North Tahoe photographer discovers the bigger picture of life
Special to the Sun
CARNELIAN BAY, Calif. — A fearless and elegant-looking girl in a red dress is captured mid-swing in front of a blurry, forested background; a dreadlocked, athletic-looking man heaves a Kettlebell into the twilight sky on a cliff overlooking Lake Tahoe; a child dressed as a mermaid tosses sand in the air that sparkles like fairy dust in the alpenglow sunset.
Ambera — that last ‘a’ is silent — Dodson shoots life in motion.
A keen eye for eccentric and unscripted settings, Dodson’s photographs evoke everything from the strangest of dreams to the most authentic of human spirits.
“I’ll do the posy things with my clients, but then I’ll tell a kid to go run, or throw snow, or skip a rock, and that’s when you capture the real shots,” said Dodson, owner of her North Tahoe-based business, Silent A Photography.
Leafing through her portfolio, Dodson’s photographs reveal a small window into the 35-year-old’s ongoing journey of self-revelation, gratitude, and unearthing the artist within.
Raised in Baton Rouge, La., Dodson attended Louisiana State University, where rugby kept her grounded until the offseason, when she would be itching to get out of the southern Bayou.
“Anytime I could leave Baton Rouge, I would, and I came up with some pretty interesting ways to make that happen,” Dodson said.
From a brief stint in Colorado with the National Student Exchange to attending the Disney College Program and landing a job as a park lifeguard, Dodson was eager to spread her wings outside the pelican state.
But her tight-knit family always lured her back to her roots, and after completing her undergraduate degree, she landed a job as a lobbyist for big oil in Baton Rouge.
“That was during the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, and I got to see behind the veil of how politics really go down,” she said. “At the time, it was a job that I really wanted, but then again, I didn’t have the same environmental values that I do now.”
WEATHERING THE STORM
In 2001, Dodson’s world flipped upside down with the sudden and unexpected death of her father.
“Losing my dad made me who I am today,” Dodson said, goosebumps forming on her exposed forearms. “It made me realize you could die early, which changed my life forever because I now know that life is so finite, and that we have to take advantage of the time we’re given.”
It was with that mindset that she left the lobbying scene and moved to Vail, Colo., for a public relations position with a snowmobile touring company in the winter and a whitewater rafting outfit in the summer.
For five years, Dodson basked in the carefree mountain-town lifestyle, until in 2005, Hurricane Katrina obliterated her home state.
“My grandma was the first female builder in Baton Rouge, so after Katrina, I moved back home and began building houses with my grandparents,” Dodson said.
The level five hurricane devastated much of the Deep South, but it would take an even bigger storm to defeat Dodson’s spirits.
“My sister lost her house in the hurricane and moved in with my mom and me, plus my aunt was already living with us, so it became a sort of Yaya-Sisterhood-Traveling-Pants-Fried-Green-Tomatoes-Steel-Magnolias-type of southern movie scene, and it was a blast,” she said.
While in Baton Rouge, Dodson found balance through a combination of rugby and stand-up comedy, performing in packed houses all around the state’s capital.
“Comedy is the hardest thing ever because you never know your room until you get there,” she said. “You hope they’ll like you, and they usually do, but I’ve definitely cricketed.”
She’d been honing her comedy routine from Baton Rouge to Beaumont, Texas, and decided to expand her act in the entertainment capital of the world — Los Angeles.
“I thought I wanted to do comedy full-time, but then I got to L.A., and all my shows were at four in the afternoon in front of other comedians who didn’t want to laugh no matter how funny you were,” she said.
A CLEAR VIEW THROUGH A CAMERA LENS
Dodson retreated back to the Rockies for a short time before migrating to Park City, Utah, but when that plan fell through, she went back to the drawing board.
“The honest to God truth is I had never picked up a camera before photography school,” Dodson said of enrolling in Montana’s Rocky Mountain School of Photography in 2013. “I went there to be a business woman so that I could work for myself and utilize my public relations and marketing skills.”
After completing an intense 12-week photography program, Dodson celebrated by returning to Burning Man for the seventh time for a week of inspiration and reflection.
“I was at a point where I needed to figure out what to do next, so after Burning Man, I drove straight to the ocean because I thought that was my next move, but when I got there, I immediately realized that wasn’t it,” she said.
En route back to Utah, Dodson took a detour at Lake Tahoe, where a burned-out turn signal put the brakes on her journey eastward.
“When I knocked out my blinker and decided to stay to stay in Tahoe, it didn’t really surprise me — there was something about it that immediately felt like home,” she said.
Within one week, she signed a lease at a cabin by the lake, and in January 2014, she celebrated the launch of Silent A Photography.
“You have to have the dark days in order to see the light, and sometimes I fall from grace — we all do — but to come out of it knowing I’ve learned something is what makes me truly happy,” she said.
With an astringent sense of humor, an intense curiosity for surreal art, and an aptness for bringing out all types of beauty, Dodson’s work defies the conventions of traditional portraiture photography through dramatic, avant-garde shoots.
“My dad saw the beauty in everyone and that’s one of the reasons why he was loved by so many,” Dodson said. “When I’m able to make someone feel beautiful through my photographs, I know that’s my dad making them feel beautiful, too.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at email@example.com.