This post has been floating in my head since I had the opportunity to meet the lovely Kym so she could photograph me for her #100Strangers project. A few friends of mine had taken part and when I was told all I had to do to be part of the project was ask, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. (She is up to 32 Strangers out of 100 and you can see her beautiful pictures here: www.lemien.ca)
I don’t like having my picture taken. Ever. The only pictures of me that I ever remotely like are candids… So this was going to interesting :) But based on the beautiful portraits of the others, I was hopeful.
First we needed to decide where to hold the shoot. I took to twitter to ask friends & acquaintances where a great place to do this would be and a bunch of great recommendations were made but nothing that was really *me*.
When I suggested the Elmdale Tavern (in Ottawa) Kym thought it was a great idea. During the shoot, she and I joked that it was easier to photograph people in their usual habitat and the Elmdale fits the bill, I love live music and it’s a great place to catch some while enjoying a pint. The owners are friendly, the staff helpful and the atmosphere unpretentious, it is a great place to catch local bands or if you’re lucky, fantastic gems like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Wanda Jackson. If you haven’t been yet, you should! (thanks again Nat for letting us shoot there!)
The whole process was so much easier than I thought it would be. Kym has a gift for putting people at ease and between directing me she made conversation, asking about my travels and my daughter and at no time did I feel like any of the pictures would make me look like I had a fake perma-smile stuck on my face :) Her husband was also kind enough to join us half way through the shoot and she would ask him to sit or stand where she wanted me to look which was great and made the whole process that much more natural.
Once we were done taking the pictures, Kym, her husband and I got a chance to chat. She mentioned that one of the unexpected “side effects” of this project was that she felt responsible for people’s self esteem. What she and others think are brilliant photographs, are sometimes not well received by the subject of said pictures. That’s when the panic set in… I didn’t want to seem ungrateful upon seeing the proofs, but what if I liked none of the pictures???
There are 3 things I always notice (read: hate) about myself in photographs: my teeth, my weight & my forehead (the lines are a little deeper than I’d like and when I laugh there’s a vein that is more obvious than I’d like). And let’s face it, we are all our own worst critics, aren’t we? The thing that resonated with me though was that at the end of the day, this was a self-esteem issue. And even though I like to think that I don’t have a self-esteem issue, I rarely like any pictures of myself… I didn’t like where this was going…
So I patiently waited for the proofs to come… And by patiently I mean every time an email came in I hoped it was from Kym :) I was nervous, and excited to see how the shots would turn out and I desperately hoped that I would like them! And boy, did she not disappoint. I had been told by a friend how many shots I might expect to choose from and I received way more and for the most part, I liked them all. Phew… Maybe I didn’t have a problem after all.
I sent her my top 6 or 7 and she chose a few from that to post on the website. As soon as she posted the link, I also posted to my twitter account… And boy was the reaction ever heartwarming. The comments she received for her photography and the ones I received about how great the pictures were very uplifting. The pictures are so me and she made me feel so comfortable in front of the camera that I really feel like my personality comes through in the pictures and I think that is one of the main reasons I like the pictures.
Interestingly enough, I don’t think I would have felt the same way had I not had that “self-esteem” conversation with her… Had I not tried to put myself in the frame of mind of someone just looking at pictures to appreciate their content instead of looking at pictures of me, trying to pick out every little thing that might be wrong with them… It made me be more forgiving with myself, made me look at the big picture one could say :)
A few days after this whole experience, I had a photojam with a few friends (where a bunch of photographers get together and set-up lighting gear and take turns being photographers/models pretending that this is helping them become better photographers. The real reason is more to get together and have a couple drinks though :)) and I ended up playing model a couple of times. When I saw the pictures, my initial reaction was my usual reaction… I hate my teeth, my hair, I look fat, etc… And then I remembered Kym and I remembered to be a little gentler and kinder to myself.
I could have had braces when I was a kid, but instead, I went to Germany for a semester (my parents didn’t make that much money and when the Germany opportunity came up I had to make a choice and I chose a three month student exchange). So in the end, so what if my teeth are a little crooked, I lived an amazing experience, one that many of my peers did not get to experience.
The lines on my forehead and that vein? They’re really most visible when I am smiling or laughing. Pretty sure smiling and laughing are a good thing, just like laugh lines are better than frown lines.
And the weight, well, the last 18 months have been trying at best, but they have made me resilient and resourceful & forced me to think about what I want from my life and go after it, versus coasting along with the status quo. Since I sadly tend to stress eat vs lose weight from not eating when things get hairy, I’ve gained a few pounds… so what. I have come out of the last 18 months wiser and smarter and with a better idea of what I want from my life. I think that is worth the few extra pounds. And between you and me the ice cream and chocolate and whatever else I ingested at the time was totally worth it too :)
So next time the voices inside your head are a little too harsh, just ask yourself if you would react the same way or treat someone else the way you are talking to yourself, I bet you the answer is no… I managed to shift my thinking a little on this, this week and what a huge difference it made, I suggest you do the same. Being our own worst critic doesn’t really accomplish anything, being our own cheerleader means there is one more person on our side. I don’t know about you but I can always use another cheerleader.