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Camera helps make her patriotic point

By CATHY DYSON

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

Brooke Daniels didn’t want other young people to blow off their first Election Day like she did.

She was a student at Auburn University in Alabama when she turned 18 and was eligible to vote. She didn’t think it was worth her time to drive 2 hours home to Atlanta.

“I realized how silly that was, and I’ve voted in every election since,” said Daniels, now 33 and the mother of two. “I see how important it is, not just to vote, but to know the issues and to have a sense of which candidate offers the best future for you and your family.”

In her quest to help other young people avoid the mistake she made, Daniels turned to her camera. “That’s my answer for everything,” she said.

She’s a photographer who lives in Stafford County and specializes in senior-class portraits and glamour shots. Through Facebook, she put out a casting call of sorts, asking first-time voters, ages 18 to 23, if they’d like to be involved in her “Get Out and Vote” project.

The deal was that she would do creative, cutting-edge portraits of the young people, making them look like the Statue of Liberty or a model for a military recruiting poster. Then, after the young people cast their ballots—and sent photos of themselves with their “I Voted” buttons—she would give them the free full-size digital images of themselves.

The models already have posted smaller images from the photo shoot on their Facebook pages, and their enthusiasm has created a ripple effect that Daniels didn’t expect.

“Every day, I’ve been receiving new messages from first-time voters in Virginia who I don’t know personally,” Daniels said in an email. “It’s incredible to see how these images have traveled via Facebook and are reaching more and more people.”

‘MY DUTY AS A CITIZEN’

For the last couple of years, Lauren Pinkston has “wanted to vote so bad,” she couldn’t stand it. When she finally turned 18, she was excited to have a say “in the election and my government and my life and everything.”

Being included in Daniels’ photo shoot was icing on the cake.

Daniels took senior photos of Pinkston, who graduated in June from Mountain View High School and is studying to be a medic. The photographer also asked each model to make a sign saying why he or she votes, and Pinkston painted hers on a piece of yellow fire hose.

She’s a member of the Rockhill Volunteer Fire Department. Her sign read: “I vote because I finally can.”

Other subjects—and there were 15 from across Virginia—wrote that they wanted their voices to be heard or because their forefathers died for this right.

Evan Elsmo, a Brooke Point High School graduate who is joining the Army, said: “I vote because it is my duty as a citizen.”

AMERICAN ICONS

Daniels didn’t just put the students against a neutral background and take a few photos. She took them to locations throughout Stafford and Fredericksburg, created their outfits—including a Statue of Liberty crown from vintage lace—and did their hair and makeup.

Daniels painted the face of her neighbor, Emily Christensen, to look like an American flag and glued silver stars from her forehead to her nose. Daniels made a patriotic dress for Christensen out of an old tablecloth.

Sisters Kristen and Linnea Musselman live in Ashburn and attend the University of Virginia. Daniels posed them arm wrestling because the two have vastly different political beliefs.

On the computer, she added a donkey tattoo to Linnea’s cheek and an elephant to Kristen’s. Daniels also toned down the vibrant colors of the flag in the background to give it an older, yellowish tone and added other overlays.

Daniels made the image of Elsmo look like a poster, with his face and “Made in the USA” shirt almost popping out of an unfurling, stylized American flag.

Daniels sometimes spends up to 12 hours editing and doing Photoshop work after a shoot. A lot of her techniques are trial and error, and if she isn’t sure how to achieve a desired effect, she Googles it.

She sticks with available light and resists using flash. Some professional photographers might gasp at this revelation, but she doesn’t use a light meter.

“I do it all by sight,” she said. “If it looks good, it looks good.”

ROLE MODEL TO OTHERS

Madison Young from Woodbridge was Daniels’ Lady Liberty. The photographer did the most poses with her and even put her on a rocky stretch of land where it meets the Potomac River.

With a flag in her hand instead of a torch, the handmade crown of lace on her head and the pale-green fabric draped around her billowing in the breeze, Young definitely looked the part.

The model, who is a student at Virginia Tech, already sent in her absentee ballot. She encouraged her friends to vote and was dismayed by how many fellow students weren’t registered.

“It’s an issue with young voters,” she said, adding that the Facebook pictures of her as Lady Liberty generated both interest and action. “A lot of them went ahead and got registered just because of the photo shoot.”

Even those not involved with the photo shoot have been moved by the images.

Kellie Carter, one of Daniels’ Facebook followers, thanked the photographer for being a role model to a younger generation.

“I love these young men and women expressing our freedom to vote,” Carter wrote. “Honestly, brought tears to my eyes!”

On Facebook, search for Brooke Daniels Photography.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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