(don’t) look at me: the fear of being photographed

Several times a day, my son says to me, “Look at me!” For the record, I  feel I am always looking at him. (He’s 3.5). I’ve noticed it’s what I say when I photograph people, “Look at me.” Look at my lens. Look past my lens. See me. I’m not a threat. So many of us freeze with a camera in our face. And, in all honesty, many of us have what I call camera trauma. We sit in front of the camera at the age of 45, and all previous iterations of ourself take a seat, too. The part who was told she wasn’t photogenic, the part who was told her smile was crooked, the part who hates her asymmetrical eyes. All previous experiences being photographed come to pass in 1/125 of a second. 

The other day when my son was saying, “Look at me,” I started wondering: at what age does it become “Stop looking at me.” When do we decide we’re not worthy of being seen? 

This past month I photographed a longtime friend. And, it was vulnerable for her for a number of reasons that are unique to her and also universal to most of us. Being photographed is vulnerable for most of us. 

She described the process of going to hair and makeup and coming to my studio and doing the session and weeks later viewing the portraits as “powerful” and “healing.” Deep inside, I know this is what I do. It’s why I feel nervous sometimes when I send a woman a gallery of images of herself. But, most of the time my ego thinks “I take pitchers.” That’s how people in the South say it: “We fixing’ to get our pitchers taken.” And, sometimes I think why on Earth am I taking pitchers of people? With all of the suffering in the world, how does taking pitchers even matter?

Then the voice of Truth reminds me that who I am and what I do matters. What I do isn’t as important as how I do it. And, I hope I’m showing up and holding the space for women to overcome the vulnerability of being photographed, to show up in the world with more confidence, to see themselves as the world sees them. If all of the women in the world rejected society’s warped ideas around beauty and embraced themselves exactly as they are, it would be revolutionary. I think I’m here to create a more just and compassionate world. And, when the women I’ve photographed tell me how the portraits we’ve created have helped them heal, I realize I’m doing exactly what I’m here to do.

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