Today I'm going to take a break from showing photos of my latest shoots and get real. Brace yourself.
One of my biggest pet peeves in the world is when someone critiques a photo of themselves based off some crazy, unrealistic perception. What I hear is "I hate that photo. My butt looks too big" or "Look at all my chins!", but what I see is two people that are so in love they can't take their eyes off one another's or someone giving a belly shaking laugh because of something random their son just said. Before I go any further though, I will put it out there that I am the worst when it comes to critiquing photos of myself. I'm totally guilty of my own pet peeve on the reg, BUT it's time to stop.
I love taking photos. I love to capture those real, authentic moments. When I started studying photography in college, I was continuously drawn to some of the great street photographers like Robert Frank, Dorothea Lange, and Henri Cartier-Bresson (read more about that in May's 10 on 10 post). I was drawn to them because they all captured these real, vulnerable moments. To me, those are the photos that are priceless. The real photos are not the ones where people are putting up a front and fake smiling at the lens, or the over-processed, hacked images. They are instead the photos where people momentarily forget that someone is watching, and you get a glimpse of their true self --when the wall drops and there is a raw, vulnerable person behind it. Isn't that the best part about being human? We spend so much time trying to cover up the flaws, to be perfect, but it's the flaws that make us who we are. The scars, the wrinkles, the rolls, the warts and all. So I'm pleading with all of you; accept who you are! Know that you are loved and perfect to those who love you. Embrace it and love yourself for all the best parts of you instead of hating yourself for the worst, because to be completely honest with you, no one else sees the warts.
I can't stand looking at images of people that are so obviously over Photoshopped. It drives me crazy to the nth degree. It's like as photographers, we are telling people that you don't look good enough. Look skinnier, look tanner, look taller, with better teeth, and fuller hair, bigger boobs, smaller waist, plump lips and cheeks but still with distinct cheek bones. Anyone else overwhelmed and disheartened yet? It goes passed the point of impossible Barbie standards and enters into the ever wheeling vortex of "WTF!?".
I think it's time to get back to the real --to the raw moments that you will cherish forever, because you won't get that time back. With a real photo you can remember that moment. You can look at it and feel the moment again. Your kids will grow up, your grandparents will pass away, your best friend may move, the world will keep turning, and with it, time will pass. With a real photo you can at least freeze time as it was for that one split second. A real photo can leave a legacy that lives on passed your own life. In time you will forgive yourself for being 20 pounds overweight at your sister's college graduation (I'm talking about myself here; see below), and while those photos may not mean much to you, they will mean the world to someone else.
How many other times does your family travel from 1, 2, or 3 states away at the same time to celebrate your accomplishments? The real photos are those that make you feel.
One of my favorite articles that discusses this very subject was written by a mom, Allison Slater Tate, who articulates better than I ever could about why it's important to look past those insecurities and get in the photo. I've read it about 10 times and it makes me tear up every time. Seriously, it's like a freaking Hallmark commercial. Waterworks. Tate's message is that it's important for mom's to stay in the picture. There's a section when she talks about seeing all the best parts of her own mom in old photos.
My mom would probably hate it if she knew I shared this with the world, but I'm going to anyway --because what else are daughters for if not to annoy their mothers from time to time? When I was growing up, I loved my mom's hugs (insert collective and sappy "ahh" here). I loved her hugs because I felt like I molded perfectly into her arms, and her stomach, and her chest. Like a tight squeeze that seemed to shut out the rest of the world and a place for me to feel safe. I remember distinctly one time when my mom was talking about wanting to loose weight and how it has been hard for her. She wasn't talking to me, but of course I was eavesdropping. I remember thinking that I didn't want her to lose weight because her hugs wouldn't be as good. I didn't want to hug a skinny, bony frame. I was probably 8 or 9 at the time. The point is, for me, my mom was perfect. I loved her just the way she was. Knowing what I know now, and knowing how I feel about myself from time to time, I'm sure some insecurities and yearning to fit into the small box of being attractive and sexy were reminding her what she "should" look like. What woman doesn't want to feel attractive? When I look back at photos of my mom, I don't see her being imperfect. I see a beautiful, warm, loving mother. I'm reminded how perfect those hugs felt and how even now, 20 years later, I still yearn to feel as secure as I did in her arms.
I see these real moments when I'm working with my clients. I see it in their relationships with one another and in their own individual view of the world. When I'm there to capture them, when I hand each client their photos, I'm not just giving you something to hang on your mantle or use for Christmas cards. I really strive to give you something that you will love forever. When your daughter graduates high school and starts packing for college, I want to be able to give you something to look back and to remember the time you could hold her in your arms and she would twirl your side pony in her hands to fall asleep. I want to not only give you a stack of photos of your family, but I want to give you a real photo.
As a photographer, I know that there are better angles than others. There is good lighting and bad. Slouching can make you look 25 pounds heavier. I know that it's is my job to make my client look and feel their best. I'm not coping out here. What I am saying is that good light, the best equipment, the right angle, the perfect pose, the best side of your face all comes secondary to capturing you as you are, and who you are. My goal is to give you an image that you, and your family, will look back at in 5, 10, and 20 years and get that slight twitch of nostalgia in your gut because it was the real you. Creating a technically sound image is cake compared to creating an image that will stand the test of time.
So the moral of the story here is to be you, love you, and get in the damn photo! Don't hold yourself back from experiencing your own life or prevent your family from having a photo of you to cherish because you were too consumed by not fitting into the status quo. I will say it again: embrace your true self and love yourself for all the best parts of you instead of hating yourself for the worst. Get over that unrealistic expectation and those petty insecurities, because I promise the other people who are looking at the photos, the people who love you and who really matter only see the good.
Until next time...