Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meeting a Stranger

"Hello? This is Justin."

I heard the voice on the other end of the call.  

"Hi, Justin, this is Hilary. I think we might be lost."  

I kept kicking myself for not taking a better look at the directions he had sent me via email on how to get to his studio.  Some first impression I was making.  Luckily we weren't that lost, just a block or two away from where we needed to be.  He guided us to the right place over his cell phone and in a matter of seconds we found ourselves at 1 East Center Street.

As we pulled into a parking space I looked up and noticed what a beautiful building it was.  It happened to be one of those old historic buildings downtown Provo with a gorgeous flowering pear tree bursting with white blossoms right out front greeting us.  Justin was standing there waving to us with a big smile, letting us know we had made it to the right place.  He had on a chambray shirt, converse shoes and jeans.  His laid back, easy going style was contagious and welcoming. We followed him through the front door and up the stairs.  I noticed a sign that had been hung on the stair landing to welcome the three of us.  Funny how that little detail made me feel special and maybe even a little important.  

We were led into his office where the same favorite baby blue couch that is in my brother's home was sitting.  He invited us to take a seat and get comfortable and he sat down in a chair facing us.  At first we chatted about his office and talked about how we loved the couch and the gray paint color that was on the walls.  I told him that he knew my dear friend Marta and we both talked about how great she is.  She was, after all, the reason I signed up for this project this year.  

After some short chit-chat Justin got down to business and started asking us questions.  He began with me, then went to my mom and talked to my grandma very last.  They were simple questions such as "where are you from?" and "what do you do?" or "how many kids do you have?" but somehow those questions opened things up enough so that we were willing to share our entire life stories with him if he wanted.

My mom and I told him about how my grandpa had died when my mom was just three years old, leaving my grandma with six kids to raise on her own.  She did so and provided for their family without ever having to leave the house.  She bought duplexes and rented them out, providing a steady income for her family.  She taught her kids how to work by cleaning and maintaining those duplexes.  She never has remarried.  I told Justin it was because she is still too in love to ever remarry.  A real life love story.

It was very casual and comfortable there in his office.  In the midst of his questions for us, we asked him a little bit about himself.  Come to find out he is a fellow Idahoan and even got married in the same temple that the three of us did.  His parents even live in the same town as my parents... and it's not the same city that we grew up in!  Crazy.

Once we had gotten to know each other a little and after a few final shots of hair spray and smudges of lip gloss, he led us into his studio.  I'm not sure what I was expecting to find in his studio, after all I have only ever been to one or two other photography studios in my entire life.  But it wasn't necessarily about what I found, it was what I didn't find that I loved.  I didn't find fake backdrops.  I didn't find cheesy props.  I didn't find big bright lights that melt your skin and make your eyes squint.  Instead, I found a large open room with a couch against one wall and a piano on the other and a couple of windows on either side.  

A majority of our pictures were taken in front of the windows.  The lights remained off and only natural light was used.  I was amazed at all that had to have been going on in his bald head.  He took into account the light, the angle, the composition all while making sure there weren't any stray hairs on our heads or green things in our teeth.  He definitely knew what he was doing and continued to ask us questions through the entire process to help keep us at ease.

At one point Justin asked what ethnicity we had in our family (most likely referring to my almond shaped eyes).  We couldn't help but laugh a little as we told him we were caucasian.  I then told him not to worry because I once got away with telling my fellow classmates that I was Filipino and they believed me for an entire week until I told them otherwise.  This was the first of many experiences relating to the confusion of me being either Asian or Native American.  Needless to say, it wasn't the first time someone had questioned my ethnicity.

It was very intimidating having a huge camera lens just inches away from my face but he somehow made us all feel very relaxed and comfortable despite what could have been an uncomfortable situation.

As I watched Justin take pictures of my mom and Grams (who is 85) I couldn't help but have a lump in my throat as I thought about how much I love those women.  They are as beautiful as they come, both on the outside and the inside.  The time I was able to spend with the two of them in that studio as Justin captured their beauty is a time I will always cherish and remember.

After we took our final picture Justin brought us back to his office to schedule a time to come view the slideshow.  He then sent us on our way with a box of heavenly mint truffles and a couple of his awesome business cards.  Before leaving he and my mom tentatively arranged senior pictures for my sister during a time when he would be down visiting his parents.  We left after saying our thank you's, nice to meet you's and goodbye's.

As I sat there in the car on the ride home I couldn't help but think about how amazing it was that in just a short hour and a half we, who were once strangers, had become friends.

Want to see a couple more pictures from our session?  Find them here.  Do me a favor and leave him a comment when you do, please oh please? 
Want to learn more about Justin's 30 Strangers project?  Go here.
Need an awesome photographer for your next event?  Contact Justin here. You won't be sorry.


  1. verge on tears over here reading about your sweet grandma. what an amazing woman she is. i definitely regret not signing up for his project after reading your experience.

  2. I love this idea. I would love to participate in something like that. Really cool!~

  3. Hil, this picture is so lovely and precious.
    I love it. Sounds like a perfect day in the studio with Justin.

  4. Hilary, you come from a line of beautiful and strong women! The story of your grandmother is so inspriring. What an amazing woman!

    I love these pictures!!

    My brother in law and his wife live in your cute town. Love it there!

  5. What a great experience! I miss Grams, and wish I could see her more often. How wonderful to have such beautiful pictures and memories!

  6. Hil, this is awesome. I have never heard of the project until now...but what an amazing cause. We work with the Center for Women and Children in Crisis all the time in my job and it is a great organization. Your pictures are so beautiful!

    This is kim, by the way. I am too lazy to log in to my account at this moment.

  7. what a priceless experience. one you will surely remember forever. and what incredibly beautiful photos!!!

  8. Hil you aer stunning! and your mother and grandmother are beautiful! and your story about your grandma's story is a tear jerker! thanks for sharing!

  9. Hilary, so totally beautiful. And your grandmother, wow. she is my hero. I loved reading every word, thanks for indulging us with the details!


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