Today I’d like to introduce you to Syeda Mleeha Shah. She was the winner of our “Women who Make History” contest back in March. Shah also holds the distinction of being the first person I photographed in my new studio!
I couldn’t have asked for a better history-making Richmond woman! Shah is owner of a local childcare and education center, as well as a multitalented artist. Her diverse creative interests including writing, art and photography.
Get to know Syeda Mleeha Shah
On your travel wish list: Turkey and Greece
Favorite meal: Omelet of any kind
Favorite thing to do in Richmond: Get a refreshing smoothie at @PulpFictionRVA
Things in your purse that aren’t keys or wallet: My daughter’s picture. And key charms from all the places I have traveled to.
Book you’re telling all your friends about: Pir- E- Kamil, The perfect Mentor, by Umera Ahmed
Recent favorite music: Catch And Release, Matt Simons
Recent favorite museum exhibit: Wolfsonian In Miami Fl
Her overarching goal in all of her endeavors is to spread peace in the world. Perhaps that sounds lofty or too general, but no one could ever charge Shah with not actively participating in her mission.
In 2010 she released the children’s book, Peace in my World. Written by Shah and illustrated by Jason Hutton, the book engages children to explore the deeper meaning of peace.
Shah incorporates her mission into her role as mother of a 13 year old daughter. “My focus throughout parenting has been on embracing acceptance, integrity and gratitude within my daughter’s life style. I strongly believe that it’s very important for each individual to find balance between the three in order to feel successful.
Originally from Pakistan, Shah visits family there at least once at year. One of her favorite traditions in Pakistan is the night before Eid which marks the end of Ramadan. “That night, all the women in the house from oldest to youngest sit together and draw henna designs on each other hands. They wear colorful scarfs, listen to traditional music and chat throughout the night until their henna dries out. Once those beautifully drawn mandalas dry, then all the girls are ready to wash their hands and discover the color of festivity all over their hands,” says Shah.
What does Shah want people to know about her native country? “People living in Pakistan are not much different than any other place in the world. They have the same dreams, same values and same level of patriotism like any other civilization. They may look different, speak different language, wear different clothes, but deep down they all belong to the same human race.”
Besides all that? Shah is a beautiful soul who was a blast to photograph! I’m over the moon about her and her photos.
To keep up with Shah and her endeavors, follow her Facebook Page and website.
A tree, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, June 2018 ©
On my personal Instagram my bio says, “Think Less. See More.” My yin and yang can get a little too jumbled together. In other words, even when it comes to travel and portrait photography, I sometimes think too much. “Think Less. See More.” is a directive I could stand to hear every day!
If only we needed to hear our best lessons once! But it turns out we need to hear our best lessons over and over. Certain words and thoughts call out to us. We are compelled to share them with others and hopefully, we grow to more and more live by them ourselves.
Another day, another tree, Shenandoah National Park, June 2018 ©
Photography can require a lot of thinking and organizing, especially ahead of time. The yin and yang of creativity can collide only in the moment. Besides not forgetting a camera (it happens!), getting out of my own way enough to see things better is my constant goal. This is true whether I’m in the studio photographing a client, on the road or at home.
Plenty of things to think about bombard us every day. Much of it uninvited, most of it unpleasant. Resisting default thinking mode and seeing the world and life and its amazingness, whatever that is too a person, takes effort.
Just on the other side of all those thoughts there is always some kind of beauty. It’s there all the time. Press repeat.
I convinced my own mother (then 78) to let me take her portrait a couple of years ago. It took a little convincing. Her first reaction was “why?”
Of all the reasons women resist having their photograph taken, I think the main reason is this: We’re waiting for permission.
We make it hard to get past our inner critic, or our “judgmental inner attorney.”
My grandmother on a trip to Arizona, probably around 1928.
The judgmental inner attorney has lots of “shoulds” and “should nots”
I once had an elderly woman say to me say, “The only time a lady should have her photo appear in the paper is when she is married, and when she dies.”
If we give into this kind of sentiment, it only reinforces the negative societal stereotypes on aging. It turns out our very own “judgmental inner attorneys” are usually harder on us than any outside influence. (quotes from inspiring women here, if you need it!)
Remember that the people who love you the most in this world will someday be beyond grateful to have photographs of you, at any and all your ages.
Sure Mother’s Day is a bit of an odd Hallmark thing. But if you’re lucky enough to be or have a mother still with us, you can do yourselves an important favor: Do a special photoshoot and don’t wait until it’s too late!
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. – John Lennon
Photoshoot with my own mom
We pulled out something fancy from the back of her closet. It didn’t quite zip up all the way, but it didn’t matter. I did her make-up and hair. It was a beautiful thing, taking care of her in this way and her letting me.
I sat her near a window in her dining room where the light was amazing. I love having the element of her architectural wallpaper as a backdrop. She’s an architectural historian, so it adds to it, I think.
I will never forget the special memory of doing this together. We both especially love having wall portrait of the photograph hanging in prominent places in our homes.
When she’s gone, I’ll still have both the memory and the portrait. When I’m gone, my daughters will.
This is why I know deep in my heart that a mother/daughter or mother-and-whoever, or mother by-herself shoot can be the most special Mother’s Day gift ever.
“Margo was able to capture the wonderful relationship that I have always had with my mom. My mom hates having her picture taken but Margo was able to put her worries at ease and she ended up having a wonderful day.”- Rita
“Thank you, Margo, for a lovely morning and for making what was a very intimidating process for me end up being an experience that was relaxed, fun and so special. Much love for you!” – Connie
“Not only do we have the most amazing photos to cherish for generations, but we have the sweet memories of spending the day feeling pretty, laughing, talking and realizing how lucky we are to have each other. ” – Keri
Until I became a portrait photographer, I felt like the above photograph about having my own photograph taken. I’d hide at least part of me behind something. This photo isn’t even of me. I’m comfortably in my favorite place, fully hidden behind the camera.
The idea of the whole me being out there mostly has always seemed like too much. Granted photographers often feel this way more than others. But I quickly learned , whether to a degree or to an extreme, most women feel this way – for good reason.
No those reasons aren’t because we are fat, ugly or old. Please know that these things are lies that we’ve been taught to be the primary touchstones of how we feel about ourselves. This is true even if we think we’ve felt them our whole lives. We tell ourselves these things when we fall anything short of what we personally, someone else, or society calls “perfect.”
We all too willingly call ourselves these awful things, that we wouldn’t dream of saying to even our worst enemy.
We don’t treat ourselves well at all.
Sure we might take one for the team and be photographed for the family Christmas card. Maybe our jobs require us to have a professional headshot taken. Our weddings are a whole other story I’ll write about someday.
We don’t want to see what we think we really look like. Not being photographed, lets us avoid looking too closely, albeit from our distorted point of view.
This is where I call BALONEY.
Rather this is where the old phrase, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” comes into play.
Unless you are a model or on television, most photographers in the world whose work we see in magazines don’t care about what you look like. The commercial and editorial worlds seek out those matching current traditional beauty norms to photograph. The irony is they spend hours, seeking out angles, constructing flattering lighting schemes and poses, and yes – Photoshopping — for those women who least “need” it.
On the other hand, us “regular” women are most often found in photographs in our roles of “mother” “spouse” or “employee.”
We are left in charge of our own curation.
So we suck in our stomachs, hold our breath, and say a prayer.
But there are other photographers around who care a great deal about what you look like. Who will give you the time and attention you deserve and need to have flattering photographs taken of you.
Hey there, beautiful.
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It’s true – women in the public eye have to be photographed every now and then. Aren’t we glad they were?
Enjoy these quotes from and images of just a few of my own favorite female inspirations. I hope they will give a push to even the most reluctant among us to get out there and be photographed! (Learn more about my portrait and personal branding photography sessions.)
Some of these women were photographed often, while with others, I sense they felt it was more of a necessary evil (hello writers, Mary Oliver and Madeleine L’Engle.)
Marianne Williamson, spiritual teacher, author and lecturer (Born: July 8, 1952)
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
This powerful quote has inspired me on many occasions. I’m extremely grateful to Marianne Williamson for saying it! When I meet people whom I want to photograph who are reluctant for whatever reason, this is the quote I most want to share with them.
We are all worthy of being gorgeous, talented, and fabulous! (And I know you already are.)
Audrey Hepburn (May 4, 1929 – January 20, 1993
The beauty of a woman must be seen from in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides.
Audrey Hepburn was not just another fashion icon and pretty actress, but a beautiful soul. She made few movies in the last decades of her life, and died at age 63. She dedicated much of her time to her work for UNICEF particularly in Africa. I wish she was around to see how obsessed so many women are with her these days!
Mary Oliver, poet (Born: September 10, 1935)
I want to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
I once heard someone say, “Everyone needs a little Mary Oliver on their bedside table.” And I couldn’t agree more. This also is probably my favorite photograph of the bunch. I wasn’t familiar with what Oliver looked like and was glad to find this stunning portrait, taken by Mariana Cook, the last protégée of Ansel Adams.
Madeleine L’Engle (November 29, 1918 – September 6, 2007)
The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.
To me this is the quintessential quote about embracing getting older. It takes societal defaults on aging – all black balloons and “Ugh, I’m turning thirty-nine again” or “I was afraid I’d burn the house down with all those birthday candles,” and perfectly turns it on its head.
Carol Burnett (Born: April 26, 1933)
Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.
Carol Burnett is the funny lady who inspired all who followed. She was funny before women were funny. She was a sharp businesswoman before women were businesswomen. Her variety show which aired from 1967 – 1978, and again for several episodes in 1991, would have never happened if she hadn’t had the guts to take control of her own life.
Maya Angelou ( April 4, 1928 – May 28, 2014)
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
Angelou lived life to the fullest. Her life was marked by always trying something new, being courageous, and speaking up. Most of her works as a poet and writer are at least semi-autobiographical, but if you want a quick rundown on some lessons we can learn from her, read this. And isn’t this photo of her fabulous?
Oprah Winfrey (Born: January 29, 1954)
The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.
I was so excited to see that Oprah’s profile photo on Twitter was this stunning photograph below. It’s hard to say anything about Oprah without sounding trite, so I’ll just leave it at her quote and image and by saying, I love love love her glasses.
Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962)
With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
Roosevelt was longest serving First Lady in history, having held the post from 1933 to 1945. Today she is best remembered as having filled in for her husband, President Franklin Roosevelt, on many occasions after he suffered from paralysis. At the time she was best known at her outspokenness, particularly on racial issues. She wrote a weekly newspaper column, hosted a radio show, and held regular press conferences.
Margot Fonteyn (May 18, 1919 – February 21, 1991)
Jumping for joy’ is a very basic human reaction, and a child skipping down the street is simply an untrained dancer.
Margot Fonteyn was an English ballerina who spent her entire career with the Royal Ballet. As a person named Margo and a dancer for many years, I have always been in awe of her. She wrote an autobiography that reveals not just her exciting life, but her imagination and remarkable unpretentiousness.
Meryl Streep (Born: June 22, 1949)
Don’t waste so much time thinking about how much you weigh. There is no more mind-numbing, boring, idiotic, self-destructive diversion from the fun of living.
As I was finishing up this post I remembered it was Oscar weekend, so I wanted to include something from Meryl Streep. She’s a straight talker, yet always polished and like a good mother, always has just the right thing to say. Also, The Post is her 21st Oscar nomination! She continues to break her own record!
Based on the fact that almost everyone says they want to wait until they lose weight to have their photograph taken, this quote from Streep was a no-brainer!
Now! Who are the women in your life who you think should be photographed?
Hopefully these women have inspired you to understand that that woman may just be you!
Have you ever wondered why when old high school friends see each other after many years, we always say something like, “You haven’t aged a bit!” or “You look the same as you did in high school!”
There’s something about old friends. Something amazing that seems to dissolve the concept of time; and numbers, like champagne bubbles, effervesce away. “Ageless” becomes something far more lovely than a fear-inducing marketing word for anti-wrinkle moisturizer!
My theory is that old friends can easily see that part of us that for now and ever will be exactly the same. Old friends don’t have to look that hard to see the woman behind the age, complete with her well-lived life full of ups and downs, as well as some of the best days of her life spent without wearing sunscreen.
Whether I’ve known you forever, or for less than a week, “this” is what I try to find as a photographer of women of all ages. My superpower (yes, I just said that – I decided if people 25 years younger than I do have superpowers then I must have one too) is ferreting out that part of you, that doesn’t change, whether you’re 8 or 80 years old.
So of course as soon as Kim walked in the studio last week for her session, I wasn’t surprised. If she’d had a million pricks and prods by the world’s best plastic surgeons, she couldn’t have looked more like herself than if it were 1980. If the bright blue eyes had been missing it would have been weird, but even if her hair had been dyed purple, I would have still seen the same person.
With one of the most gorgeous smiles ever on her face (her father was a dentist, but the magnificence of her smile is more than that), the only thing I had to work at was getting a few of Kim, NOT smiling. Well, that and the fact that she is 6 feet tall, which meant I had to spend a lot of time standing on a stool.
In the initial questionnaire, Kim explained her reason for wanting to come to me to be photographed: “Because I’m cool with being 55 and happy with me. Might as well capture that…I do have daughters and they need a pic of Mom!”
So firstly, she wants her twin young adult daughters to have beautiful photographs of her. But as with every client the other reasons Kim wanted to be photographed became more clear (I’m trying not to say “in focus” too much – minor peeve), as we moved forward.How much she would enjoy the process of being photographed only became apparent after we began our work together.
She wanted to have the full experience, pampering and empowering photoshoot experience, I am passionate about providing! Kim’s make up artist for the day, Jatia G., and my assistant for the shoot, Essie, and I fussed and fluffed dear Kim like Disney woodland creatures over Snow White. The pleasure was ours too.
Below is a short slideshow video for Kim. My plan is to do more of these for clients. I think it may be a fun way for them to share their shoot (or just to keep for themselves.) What do you think?
Read Kim’s testimonial.
Hey there, beautiful.
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