The making of Wyatt McSpadden’s traffic-stopping photo of Abra Moore

It’s a face that’s launched a thousand conversations at The Wittliff Collections. Wyatt McSpadden’s iconic photograph of singer-songwriter Abra Moore has been a conversation piece since it was first published in Texas Monthly in January 1996. The framed print — showing in that long-ago magical moment the impish-looking singer holding a guitar and on her tip-toes — hangs in the music gallery at The Wittliff and is part of the archives. “I loved it,” said Moore. “People probably thought, ‘Who’s that crazy girl?’ I think it’s fun. But there were pretty ones, too.”

In 1995, Moore was galvanizing her image as a solo folk rock artist and promoting her debut album, “Sing.”  This was the era of Lilith Fair and her star was rising.

She was 26.

McSpadden met her for the first time when she showed up for a photo shoot at his little Austin studio on the east side of Interstate 35. He didn’t know what to expect, except that she’d been in Poi Dog Pondering.

“She was this tall, thin exotic-looking creature,” McSpadden recalled. But it wasn’t until Moore emerged from a small office space which also functioned as a changing room that the photographer really knew he was dealing with a photogenic artist comfortable in her own skin. She was barefoot, holding a big acoustic guitar and wearing a super-short slip.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my god.’ This will be perfect,” he said.

 

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Moore can’t remember exactly how she hit on wearing the silk burgundy slip. She mostly wanted to be in the moment and natural.

“I was just fluttering around for him in the moment,” said Moore with a laugh about the shoot. “It seemed natural to be barefoot.”

Both remember that the tip-toe moment was completely unplanned. Outtakes from the outdoor photo session in an Austin parking lot at dusk reveal that Moore tried “many different gyration,” as McSpadden recounted. But only one looked like she was holding her breath for dear life – or about to burst out laughing or tell a secret. Ultimately, it was a Texas Monthly photo editor who made the call. It was the right one.

“There’s something special up on her tip-toes and with her shoulders up,” McSpadden added. “Like she’s taking flight.”