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.
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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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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