As a woman, it's often a challenge to see my own beauty. I think I'm perfectly average-looking, cute, even. When I pull myself together using all my skills as a makeup artist, I'd even go so far as to say I'm pretty.
When it comes to my regular, day-to-day life, cute is good enough and, frankly, not even something I think about very much. I value my strengths, and building upon my kindness, creativity, and intelligence is where I devote most of my efforts and find the most happiness.
When I first decided to become a photographer, I was immediately drawn to magazine-style portraits of women. I love the process of transforming women into something more glamorous and elegant than we get to be in our day-to-day lives. I feel incredible joy in capturing the beauty of a woman into a portrait that she and her loved ones can treasure forever.
The experience my clients have, from the transformation, to seeing their incredible photographs, is something I hadn't had for myself, but have wanted since before I became a photographer. Buying this beautiful dress for an upcoming client photoshoot was the perfect excuse to get in front of the camera. I needed to see which background would suit it best, right? So I set up my camera with a tripod and remote, put a huge mirror behind it so I could see my positions and expressions, and snapped away.
I then uploaded the images to my computer, chose my favorite shots, edited them and posted a before & after to facebook, on a group page for fellow photographers. Interestingly, I was able to process all of the images in my creative, photographer's brain.
I worked on them exactly the same way I
would for a client, and I was proud of them as a photographer, "Look at these beautiful images I made." It actually seemed as if I was looking at a different woman in the images.
I felt incredibly exposed by posting my "Before" shot online, which is really strange, since that's what I look like most of the time. I asked my fellow photographers for critique, expecting to hear suggestions on the editing, posing, or expression of the "After" shot. I got kind comments saying "beautiful!" and internalized that to mean "the image you took is beautiful" rather than "you are a beautiful woman." I continued to experience this as a proud photographer until somebody asked me a very thought-provoking question.
“How do you feel about this Emily?”
Suddenly I was pulled out of seeing the image as a photographer, and into the eyes of a woman seeing herself at her most beautiful, in a sensual, elegant way. As I composed my answer, I found myself analyzing the image from a much more emotional place. Instead of looking at the lighting and the skin-tones, I started looking at my self. What I saw made me cry.
“I’m happy with the image - proud, even, as I feel that it’s very reflective of my style as a photographer. However, I think that most people who know me would not identify with the woman in the photograph.
I imagine I’m often perceived as very sweet and childish, in that way that makes people feel like they need to take care of me. While the image certainly captures a certain vulnerable quality, I very much look like a woman.”
There were several portraits I nearly chose for my "after" shot. I saw many of my favorite qualities captured in the images; some where I looked confident and powerful, others sweet or thoughtful, or even playful. Yet it struck me that the images I was most drawn to were ones that showed a side to me that I very rarely connect with.
One that is graceful and soft, and even seductive in a tender, vulnerable way. (A noticeable difference when compared to the way I see myself in general, which alternates between a sweet, young, wanderlust-filled girl, and a determined, ambitious career-woman.)
Perhaps the greatest challenge I faced when choosing a single favorite image, is that I am a multi-faceted woman with depth and warmth and beauty that no single photograph can capture. I am not a 'before' picture, or even an 'after.' I am an artist, wife, mother, creator, sister, and friend.