there, and this is her final season. She always knew that she would start her family around this time in her life, but she never could have known that she would be pregnant during a worldwide pandemic.
She seemed a little sad as she told me that she had hoped to dance on the stage one more time. She seemed sad as she told me that she is happy to have these pictures, to show her daughter that while she was on this earth, her mommy danced ballet. Though through the sadness, she has made peace with the thought of these being her last dancing days. She looked at her daughter with such affection and love, excited for the next steps in her life.
There were a few last photos for me to take, but her daughter was hungry and tired. We decide to pause for a little snack, and she nursed her baby girl right there. She was facing the backdrop, the white tulle tutu wouldn’t hook in the back. There was a snag on the seam of one of her favorite blue leotards. Her daughter, Olive, peered around her shoulder at me, and Leah smiled down at her. It was the most beautiful thing to behold. I snapped a photo of this. This moment summed her shoot up for me. This moment. “The transition,” Leah later called it in a post she made on Instagram. She is moving from ballet dancer to motherhood. Her purpose has changed.
And with that, a little rustling, packing, and saying goodbye, she was gone. The house was empty as I packed up my backdrop and scanned through the digital photos and videos I got from the shoot.