Faces with in-love-for-keeps smiles and look-at-what-I-did smiles and I-am-just-me smiles grin at me from the window of Pinxit Photography on Shenandoah. From across the street, one’s eyes are drawn to these beaming, glowing, beautiful faces – there to cause one’s own smile in response, as the magic of a moment has been captured for all posterity by Shaw business owner and photographer, Raquita Henderson.
Upon meeting Ms. Henderson for the first time, there is a sense of openness and acceptance that originates from deep within and pours out through warm, welcoming eyes. Henderson’s warmth surely puts her subjects at ease. Her aesthetic sensibility must then present them in their best light in the finished product of her photographic art.
It is from a series of questions asked throughout her life that Ms. Henderson came to be standing in her own photography studio as sole proprietor. “Dad, can I have a Polaroid camera?” was the question posed at age twelve, to which Henderson’s father responded by purchasing filters, lenses and a camera that was decidedly not instant for his daughter.
“Instead, he bought me an SLR which is a single lens reflective camera. That means, “ Henderson informed me, “it’s a camera with the lens top off.” From that point, Henderson asked anyone and everyone related to her to be the subject of her photographic learning curve. “I drove my family crazy with it.” She confessed.
At fourteen, another question: Henderson’s cousin and aunt were both getting married in the same year. Henderson’s cousin asked if she would be her wedding photographer. Her aunt added, “Yeah, shoot hers so I can see if you’re any good, and if so you can shoot mine.” The family bought the teen a tux for the first of what turned out to be many noteworthy family occasions for which Henderson became the professional photographer. Before long she was shooting all her friend’s pictures too, all for free.
At twenty, Henderson got engaged and found out how much wedding photographers could earn, and so, quit doing free pictures, and in fact quit photography for a time. At one point her husband said to her, “The only time I see you happy is when you’re cooking or taking pictures. You should figure out which one of them you enjoy more and do that.”
So Henderson asked herself, “Which do I prefer?” She did not feel a pull in either direction, but went to culinary school. At the point where she had an opportunity to open a bakery with a friend, her husband said, “You don’t really want to be a cook. I’ve been waiting for you to figure it out. You know you love photography more.” Once someone said it out loud, Henderson was able to answer her own question.
She soon shared studio space with another photographer on Kinghighway. When he asked if she wanted to move with him to a downtown location, she declined.
She and her family had been Shaw residents since 2001. Henderson wanted to work and live in the community she called home. Initially looking at the building where Restituo is now, Henderson was approached by Sean Spencer, Executive Director of the Shaw Neighborhood Housing Corporation. Spencer asked what she wanted space for.
Henderson shares that his response was immediate. “He said, ‘you don’t want to be here’ and immediately brought me here.” Henderson sweeps her arm across the air space in her studio. “Photography can be a solitary life. Eighty percent of the tasks are about the business, the editing, set-up and tear-down for a shoot; it can get lonely. Having the Thurman Grill next door, being friends with the bartenders and regular patrons; that takes away from the loneliness that could exist. I never feel nervous working late at night, because my friends are next door and I know they are watching out for me, just as I am for them.”
Henderson stated that if she encountered a prospective Shaw business owner she would advise them to, “Do it in a heartbeat. Everyone here is very supportive. If you are active in Shaw, the neighbors are active about supporting you.”
1. What or who in Shaw is the thing/person you cannot live without?
“City life, great architecture and proximity to Forest and Tower Grove Parks initially brought us to Shaw. Now though, it’s the people first and foremost, we have great neighbors.”
When pressed, Henderson added that, after people, “I am really partial to The Station Market right now and permanently addicted to Sasha’s. If I don’t want to meet in the studio, I suggest meeting at Sasha’s. I am also addicted to the key lime cupcake at Sweet Art. There was a sandwich there that I loved, that they quit making. I have dreams about that sandwich. I also love the fish at Mama Josephine’s. “
2. What’s on your Shaw Bucket list?
“The Shaw Art Fair. I’ve never actually been. I want to go.”
3. If you could time-travel, what would you like to see in Shaw in the future?
“If the community keeps on its’ current trend for economic and racial inclusion, it will continue to be a better place to raise children. I think Shaw is a good mirror for St. Louis in that if it’s possible here it is possible for all of St. Louis. I see the people in Shaw constantly trying to bridge the divide.”