Sparrow Photography: Magical realities via imagery

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Heather Sparrow is a photographer with a mission. If you're looking for a standard studio portrait, she is not the one.

"I've spent all this time creating a magical place where people can have a very unique experience, rather than a regular portrait studio," she explains. "I've spent years collecting a wardrobe; I have a whole room full of crazy dressup things, and I've created sets."

Having a photography session with Sparrow is more like being in a play than having your picture taken. For instance, she recently did a portrait session with a man dressed as a fox having dinner.

"He felt really comfortable because he could be someone else," says Sparrow. "I love the dress-up; I could just do dressup all day long. Everybody loves it — kids love it, parents love it."

Sparrow explains that she works with clients collaboratively.

"You come and we do a consultation. I'm not interested in just the regular family portraits; there are plenty of photographers who do that. I want something that's a reality created as a collaborative effort."

This approach results in a more intimate and personal photo than your standard fare, says Sparrow.

"Although I'm interested in creating a surreal type of image or a different reality, I'm also interested in that person's true expression, or what they wish they were." Sparrow enjoys helping people accept and even become playful with challenging aspects of their physical appearance.

"Through imagery, we can actually ascend," she says enthusiastically. "We are bombarded with images on the Internet and it creates a certain type of reality, and I feel like there are a certain group of warriors like myself, image warriors who are helping people to see a more fun reality. It's very oppressive really; you're not even allowed to age anymore as a woman. Every image that we see is Photoshopped now."

Because Sparrow does a significant amount of pregnancy and birth photography, as well as what she calls "boudoir" photography (women in lingerie), she is often faced with choices that constitute an ethical dilemma for her.

"Do I need to help this woman love her wrinkles or should I just take her $200 and erase them?" she has to ask herself. "Because I don't want to perpetuate this idea of what women are supposed to look like, but on the other hand, I want to feed my children."

Sparrow has been doing photography in Taos for almost 20 years, and for a long time, she played it safe, doing conventional portraits.

"I finally recognized and accepted who I was as an artist," she says, "and now I'm trying to create my business based on that rather than doing the opposite, which was trying to base a business on what I thought would sell."

Many Taoseños would recognize Sparrow as the photographer whose ad featured "the girl in the pink cape."

"For years I ran the same ad, and a lot of people have seen my work," says Sparrow. "I've done the cover of the Wedding Guide, I've done Tempo, Mothering magazine, lots of people's weddings and births."

One of Sparrow's most recent projects was photographing the Runway Vigilantes' A Midsummer Night's Dream-inspired fashion show. She's also been exploring new ways to market her work, including developing a website.

"The Internet is fascinating as far as marketing goes," she comments, adding that she posted the fashion show photos on Facebook.

"Just out of curiosity, every hour I chose 20 friends. Within like four hours, I had 100 hits. Within 24 hours my phone was ringing off the hook."

But she'll only discuss marketing briefly before returning to the subject that impassions her — creating reality through imagery.

"I think imagery is really a powerful tool, and that because of the tools that we have in the digital darkroom now, we can create things that make people take action," she says. "For me the motivation is not about making the money, the motivation is about making change, about making happiness, about creating kind of a sovereign reality, a space of, 'What would it look like if … ?'"

Susan Carpenter Sims writes to create awareness of the critical role entrepreneurship plays in our community. To learn about the many services available for businesses or to make suggestions, call the Taos County Chamber of Commerce at (575) 751-8800.

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