I finally got around to updating my website this week; a few weeks back I looked at it and realized how little of my recent work is actually visible, and decided I had to change that. So this week I bit the bullet and finished the website renovations, which meant looking through all my recent work, refurbishing my tired portfolio, and taking stock of the direction my photographic work is taking.
Looking through my work, one big thing stands out to me. I work almost exclusively with women, and very few male faces are popping up here! I did worry about that at first; after all, having a diverse portfolio is something most freelance photographers strive for, and sometimes I become concerned that my work will stagnate. But after thinking over why I photograph women so much, I've been working through the reasons my work seems to be taking this direction.
The biggest reason seems to be that I am passionate about improving women's view of themselves, both individually and collectively. We are, from a young age, continually bombarded with stylized, edited and sanitized versions of femininity and womanhood. Our mind's eye view of what it is to be a woman becomes so distorted with negative feelings about ourselves that most women I know, myself included, avoid the camera, seeking to hide from the confrontation of their own apparent flaws. Our bodies are generally not smooth, toned, hairless and just-bronzed-enough. We are painfully aware of our own failings, and daily berate ourselves for eating too much, not exercising, shaving, waxing, bronzing, or wearing the right kind of makeup or clothing. Even worse, we ignore ourselves, don't think about it, and just hide it all away, thinking 'No-one wants to see that.'
This pervasive depression about our appearance is shocking to me, and something I strive to change. Every woman I know is beautiful, and while that seems at first like a saccharine cliche, all you have to do is spend ten minutes of genuine conversation with someone, on a topic they are passionate about, to see that beauty shine through. In most of my photo-shoots, I spend more time talking than photographing. We'll do hair and makeup, have a cuppa and chat, or play dress ups for a while. I have to get to know my subjects, because then they get to know me, and I'm not that scary photographer, I'm Liz, who trips over everything and has a really weird family just like theirs. Then the rest is easy; I take a few photos, we have another cup of tea, change into another outfit (or three!) then we're done!
I've struggled to come to terms with my weird approach to women's portraiture for years. Some part of me always says I should have a pristine white studio that looks professional, and my weird little cave in Brisbane full of vintage furniture, clothing and odd collectibles isn't what people want. I'm not good at being commercial, or sticking to a schedule, or thinking about whether this portrait session is going to be cost-effective.
I get too wrapped up in the fascinating person in front of me, hearing their life story, what is important to them, and trying to make them...for even a short time....feel beautiful and loved. And hopefully, if I do it right, some of that feeling will show in their eyes, and bleed over into the pictures. Hopefully, their mum will love the photo, and their daughters, and partner, and friends. Hopefully I'll capture who they really are, and give them a photograph of themselves that they really, really like, and feel beautiful about.
Ultimately I want to flood the world with more photographs of beautiful women. All ages, shapes, sizes, colours and heights of beautiful women. I want to reduce the number of generic photographs of women whose appearance has been drastically altered, and I want to show that you don't have to fit an externally dictated set of specifications in order to be beautiful. If my version of women's portraiture can add to that, then I'm ok with not having the traditional studio set up.