I’m having a full-circle moment today as I’ve been meditating on vulnerability. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. Not because I don’t think I can be vulnerable. But because I feel like I ALWAYS AM. When it comes to love, I find myself with zero grey areas. Either I feel that my walls are comfortably up or I could be destroyed at any moment for how far I’ve let myself get into the middle of the ocean. My heart doesn’t live in the middle-ground.
But when it comes to my work as a Boudoir photographer, the same truth applies. And I’ve noticed it in a lot of images I’ve seen (from wherever/whomever). Why do I resonate with some images and not with others? Why is some work just… BETTER? Well….
There’s a reason the world fell in love with Marilyn Monroe in a different way than they fell in love with women like Jayne Mansfield. Vulnerability.
There’s a BIG difference between camera-aware and photographer-engaged.
I loved Marilyn from a very early age but it wasn’t until I decided to do my high school history term paper on the her and her influence that I realized exactly how tragic her childhood was and how that was visible in every aspect of her becoming a star. Of course she was beautiful. Of course she was wildly intelligent. But the most integral part of her stardom was her openness.
Her childhood left her with a gaping wound. She was so innocent, so abused, so taken advantage of… but she remained open because she had no choice. She just wanted to be loved. Her vulnerability was born from so much pain, so much brokenness that no one should have to suffer. And then she turned it into a beautiful way to connect to humanity.
That kind of intense vulnerability is what is so clearly seen in nearly every photograph of her. The possibility of approval… the possibility of being good enough… the possibility of love were things she was desperate for, understandably so. And so when we see a photograph of her, we’re not seeing a woman doing a job. We’re seeing a woman, trying to be loved. Her spirit showed up. Fully. Openly. With hope. With desire. With a kind of rawness, that easily overcame a brutal hair-bleaching & styling routine and thick makeup. Her soul was right there. Almost palpable.
So when I see portraits, especially of boudoir, I can’t help but notice the feeling. It’s different. Yes, the subject is inherently vulnerable in the situation, but they’re not vulnerable to the photographer/camera. They’re afraid. Some part of them holds back. They’re VERY aware of the camera. And it’s so easy to see. Even if the ‘pose’ is somewhat relaxed, you can truly feel how aware they are of the camera and how the wall they hold doesn’t allow them to be truly engaged. And then the viewer… however subtly they sense it, can feel the blankness. There’s a cold feeling in a subject that is ‘camera aware’. The subject may be holding our breath and we may briefly respond in kind. They may have tense shoulders or stiff hands and we may, just for a second, tense our own bodies. If nothing else, there is a difference in the energy. We may appreciate the photo, some of us who aren’t ready for the deep feelings of vulnerability may even GUSH over the photo. But if you really look, if you really try to FEEL it, the difference is, their soul isn’t inviting us in.
There are millions of ‘pretty’ pictures out there… maybe ‘sexy’ even. But the only true beauty comes from being vulnerable. And THAT only comes once in a lifetime from someone like Marilyn, OR from a photographer being able to touch that part of your soul. Entice it. Seduce it. Pull it forward…. enough to make your body & energy believe it is safe. Enough to where you are no longer in a ‘pose’, but you are fully present. Enough to where you no longer feel you’re being photographed, but being SEEN.
This is my mission.
The Art of Being Seen.