Celebrity photographer Linda Solomon gives disadvantaged children a shot at life
Over her career as celebrity portrait photographer, broadcast journalist, and best-selling author, Linda Solomon has learned how to target an audience. For instance, when she shows her work to the children taking part in her Pictures of Hope program, she always includes shots of Beyonce and Justin Bieber.
“I show them celebrities I think they’ll enjoy seeing,” she says. “I’ve had an opportunity to meet everyone I’ve ever dreamed of meeting, and I want the kids to start dreaming too.”
Solomon’s program—the latest in a series of initiatives she has created aimed at teaching photography to disadvantaged children—is focused on youths living in homeless shelters in 12 US cities. The goal, she says, is to encourage the children “to never go anywhere without a camera” and to express their feelings with photography. “They learn that through photography they can build their confidence and open their hearts,” says Solomon, who provides tips on the fundamentals of photography and then sends the children out on an assignment to capture their hopes and dreams. “They go off as journalists with a deadline,” she says. “I’ve always believed in giving children an assignment—it encourages them to concentrate on their picture taking.”
Solomon also tells the children that photography can be a wonderful profession—as she puts it, “something you can grow with.” Her own remarkable career is a case study. After starting out shooting for newspapers in Michigan, she moved on to television and eventually gained national recognition as a correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America, where she created photo-essay segments about actors and other notable people. Her unique approach to broadcast news—using still imagery in a medium that values motion—has been featured on the CBS Evening News, the Today Show, CNN, and Oprah, as well. In 2011 Linda was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame as one of only 20 women and two photojournalists. Solomon has also become widely known for covering the annual Academy Awards program for the past 29 years.
Her celebrity journalism has led to a number of private commissions from celebrities, among them Elizabeth Taylor, artist Al Hirschfeld, and the crime novelist Elmore Leonard—a fellow Michigan native who Solomon grew to be friends with before his death earlier this year. And then there are her books, including People We Know, Horses They Love, which she authored with her sister, Today Show correspondent Jill Rappaport. A New York Times best seller, it featured Solomon’s portraits of Robert Redford, Richard Gere, Dennis Quaid, Paul Newman, and other horse aficionados.
The photographs in the book, like all of Solomon’s images, are distinguished by her use of natural light to render famous subjects in human terms. “I never use artificial light, so I need to use fast lenses,” she says. Her camera-and-lens combination of choice is the Sony α99 with a Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 ZA lens. “It’s a fabulous lens because it gives me the opportunity to shoot in low light,” she says.
Solomon has also recently been shooting with the compact Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, which she values for its image quality and mobility. The camera’s fast Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens is also a plus. “I take it everywhere,” she says.
It is the α99 that Solomon, with Sony’s help, provides the Pictures of Hope children. And unveiling the camera to them is, she says, always a memorable moment. “We surprise them with the camera, and they love knowing that they are going to get to use the same camera I do,” she says. “It makes them feel very proud of themselves to shoot with a DSLR like that.”
And who knows how many future portrait photographers will emerge from the experience? The children’s work, one of which you see here, is turned into holiday cards that are sold online, with all the proceeds going to the homeless shelters that have participated.
“Photography allows these young people to see life differently from the way they’ve ever seen it before,” says Solomon. “It can literally change a child’s life. The children learn the importance of capturing special moments forever, and I think in that way they learn to appreciate life,” says Solomon. “And really, that is the whole point.”
To learn more about the Pictures of Hope program, visit http://www.lindasolomonphotography.com/PicturesOfHope.