On April 7, photographers Sabina Cavalli and Cristiane Laird, of Naperville, Illinois, partnered for an early-bird “Celebration of Smiles” promotion because the April 21 national date could not work for them. Both photographers are fairly new to the Naperville market, but together they raised $960, enough to allow Operation Smile to perform the gift of surgery for four children in desperate need — a wonderful result and a great first event for PPA Charities’ new Celebration of Smiles fundraiser. Curious as to how the event had unfolded for them, Ann Monteith, chairman of the PPA Fundraising Committee, reached Sabina by phone, then corresponded with Cristiane. What she learned, she shares in the following article:
I’ve always been interested in “firsts.” As a print journalist and photojournalist, I’ve covered a lot of profoundly forgettable first-day or first-night events, as well as a few “accidental firsts” that I remember to this day. I contacted Cristiane and Sabina to learn whether they had some words of wisdom to impart to the 300 or so photographers who will be hosting their Celebration of Smiles promotions on April 21 or thereafter, and they did. You can read their very interesting thoughts and useful suggestions below. But I hope you also will read the story of the serendipity that brought these two women together to share this small piece of PPA history. It’s another one of those fascinating “accidental firsts,” that upon reflection couldn’t fit the narrative of what PPA Charities stands for more perfectly.
Consider this about Sabina and Cristiane: Both immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil, and each had well-established careers: Sabina was a law professor and a lawyer in Brazil. “When I moved to the US (I spent 5 years in Minnesota) I found myself stripped of all my competencies,” she explains. “I no longer could teach anything, and my prolific writing skills (in my native language) were worth nothing.” Cristiane, who holds a degree in computer science, was employed as aTest Lead Engineer as her “day job,” and her evening hours were taken up by family. Each enjoyed photography, but to pursue it as a career would not even a consideration. That they would find themselves as competing studio owners working together to open a new chapter in the history of PPA Charities is even more improbable.
Like so many of today’s photographers Cristiane’s life-long interest in photography became a passion when her children were born: a daughter in 2004 and twin sons in 2007. Equipping herself with a Canon Rebel, she began by making new photos of her daughter every week, “and people loved them.” she recalls.”The word got around and friends said that I should photograph other kids. I always laughed and said thank you, but I had no time to have another job.”
Eventually, Cristiane says, “a light bulb went on, and I decided to look into professional photography opportunities.” After discovering Lori Nordstrom’s images, she managed to work up the courage to call her. Lori recommended that Cristiane attend a workshop at Jed and Vicki Taufer’s studio in Illinois (at the time the family was living in Wisconsin). “So in November 2007 I went to Taufer’s studio,” she recalls. “The next January I went to my first PPA Convention, and that was it. I resigned from my job after seven years with the company and started building my portfolio and investing in photography education.” Cristiane attended workshops and even earned an associate degree in photography, and in 2009 she launched her website, only to learn that her husband’s work would require a move to Illinois. By June 2010 she was ready to restart her business, which got a boost after she studied with Rachel Marten at an Illinois Workshop class. Now happily working from her home studio that she describes as “taking over my house,” she says: “My home is not new, is not huge, but it is filled with pictures of my children, and I get great compliments every time someone walks in.”
Cristiane and Sabina met through a mutual friend outside of the photography industry. “Brazilians love to make friends,” Cristiane says. Sabina mentioned her passion for photography, and Cristiane was very encouraging. It was only a year ago that Sabina made the decision to pursue photography as a career. She explains: “It took a seven-year journey to find myself again as a woman, immigrant, mother, and spouse, without the clutch of my profession (for which I worked so hard for so many years). Looking back, it was an amazing second chance in life. During these seven years I became a different person, I learned a lot about serving others and volunteering. While I was working on my business model, I had the opportunity to listen to Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOM’s shoes, speak. I was totally sold. He runs a for-profit business that has a strong story and a philanthropic goal in the core of its structure. That is what I want for my business.”
While it was the business side of photography that enticed Sabina, she had two problems to overcome: “I had no technical skills in photography and I had no clue how to run a business,” she said. “My first step was to sign up for a PPA Studio Management Services class.” She also attended workshops while creating a portfolio and refining her market choices. Currently busy with photographing high school seniors, The Celebration of Smiles event helped Sabina to reconnect with her original passion: photographing children. And the timing couldn’t have been better: Even though she has been planning for the business for a year and building her client base since June of 2011, Sabina’s business officially opened only a month ago. “The Celebration Event was a great opportunity to get the word out,” she explains “A ton of people in my circle of acquaintances still did not know I had officially opened my full-time studio.”
Coming Together as Competitors
“I’m very excited for Sabina,” says Cristiane, “and even though we are semi-competition, we try to be respectful and very considerate of each other. Competition is everywhere so why not embrace it! We also figured that since we are both pretty new in this city, it would be a great way to make the event a bigger success.
And so it was that Sabina Cavalli and Cristiane Laird, who started life in Brazil and traveled by different routes toward a destination they had in common, then found themselves joined in a charitable cause to help others through their new-found careers. In the process, they became an inspiration and a “first” to be remembered.
WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM CRISTIANE’S and SABINA’S
CELEBRATION OF SMILES EXPERIENCE
By doing our event earlier in the month, we didn’t have a lot of time to plan and organize the way that we would like. For next year, I want to get some sponsors so we can create nice goodie bags for the children that participate; maybe create a “mini-fair,” where a few vendors could participate and make it really fun for the children. It would be great if we could help the children acknowledge what they are doing for the charity. It made us feel really good to use our photography skills to make a positive impact on children’s lives.
Next time, we’ll make every effort for the kids we are photographing to understand why they are donating and posing for the portrait. To raise awareness is as important as to raise the money. And by educating the kids, we are preparing this future generation to be more aware of needs of others they don’t know exist.
- We were able to reserve my subdivision’s club for the promotion, but I learned that if I had reserved it earlier I could have taken advantage of their internal promotional opportunities.
- Watching the videos was very helpful. It was great to see how more experienced professionals deal with their clients and how they would present the event.
- The advice to “keep it simple” is one that participants really need to take to heart. There is no time to change backgrounds or use too many props.
- We decided on four different backgrounds set up so we could use one or the other by just moving the lights between sessions. We had a grey, a black, a pattern and a dark pink to choose from depending on what the client was wearing. We selected a couple of hair accessories and flowers for the girls, two colored chairs, and that was it. It worked well.
- Working with another photographer in the room was actually very fun. And for the people waiting, it was pure entertainment because they could watch two people pose and see us interact with the subjects. It was busy, noisy, and fast.
- The marketing material was very useful too. It helped to keep the campaign consistent from start to finish. I’ve been thinking of a way to incorporate a “frame” with the date and the PPA-Celebration logo with the finished gift print. Maybe a folded card with a die-cut front? The picture could be inserted inside and can be removed. The card, when closed, could work as the “frame.”
Cristiane’s and Sabina’s final thought: “We can’t wait until next year!