What My Photographic Work is About
This week someone asked me what my work was about and I took a moment to think about it and this was almost my exact answer: “my work is about holding space for people so they can experience their love, however it unfolds, and then I then I show them how beautiful that is”
As of late, it’s really my only goal, I’ve stopped caring about publishing my work in magazines, lost my drive for peer approval, stopped caring what new trend is happening in the industry. The only thing I want is to be able to look back on my body of work and say this is what it looks like to be a human, and love. That will be enough. And the thing I really need to do that well, is be compassionate, be present and hold space for others. When I do that well, it becomes reflected in my work, and that is where the real connection between photographer, portrait subject and viewer happens.
I recently read a blog post on a website about death and dying, and how a palliative care nurse held space for a family as they came face to face with an inevitable death. The blogger wrote:
“What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”
It’s an idea that has become increasingly important to me as I move through my work as a photographer, and it’s something I keep coming back to lately. What does it mean to hold space for others? What does it mean to hold space for myself?
Sometimes it’s so easy to collapse in on the pressure of not succeeding as an artist. My fear is that I will get commissioned to shoot and somehow will fail and disappoint, but the truth is, I do a lot more than snap a picture of people, and I think the one place I really have to worry about failing them, is if I fail to see them all together.
This doesn’t mean that I won’t occasionally show them something they don’t want to see about themselves – a double chin, some cellulite, an awkward expression. We are all human, we perceive ourselves and others as flawed, sometimes these “flaws” come out in photographs and our feelings about them can be mixed, especially if we struggle to feel good about who we are, after all much of the corporate benefits financially from us feeling poorly about ourselves, and businesses have done a good job to keep the self esteem of the human populous low in order to profit.
What it means is that if I fail to be present, if I fail to recognize signals in body language about my client’s comfort, if I fail to hold space so that they can speak up if they feel uncomfortable, if I fail to communicate from the heart, if I fail to be open and vulnerable myself, if I fail to allow them the space to enjoy who they are both together and as a couple, then I rob them of a beautiful experience – which is to be accepted for who you are, and to see that joy, confidence and love reflected in a portrait of yourself.
Now I know I can’t make every single person on the earth comfortable in front of the camera. No matter how I hold that space, some will simply choose not to let their walls down and enter it. I have to let go of my own expectations and hopes that if I am vulnerable others will follow suit.
The thing I find extremely fascinating about the process however is that if people don’t let their walls down, it also shows. It shows in tight shoulders, forced smiles, tension in the face. It shows in awkwardness. If people are unable to let go, or have a willful unwillingness to be vulnerable that also gets reflected back to the camera. So the camera shows us our fears and insecurities too. It show the ways in which we armor ourselves to protect ourselves from having to be vulnerable, and sometimes that can be difficult for people to witness that in themselves.
The goal of my photographic work is to give people the opporunity to see themselves fully. Then I want to show them everything that is divine about them, and everything that is fallible and human.
I think THAT is what makes both a beautiful portrait, and a beautiful world. And it’s what my work is about.