Stand by me — Four&Sons

Stand by me

Writer turned photographer Heidi Lender on daydreaming and how her Shih Tzu Bichon became her muse.


Stand by me

I had always been a picture-taker, but never a photographer. I had worked as a writer, editor, stylist, yoga teacher and studio owner, and thought myself fairly savvy. But when I bought my first dSLR camera in 2009, I could barely find the auto-focus. I felt ignorant, but inspired, and found support for this new addiction on Flickr. I poured over images, studied camera settings, learned photoshop tricks and tried to find my voice. Flickr was my free and fast-track photo education.

To keep me committed to my camera practice, I joined a group called Bench Monday, which had a weekly assignment: “Stand on a bench. Make sure it’s Monday. Wear something pretty.” Group members cropped their heads out of the frame, so I followed along. The anonymity was an intriguing idea, and I was drawn to creating self portraits. I found myself daydreaming all week—constructing sets in my mind, styling corners of the house, digging into my closet full of fashion, leftover from my magazine days. An addendum to the rules said something about a chicken and bonus points, which gave me the idea of using Bubba, my Shih Tzu Bichon, as a prop. He quickly revealed his talent for watching the blinking red focus light, and cultivated a Cindy Crawford-stare.

Every week, I tried to outdo myself, towing chairs into grassy fields, standing on hotel furniture, hauling out high heels I hadn’t worn for decades. Without realising, I was honing my eye, and learning what made a visually appealing image. After more than a year of Monday postings, I had turned into a mad set designer trying to tell a story with an amazing canine model by my side. I saw that what I was producing now was something beyond a pretty picture; that I was actually investigating a bevy of personalities within me. And by not showing a face, the typology I had amassed, in fact illustrated the idea of how individuals, generally, portray themselves through fashion and their chosen surroundings. Bubba had become my muse and the single unchanged element in all of the images—the soul of the picture, if you will, the spirit.

When I was young, I recalled, I would lie in bed before school, scanning my closet in my mind, and wonder, “Who do I want to be today?“ This ongoing project, now called “Once Upon,” is an extension of that inquiry.

All photography courtesy of Heidi Lender
Check the complete series at

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