Text and images by Carrie Holbo
So, I’m excited to be here guest-blogging here for the fabulous Miss Paulette, but also a bit intimidated. You see, I’m not the best with words. My medium is photography, not writing—and on my own blog, I usually leave the photographs to speak for themselves.
But there is one thing I’ve been musing over, and it’s something I see echos of in Paulette’s beautiful writing. So I decided to use this space to share some of my thoughts.
(To give you a little background: like Paulette, I work full-time at the National Endowment for the Arts, but photography is my job on the side. It’s not something I’ve done for very long—up until 2011 it was really just a hobby, but now I’m pretty obsessed. I’ve never had a hobby that consumed me to this extent, or that wasn’t an “ooh I want to try this! [Wait a week or two.] OK, I’m done now…” kind of fleeting interest. So this is a bit of a new world for me and it’s still a bit of a challenge to say, “Hi, I’m a photographer…” But I’m loving it!)
When I am photographing people, I get so excited—it’s truly an adrenaline rush—and every once in a while I like to give my subjects a little “sneak peek” from the LCD screen when I get something I particularly like. When I’m photographing kids, the reaction is always “oh, how cute!” and I continue on, happy that the clients are liking how things look and that we’re getting the shots I want.
As my work has transitioned from shooting mostly toddlers to also shooting couples and headshots, the reaction to these “sneak peeks” has become much more tempered. “Oh god, check out my chins!” “Why is my hair flat on that side?” “Can you crop that so my belly isn’t showing?” And worst of all, a kind of “yeah, that’s a nice photograph” with absolutely no enthusiasm behind it.
Nothing deflates me more than to be faced with this kind of apathy. And so I start questioning my skills and my eye, and then to compensate, I go into this kind of crazed cheerleader mode, where every other word out of mymouth is “that’s perfect!” or “you look great!”—anything to try and instill some confidence in my subject and to keep them distracted enough so I can get as relaxed and natural a shot as possible.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that this reaction mostly comes from women. We women apparently can’t look in a mirror or at a photo and see ourselves as a whole, beautiful being; we just immediately hone in on this issue or that—things that hardly even register for other people. Our hair is too curly or too flat, our nose is too short or too long, our skin too pale or too dark, our skin or teeth or makeup not perfect—the list is endless. In our minds, no image of ourselves is a good one because we can only seem to focus on our faults, and the camera just magnifies them.
I am just as guilty of this, if not more, than the people I’ve photographed. Yes, irony of ironies, I’m the photographer who hates to get her own photo taken. I’m the one who says “you look gorgeous!” to others (and I really, truly mean it!), but can’t believe this could ever be true of me. I’m a total hypocrite. I cringe looking at my nose, my jowls, those bags under my eyes, my belly, my flabby arms, or that zit that of course appeared just the night before.
I carefully curate the photos I share of myself with the world. I add “creative” filters in Instagram and crop in tight to avoid showing too much. I un-tag anything where I dislike the shine on the center of my forehead or the crazy expression on my face in those dancing photos from a friend’s wedding.
In all truth, I do make a pretty stupid face when dancing; I’ll at least own that part. But the rest of it: I know I just need to let it go. So what if my hair isn’t great? So what if I want to lose weight? If I keep waiting for that mythical day when I’ll have it all together, I’ll never have any photos of myself. There will never be anything for my nieces or nephews to look back at and remember me by. And that’s not OK.
I take a little bit of comfort knowing I’m not the only one who feels this way, but that’s actually even sadder, realizing that there are so many smart, lovely women out there who are, like me, scared to put themselves in the spotlight. And by “selves” I mean our faces. Yes, we share our words and our work, but when it comes to sharing our faces and bodies, there’s some sort of self-preservation thing that kicks in and makes us want to run and hide.
Of course, this is easy to say, but not so easy to do. Practicing what you preach is hard when your heart doesn’t always listen to your head, but I’ll start with baby steps, and I’m going to challenge you all to, as well. If you are a blogger but don’t have a photo of you on your site, get one! It doesn’t have to be a professional pic, just something that lets people see you—the real, current you, which means not a photo from five years ago and not something where you’re looking off-camera and laughing or wearing sexy sunglasses, or otherwise avoiding eye contact with the viewer. And then keep at it: update that photo every couple of weeks or months. Let the world see who you are on an average day. Dressed up. Dressed down. (Maybe even undressed! I know some photographers who are doing beautiful work in boudoir photography Hit me up for recommendations if you’re interested!)
It’s hard, I know (which is why I procrastinated several days past deadline in turning this over to Paulette.) But enough’s enough.
— Find a neutral backdrop. (I use seamless paper in black and white, but any wall will do. I also love brick, painted or otherwise.
— Look for good light—something not in direct sunlight but rather with soft, even lighting (sliding doors or bay windows are great.)
— Look straight into the camera, keep your shoulders back and proud, and push your chin just slightly forward and down. (Believe me on this last one—it makes a huge difference!)
— Try all kinds of smiles—the small, knowing ones up through the ear-to-ear grin. You never know which you’ll like best in a photo!
— Have fun!