Small business owners have had to get creative during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when their business relies on in-person interactions.
For Camas portrait photographer Lara Blair, the pandemic and subsequent state shutdowns meant to stem the spread of the deadly new coronavirus could not have come at a more inopportune time.
Blair had just signed the lease on her new photography studio in downtown Camas when Governor Jay Inslee shutdown businesses and schools statewide.
Dreams of hosting intimate portrait photography sessions and going to clients’ homes to get a better sense of their style and everyday life were out the window, so Blair pivoted.
One of the first things she did was a series called, “Stronger Together … Yet Six Feet Apart,” which captured Camas families “sheltering in place” in front of their homes on front porches or in front doorways. The project, part of the nationwide “Front Steps Project” was meant to record regular American families who were staying home to help fight the spread of COVID-19 throughout late March and April.
In May, Blair concentrated on renovating her new photography studio, at 411 N.E. Dallas St.
“It’s a really cool space. A happy, bright, cheerful space,” Blair said of her new studio. “When I’m in there, there’s no pandemic. It just feels different. Lighter. Like it used to be.”
Once she’d set up her studio space and Clark County moved into Phase 2 of the state’s reopening, Blair, a former sixth-grade teacher and mother of two grown daughters, once again turned her attention to the piece of her business that brings her the most joy: working with middle school girls through her Brave and True empowerment program.
Earlier this month, Blair hosted a one-week Brave and True camp for girls ages 11 to 13. The classes — held in a manner that allowed for social distancing and the wearing of face coverings — was one part Brave and True curriculum, with Blair leading talks about bullying, body image and social-emotional issues, and one part fashion, with the girls piecing together “couture” gowns using recycled materials.
At the end of the week, Blair held a photoshoot and the girls performed an outdoor “runway show” for their parents on Northeast Birch Street.
The experience was enough to inspired Blair and gave her some much needed hope in the midst of the pandemic.
“I think the girls felt joyful … I certainly do when I’m in here,” she said.
The in-person camps are a great way for the middle school girls to bond with their peers as they move into a school year unlike any other, Blair added.
“I’d like to have something like this throughout the year so they could spend time with (other girls their age). To keep them sane,” Blair said.
The classes are designed to help empower the girls and to help them through a stage of life that can be rather difficult for many children.
“We let them know, ‘It’s going to be OK,'” Blair said. “They need to know that ‘this, too, shall pass.’ And they need to hear us say it.”
Now that she has been in her new space for a few months, Blair said she has been able to gel her business ideas and make plans for her studio’s future.
“This space has enabled me to visualize what (this business) can really be,” she said.
Blair said she hopes to concentrate her photography business primarily on taking portraits of girls and young women ages 10 to 17, complete with handmade, one-of-a-kind clothing and full hair and makeup sessions — “We’ll build these headpieces, do crazy makeup and created these ensembles for each girl,” she said. “we’re basically turning a girl into a piece of art.”
To learn more about the Brave and True classes or about Blair’s portrait photography, visit larablairphotography.com.