“Woman has been the target of much that is sordid and cheap, especially in photography. To raise, to elevate, to endorse with timeless reverence the image of woman, has been my mission.”
~ Ruth Bernhard
When I was studying my craft, I was shown what successful images looked like and what I often saw were hyper-sexualized images of women and some men—along with oodles of objectification. I saw naked women with handbags draped over glistening, oiled curves, bones protruding like arrows pointed toward their internal lust. I saw men, buffed and groomed, typically in positions of power. Our nude assignment came with the instruction to look for small-breasted women because their breasts photographed better. Yeah, whatever.
I learned many ways in which we could change and “perfect” images, mostly images of women. One video in particular stood out and has stuck with me; it featured a balding, obese man demonstrating a tutorial on the best ways in which to “fix” a beauty shot. As he broke down the image, his critiques flowed effortlessly: Her nose was too long, her legs were too short, the freckles near her eyes bothered him, her eyes were too small, and her lips were too thin. Thus, his digital tweaking began. He stretched and smoothed, and puckered and erased: Oh the process! It’s definitely not easy work. I sat there, looking at this beautiful woman on the screen, dumbstruck and infuriated by the deconstruction and judgment thrust upon a naturally beautiful being. My notes looked like a bunch of scribbled what the fucks instead of a detailed how-to. I also felt entirely alone in my reaction and response. I found myself speaking out against the norms in an industry that makes its money “perfecting” beauty. Not a popular move on my part.
I was told I would never succeed if I didn’t just accept that “this is the way” of photography. It’s not the way. At least, it’s not my way.
It wasn’t then and it isn’t now.
I have photographed everything from landscapes to pinup to weddings—to what feeds my soul now: Musicians and yogis. Photographing people is something I find particularly special. It’s an opportunity to be curious, to have a conversation, and to be completely present in the moment. Still, with most people I photograph, there always comes a moment where I am asked if I can “fix” some part of them. Sure, if you have a pimple, I’ll remove it. It’s not permanent anyway. But that beautiful mole on your face? Sorry. It’s part of you and it is part of what makes you beautifully unique.
Those beautiful, thick thighs? Yep, those too. They are phenomenal and strong.
Same goes for the petite person whose bones might stick out because they are simply tiny. No, I won’t add weight to you. You are beautiful just the way you are.
I don’t go out and intentionally seek round or small, tall, or skinny people. I photograph whoever crosses my path because they are inspiring and beautiful in their individuality. At the same time, I often find myself photographing those who are often mis-understood or under-represented. And that really makes my heart sing.
I am glad that I never gave in to the mass-marketed norms that prevail in the photography world. I do have my moments, however, where I wonder if I have to start shooting over-exposed, heavily photoshopped nudes or partial nudes just to get recognized. Then I laugh at myself. I am an artist. And a body image advocate. And some things just aren’t negotiable.
“Light is my inspiration, my paint and brush. It is as vital as the model herself. Profoundly significant, it caresses the essential superlative curves and lines. Light I acknowledge as the energy upon which all life on this planet depends.” ~ Ruth Bernhard
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons
Photo: © Sarit Z Rogers/Sarit photography