By this point most of us are well aware of the Santa tale. There is no way that one man can prepare the North Pole for Christmas and simultaneously be at every mall around the world. So naturally, the real Santa enlists an army of lookalikes to retrieve the wish lists of all the children. Genius! Any good CEO knows how to delegate. So what do these men who have had direct contact with the jolly old elf do when they are not representing Santa? Miami photographer Mary Beth Koeth took it upon herself to track down and photograph these doppelgängers during their off-season.
When I hit my early thirties, my Facebook feed naturally transitioned from my friends to their babies. I was scrolling through photo after photo of little ones sitting on Santa’s lap one Christmas break, and I couldn’t help but wonder who are these men and what do they do outside of the month of December? I wanted to capture the real stories of the men behind those gorgeous white beards.
Mary Beth has always been drawn to Dutch and Flemish paintings. The soft light in the artwork is a style that she tries to recreate in her photography, and the Santa series is a good example. Creating work that elicits a reaction from both her and the people who view her work is very important to Mary Beth. But, how did she track down these mysterious men?
Finding real bearded Santas is a challenge. A good friend of mine was a member of Mensa, the largest and oldest high IQ society, and Santa John was President of the South Florida chapter. He was the first Santa that I photographed. I found a few online through The International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. They call the men in the Florida chapter, Sandie Clauses. When people ask me where I find all of these Santas, I tell them Tinder. I wish it was that easy.
Preproduction for the shoots was pretty simple. For each Santa, Mary Beth planned to get an environmental portrait, a close-up portrait, and a short video interview. During her initial calls to the Santas, she kept things logistically oriented so that when they did their video interviews in person the story was authentic and unscripted. After the video interview, Mary Beth would take pictures to get the two styles of portraits.
It’s a story that makes people smile and that makes me happy. The plan is to photograph eleven Santas in total. One for every month outside of December. I have six now. All of these men truly embody the magic of Christmas. They’re extraordinary people and genuinely love what they’re doing.
To view more of Mary Beth’s work and the other Santas, check out mbkoeth.com.