I'M NOT PHOTOGENIC
May 16, 2019
I can't tell you HOW many times throughout my life - I've cringed when someone pulled out a camera. I still have to remember sometimes to center myself....and exhale....so I can take a breath in...and simply relax when there's one pointed at my face! This is a pattern I've been working to clear since childhood. I think it stems from feeling like I looked really different from my friends as I grew and grew and GREW to 5'7" by 6th grade, 5'9" by 7th grade (eventually stopping at 6' ¼" somewhere down the road), from being incredibly sensitive and shy and being made fun of for it, and from having a mom who didn't like having her picture taken.
I was taller than most of the girls and probably boys in my class by third grade, gangly, and had curly hair that my mom kept cut short because she said she liked the curls. Most of my girl friends had straight, longer hair and I wanted to fit in so badly I used this pink zig zag edged beauty tape to secure the edges of my hair down ALL the way around my head. Then I'd sit under moms big salon style hair dryer forever trying to dry out the curls.
The tape that was restraining the bangs and curly sideburns melted into my skin under the heat, and the red marks it left lasted most of the day - which was often Sunday when we went to church. There were spaces between all of my front teeth because the dentist pulled two to make room, I had big feet, and blushed if the wind blew - turning my face a brilliant shade of red that disclosed my insecurity. I hated that red face the MOST and seemed to have no control over it, which was completely humiliating. There were childhood nicknames about my appearance - as children often do when confronted with something different than themselves. Let's see there was - giraffe, ostrich, big foot, stretch - to name a few. Stretch kind of stuck after I was recruited for the high school basketball team, did ok and started developing some self confidence, and I realized at that point it was mostly a term of endearment from my friends - which was nice.
As I looked back through old images today to write this post, I noticed I started becoming more self conscious in pictures around the 7th grade.
I remember well how that smile felt in the image to the right - frequently setting my lower jaw slightly forward as I tried to steady. As time went by, I began to raise my forehead for some odd reason as in the BEFORE image above when I was 25, or would look away, blink, look down, or turn sideways. There was music in my family and in me and the BEFORE picture above was taken at my former singing partner and wonderful friends wedding in Maine, and when I looked at it today, I distinctly remembered picking up that vase of flowers off the table as the camera raised, trying to do something to feel more comfortable.
It was a couple years later while living in LA that I experienced something that changed my life. I really wanted to pursue a more serious music career so I had to find a professional photographer for headshots. It was at that time, I realize now, I learned the difference between having a "picture taken" and having someone "create" a photograph for you. I hired two different photographers, the first in LA, who created the photograph on the far right above, and the second in Chicago after I'd relocated there a short time later. I'll be eternally grateful to both of them and I'll tell you why. THEY HELPED ME CHANGE THE WAY I SAW MYSELF - which is what changed my life.
So what did they do???? They knew how to prepare me for the shoot, they knew the importance of hair and makeup, the shoots were fun and interesting which helped me relax, and they were masters at direction - for expression and body position. Not to be forgotten was their professional camera/studio equipment and understanding of light. I was honestly blown away by the end result and spent a few - years - YES years - rotating the images in frames in my bedroom - just staring at them and getting used to them - because they didn't match my SELF IMAGE. Those photographs literally helped me rewrite some inner programming, and over time, helped increase my confidence and the way I operated in the world - because - in them, I came more in line with my true self for those moments. Meaning, I was calm, centered, and relaxed where I could just - BE - and shine out and look straight into the camera without my - story - getting in the way. The photographs were not only exactly what I needed professionally, but became a daily reminder of that place - and I could feel it inside and get back to it when I looked at them.
My hair's still curly and unruly, I'm still really tall, I still have big feet, and I can still be kind of gangly, but this is me and I've learned to better manage and embrace my outside for my body type and my inside for peace. And it's a wonderful thing when the two are in sync!
I know today that I lived half my life thinking I wasn't photogenic - because I wasn't comfortable having my photo taken - because I had this story running in my head - with albums of personal and family photographs as proof. Two photographers helped me realize that wasn't true and I will always be grateful to them for their excellence, for starting me on the path of peeling away the many "stories" over the years that could have held me back (because once I was aware there was one - I knew there were more), and for the beautiful box of photographs they created that acted as a touchstone back to my center and helped change my life.