Creating self-portraits – embracing the weird!

 

It’s taken a long time to get around to writing this particular blog – not only because the summer has been a wonderful whirlwind of family time and exciting photographic opportunities, but because organising my thoughts on this has been a long time coming.

Last year I finally resolved to deal with my own fear of being photographed.  It is frankly ridiculous to be a portrait photographer and not be able to stand to look at a photo of yourself.  How on earth could I help those I photograph to feel comfortable, to understand that I’ll take care of them, that they will look great and that previous bad experiences in front of the lens must be put to one side and forgotten – when my own gut instinct was to run a mile from any camera pointed my way.  My excuses were feeling hollow even as I said them “I’m just not photogenic” “I always make a weird face” – excuses I’d heard so many times from my portrait subjects and which I routinely acknowledged then laid aside.

My rational, business minded self also knows that people buy people as much as they buy services, and I’ve blogged about the importance of connecting with potential customers through your profile photo and your About Me section. You see, it’s not that I don’t believe all of this, it’s simply that I know how hard it can be!  The wonderful Hannah Couzens so kindly did my headshots last year and they are lovely – honestly she did wonders with my immobile face and it’s tendency to look murderous even when the actual thoughts behind the eyes are much more banal.  It was a great experience to be photographed by Hannah and the images are great but a year on I could feel the old fear surfacing again and so I figured I needed another ‘shot in the arm’ so to speak – it was time to create my own self portraits!

I had a free couple of hours so I planned for 3 different looks going from pretty banal to more daring on the grounds that if the banal went badly then I could bail on the more daring!  I wanted something with expression, something with character even though I know that leads to a less pretty result – expression tends to give me more wrinkles, smaller eyes, more ‘weirdness’ all together but honestly it’s who I am and it’s about more than just a pretty picture, it’s about embracing the weird!

So here they are – 3 shots – all quite different but all very much me.  Don’t get me wrong, the idea of putting this out there still worries me – and before anyone asks (that means you Dad!) it’s a strapless top!  However, I’m a good photographer and while these are most definitely not ‘straight out of camera’ I think that makes a difference and sharing them is perhaps a little step along the road to accepting my face as it is (in it’s mid-thirties, with some wear and tear, feeling a bit of neglect but probably typical).  I don’t look like a model, but a good photograph doesn’t require you to look like Kate Moss.

 

Epilogue

A few weeks after I made these photos, and a week before writing this blog I did my first ever training on working with the media – I had to do a video interview.  This did not go well!  I cringed at the sight of my miserable face on the screen, hated the camera angle with a passion and frankly wished the ground would swallow me up as my colleagues and trainers watched the film back.  So – still work to do on self acceptance, but baby steps perhaps!

 

 

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A photo of you – a key part of valuing yourself

Why is it not ok to want a great photo of yourself?

A few months ago a friend asked me if I’d take some photographs of her husband and son with the family dog.  The dog was elderly and she wanted some great photographs to remember him when he was gone.  Naturally I asked if she wanted to be in the photos as well, “oh no” she said “no-one wants a picture of me”.  She was slightly joking, but the underlying sentiment here has been one I’ve heard several times since from both men and women and it’s starting to worry me.

The implication is one that touches on a lack of valuing yourself, and in more ways than simply thinking you’re not attractive enough to warrant photographing.  Looks is part of it, but it’s not the whole story in my view.  This sense of “I’m not worth it” rolls up a whole bunch of negative emotions.  From feeling that no-one wants a photo of us, through feeling no -one cares for or values us, right the way to no-one wants to remember us.  Why are we so keen to want a photograph to remember the family pet, yet we don’t want to remember ourselves as we are now, when we look back in years to come?

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I had this image of myself done by Hannah Couzens, a photographer I really admire. Yes it was a bit nerve wracking, but I love this result!

There are a multiplicity of factors at play here I’m sure, and so I won’t try and enumerate them all, I’m not a psychiatrist!  However, I reckon there’s also a dose of Britishness here.  It’s just not British to post a great picture of yourself that says “Hey! This is me and I look great! I’m proud of who I am”. Instead we post the ratty selfie, the badly lit, unflattering angle snapshot that says “I’m not trying very hard and yes this is a bad picture but I’m no oil painting anyway”.  Frankly this is sad!

Everyone should have at least one great picture of themselves, as they look right now (so no your wedding picture from 10 years ago is not good enough!) and getting that picture done properly is as much part of taking time out for yourself as getting your nails done or your hair cut. It’s about celebrating yourself, owning how you look, and being proud of it.

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This is my most current pic of me – I try and get people I trust to take good images I can use on my social media – I will not be posting anything that does not make me look as good as I possibly can! Thanks Hannah Carey!

 

 

Ironically when I came to do the shoot with the kid, husband and dog, the husband quite quickly asked “can we get one of all of us?” totally blowing my friend’s excuse out of the water and showing that yes, people really do want a photo of us!

 

See my photography at http://www.siantphoto.com and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @SianTPhoto