Capturing the wonder of childhood through photography

Monday, May 12, 2008
AARON EISENHAUER ~ Sheri Grippo-Titus' job involves making faces and funny noises. As the owner of Bella Bambino Photography, she does what it takes to get the attention of babies to make elegant portraits.

On Friday morning, there was a grown woman sitting in the northbound lane of Main Street barking like a dog. And meowing.

But don't worry. It's just another day for Sheri Grippo-Titus.

Grippo-Titus is the owner of Bella Bambino Photography, a new portrait studio that opened last month at 20 N. Main St. With a focus on portraits of children and teens, Grippo-Titus takes a different approach to getting a good shot.

Instead of sitting them on a stool in front of a nondescript background, Grippo-Titus will take them outside, trying portraits behind fence grates, against brick walls and on railroad tracks. As she works, she's constantly doing things to keep the attention of the subject -- anything from animal noises to oohs and aahs to jumping on furniture.

On Friday, it was Lila Hente's turn. The toddler was on the sidewalk, Grippo-Titus in the street. With mother Erin Hente and grandmother Diana Prince keeping an eye on Lila, Sheri's mother Doris Grippo was the lookout for cars coming down the street. Later, after a change of clothes, Lila crawled on a fur rug in the studio for additional shots.

The subjects control the pace and the settings, Grippo-Titus said. "They basically run the shoot by their energy level and their demeanor," she said. "For example, with a super-shy child, my demeanor has to change."

Grippo-Titus brings a degree in child psychology, some teaching experience and the establishment of the first Bella Bambino Photography in her former hometown of Charles Town, W.Va. Setting up the second studio in Cape Girardeau is a homecoming of sorts for Grippo-Titus. Her parents, Doris and Mario Grippo, own Mario's Italian Grill in Marble Hill, Mo.

AARON EISENHAUER ~ Photographer Sheri Grippo-Titus stood before examples of her work hanging on the wall in her studio at Bella Bambino Photography on Friday. Grippo-Titus returned to the area after living and working in West Virginia.

Born in New Jersey, Grippo-Titus and her family moved to Marble Hill when she was in the second grade. About seven years later, she said her father felt the itch to move again and they found themselves in Charles Town, W.Va. Her parents moved to Florida next, then back to Southeast Missouri a few years ago; she followed recently with her son, Coleson, 4, and daughter, Aslyn, 2.

The name Bella Bambino -- pretty baby in Italian -- derives from what she heard her father, an Italian immigrant, say to her as a child.

She's adept at using networks of friends to land jobs and has photographed portraits of children for country singers in Nashville, Tenn., and found work through a sports agent friend in Los Angeles.

For Grippo-Titus, there's no such thing as a child who can't be photographed or a baby too young to be a subject. "I like newborn babies, one to two weeks old," she said. "I like them right from the oven."

The key to photographing a baby is to wait for them to fall into a deep sleep, Grippo-Titus said. "Once they are dead asleep, we can do what we want," she said. "There is nothing sweeter than a sleeping newborn."

At each photo session, Grippo-Titus tells parents to bring many changes of clothing; when the subjects are older, such as high school seniors, she tells them to bring a full suitcase. She said she generally records 400 to 500 frames, then selects about 40 for editing. The editing process is time-consuming as she works on each photo to turn it from a snapshot into a portrait.

"I like the tight, tight face shots where the eyes pop out at you," she said.

Customers generally pay a session fee for the initial work, then choose the photos they want printed from the edited portfolio, which is presented in a slide-show format. Through July, Grippo-Titus is waiving her session fee as she works to get established.

Grippo-Titus knows she's got serious competition from other photographers in Cape Girardeau. And the independent photographers aren't the only competition -- there are portraits available at some department stores as well.

"It is a different product," she said of her work. "It is a very different product. It is fine art of your child. I have 17 photos, 16-by-20 or bigger, of my children in my home. It is an investment in art that is also personalized."

335-6611, extension 126

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