I've been doing a lot of portrait work in the last couple months and I've been noticing a common thread that runs through almost every session. This is certainly not new, but I've just been paying closer attention. And I've found that almost every shoot seems to contain a conversation that goes something like this:
Subject: Okay, make sure to get my good side.
Me: Okay, no problem...which one is your good side?
Subject: Okay, just don't get my scar in this.
Me: Yeah, of course not...so, where exactly is your scar?
Subject: You can photo-shop this, right?
Me: Sure...but what would you like me to change?
And let me follow that up by saying that I haven't been out documenting a herd of Ug-o's. It's been normal, attractive, real people. To my eyes none of them have had anything to be embarrassed about. It's all an issue of confidence.
As a photographer, it's also interesting that everyone has entrusted to me, a relative stranger, their insecurity; the part of themselves about which they feel the most self conscious. They obviously feel the need to bring it up, as if I have clearly seen their hideous deformity, but am too polite to mention it. To them it's the elephant in the room. I take this as a compliment; that my subjects feel comfortable enough to divulge these nagging self doubts. But I am often left wondering why they feel this way in the first place. In almost all of these situations, I have not noticed what they perceive to be their biggest flaw until they point it out. And even then, it has never stood out to me as an issue. It's not as if anyone has come in and said "Okay, let's do these photos, just don't get this third hairy, ear growing out of the middle of my forehead."
Ultimately, I feel a little bad for everyone, knowing that they have this thing about themselves that is always hanging around in the background, undercutting their confidence. And the great irony is that, for the most part, it doesn't even register for the other people around them.
All cards on the table, I will admit to not being fond of having my own photo taken. I have a weird tendency to let my left eye lid sag, and I often adopt an awkward grin that makes me look slightly creepy and dim-witted. It's hard to describe, but let's just say that it's not all together flattering. It is my great and sincere hope that I only make this face for photos, because if I'm walking around like that all the time...I don't even want to think about it. I am also not impressed by images that in anyway capture the back of my head, where apparently the ratio of hair coverage to vacant scalp is rapidly becoming 1:1. I do not like this. So to my subjects, let me say this: I'm with you. You're not alone. I get it.
But I would like to propose that we start to change the way we think about ourselves, taking comfort in the fact that, for the most part, others don't even see the flaws that we each obsess over. What if we started to see ourselves as others do? What if our scars and wrinkles could be marks of a life well lived instead of blemishes to hide from the world? What if we flaunted what we were most proud of or rather than trying to conceal our insecurities? What if we loved ourselves?
Let's do that instead.