Happy New Year everyone! I hope you’ve all had a fantastic festive season, no matter what you’ve been up to, who you’ve spent it with, how much you’ve eaten and how many drinks you’ve imbibed! Do turkey dinners, endless Christmas films and half-eaten boxes of chocs feel like a distant memory already?
It’s quite fitting that my first blog post of 2012 is one about self-image. After all, it’s traditionally a time of New Year’s Resolutions, which often include the dreaded diet or makeover (as all those festive chocs inevitably end up just where you’d rather they didn’t, on your derriere). Of course, there’s nothing wrong at all with re-assessing your lifestyle and making a few tweaks to help you along the road to being more healthy, a little fitter, a little more ready to face the vigours of another year. But, most importantly, creating a good self-image isn’t about ‘if only I was fifteen pounds lighter’. Self-image is a much more complex issue and as much to do with acceptance (of the inside as well as outside) as it is with whether we fit into that dress or not.
My blog post of last week dealt with my own issues of self-image, and how I incorporate this into my work as a wedding and portrait photographer, helping others see the ‘real’ them in the images I take. In this post, I’ll show you how, via a series of self portraits, I started to come to terms with how I appear in photographs and how that set me on the start of the journey to acceptance of my own physical self-image – and how this might help you too.
First out, a few confessions. There are things about my physical appearance I hate which I know I can never, ever change (bar some pretty serious plastic surgery in the manner of John Travolta in ‘Face Off’.). So, I have two choices; to either accept that this is what nature gave me, more or less, or spend my life feeling miserable about it. I’d like to spend at least some of my life in a state of happiness, so I’ll aim for the former. I know, it’s not as easy as it sounds. That’s where the self-portraits started to help; a way of seeing myself in different ways. Again, it’s not about aiming to take a photograph that makes me look like a supermodel – that’s physically not going to be possible and would be counter-productive, anyway, as I’d never look like that in ‘real’ life.
I started off gently. We all look good in nice shoes, right? So I concentrated on getting to like one part of me at a time – by creating an image I liked, with me in it, but concentrating on the shoes. Here’s the result:
Cheating? Not at all. I believe in taking things step by step. If I could look at a picture of myself (albeit, a part of myself) which I liked, it took me along the road to the next step, to putting a little more of myself in the shot.
… and then, a little more.
The last image was a bit of a breakthrough for me. Admittedly, you can’t see my face, but as far as I was concerned, there were plenty of imperfections on show – things I’d never normally feel comfortable about having photographed. The key was that I was in control of the shot – and just as importantly, I took my time composing it, I decided how I wanted to pose, and the final image created a mood which said as much about my personality as it did about the length of my legs or whether my hair needed a brush. Remember, ‘you’ are your personality, not your outward appearance. That’s the breakthrough. That’s the reason for the photograph.
From there, I moved on to images which grew increasingly more brave, more vivid and yes, did show my face – but your face is but one tiny part of the whole, and whether it was shown or not became largely immaterial to the point of the image. Perhaps the image which took me the longest to attempt, yet helped me make the most progress with accepting myself on camera, was this:
I can’t say that I have totally left my fear of my own photographic self-image behind, but thanks to the above, I’m far better than I was. I accept far more of myself. You don’t have to be an expert with a camera to follow this path, either; just a self timer, some private time, and the desire to understand more of yourself. It doesn’t matter if the photographs are just for you or if you want to share them; you decide.
I found that I DID want to share my self portraits, because it proved to me that I could look, in a photograph, more like the person I felt I was inside – and to do that, you don’t need to show the whole of yourself. An impression, a sensation, a feeling, a unique mannerism – if you capture this on camera, you have captured your true self.
To finish: if you’re intending to discover yourself through self portraits, or improve your own self-image, here are a few tips.
1. You need time and privacy. Keep it secret if you prefer; no-one else needs to know.
2. Take a bunch of shots where you’re purposefully pulling faces, just to get to see your face as you wouldn’t normally experience it. Look at them, see yourself and your uniqueness, and then throw them away.
3. Try silhouettes, partial body shots, shots where you’re not even recognisable. Experiment and see what you come up with. This is your body, your time, and you don’t have to follow any rules or dance to anyone else’s tune. The more variety you put into the shots, the more of ‘you’ and your own personality you’ll capture.
4. Don’t try to pull your best ‘photo face’. That’ll just end up in a fake mask. It’s not you and you won’t like it.
5. Finally, keep your favourites, ditch the rest. This isn’t supposed to be an exercise in pain; if you don’t like it, don’t keep it. Just remember that it’s not about looking like you’ve stepped from a magazine, it’s about seeing the individual within. If that individual has just got out of bed, just stepped out of the bath or has make-up smeared all across their face, then so be it. That’s you. Be proud of who you are.
Thank you for your very speedy sneak preview!!
We had the most fantastic day and you were a total star!
The photos look incredible, Matt and I are totally thrilled with them.
Helen & Matt