I was at a photo shoot the other week. Except this time I was on the other side of the lens. I did it for two reasons. To learn how another photographer directs their subject but more importantly to learn how it feels to be the subject. It’s an important feeling to get used to and even just one shoot has helped me think more carefully about how to instill confidence in my clients. A photo shoot can be a daunting thing.
For many though, the really daunting part is seeing the results. We become hyper-critical and search each image for flaws and problems. Things we don’t like and wish weren’t on the screen in front of us. Our insecurities displayed in high definition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a photo and thought it beautifully captured the person in a fun and natural moment to find that they look at it and see a “double chin”, “bad skin”, “bags under their eyes”, “a crooked smile”, “a dimple that’s too deep”, “frizzy hair”, “fat rolls”, “chubby cheeks”, “a squint”, “a big nose”… it seems there is an endless list of flaws to find in a photo of ourselves. We are trained to look for and beat ourselves up about things we perceive as imperfections.
And I found myself doing it. Analysing all the photos. Quickly dismissing ones where I didn’t like my smile, my stomach, my hair. Instantly looking for flaws and images where I could see things that I worry about every day.
As photographers, we’re taught to shoot from certain angles to make people look thinner or taller. Shown how to make sure people don’t have double chins, to make men look dominant and “masculine” and women look submissive and “feminine”. We’re asked to erase “flaws” and smooth skin. Make people look skinnier in post processing and get rid of wayward hairs.
Ten months in to my photography career and I’m finding that this doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t help but think about our bigger issue with the concept of “beauty” and what we’ll accept as attractive. The photo above isn’t really me. It is me with an hour’s worth of hair and make-up and some clever editing. It looks good. The photographer has done an excellent job and it’s fun to transform in to a magazine cover girl version of myself. But it’s not me. And images on magazines push young people to believing that this is beauty. Beauty is so much more than a superficial image. It’s your talents and thoughts, your hopes and dreams. It’s who you are and how you feel about yourself.
If I’m honest, I prefer this shot from a family portrait taken over a decade ago.
Yes, I’ve got my hair straightened and they’ve applied a sepia filter but that’s not why I love it. I love this shot because it captures the moment when the photographer was trying to convince us to do “serious faces” and I failed. As soon as you ask me to keep a straight face I’ll do the opposite. I have done since I was a small child and I still laugh today. It’s a blessing and a curse. In this photo my mouth is so wide I look like I’m trying to eat my sister. My eyes are almost closed and my hair is out of place. But it’s natural. It tells a story. It’s me.
We need to change what we see when we look at photos of ourselves. Change what we think. Instead of asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” we should try asking “what’s right?”. Life can be pretty tough when someone is being mean to you all the time. Especially if that someone is you.