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Westport Photographer Racks Focus

Debra Somerville has the job of her dreams.

“I’m kind of like the Madonna of photography,” she says, surrounded by the rays of mid-morning sunlight ricocheting around her studio. “I’ve made a second career out of reinventing myself.”

The Westport photographer and International Center of Photography graduate has been capturing beauty on film and digitally for two decades, and she has loved every minute of it.

“I have a fashion background,” says Somerville. “And I studied fine art and journalism photography. But 20 years ago, when we moved from New York City to Connecticut, I wanted to figure out how to make a living.” So Somerville began taking family and children’s portraits. “I did a lot of kids’ photography,” she laughs. “But things have totally come full circle for me. I wake up in the morning now and I couldn’t be happier to come to work.”

It isn’t hard to see why. Her second floor photography studio, located in the Old Mill, greets her most mornings awash in natural light. Her subjects, more often then not, are beautiful young women modeling hip clothing for local businesses, like WishList and international sartorial sensations, like swimwear label Letarte .

“I feel so respective—and protective—of my models,” says Somerville. “And I try to be very nurturing.”

Somerville’s instinct and eye have paid off, and not just for her. “There was this girl who lived in the neighborhood,” says Somerville. “She was a friend of my son’s. We knew her from when she was little and the kids would play together. But then one day, she walked into our house and I did a double take—like ‘who are you?’ She had grown into this striking young woman. ‘You have to model,’ I told her.”

Somerville proceeded to work with the girl, Meredith Travers, for the next several years, teaching her the art of modeling, helping her find work locally. Since then, Travers has signed with the Wilhelmina Models agency, and is pursuing a degree in theater at New York University .

“Model workshops are something I’ve thought about doing for awhile,” Somerville muses. “I could bring in an agent and really work with the girls. But I wouldn’t want it to be a traditional ‘you give me money and I’ll tell you that you can make it as a model’ scenario. The reality is that modeling is a tough business. Not everyone can make it. I wouldn’t want to lead anyone on.”

For now, Somerville is content to have her Westport studio and her carefully edited list of clients. “I really love what I’m doing,” she says. “Most days, I feel like the luckiest person in the world.”

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