In a lot of ways, 2016 was a hard year all around – but I’m usually not one to focus on the negatives. Silver linings are kind of my thing. 2016 was the year that I got my sea legs with my business. It was the year of setting lofty goals and achieving them. It was the year of finding my voice and my confidence. Of not apologizing. Of really letting go of expectations and becoming myself…finally. 2016 was the year I said “yes” when I was scared. It was the year that I embraced opportunities with my heart racing and my hands shaking, but with my head held high. As my husband said, “It was the year of you.” Of me. And I think it’s really appropriate given all that has happened that the photo project that I gave myself at the beginning of 2016 was all about me.
Photography coach and blogger, Courtney Slazinick from Click It Up A Notch (clickitupanotch.com) and natural light guru Megan Cieloha (megancieloha.com and Click Photo School) started a project in 2016 dedicated to getting in the frame. #PortraitsOfMe was something that spoke to me deeply because, like so many of us, I’m always behind the camera and rarely in front of it. So I decided that by the end of the year, I wanted to have 52 photos of me either taken by me or taken during a time I actually handed off my camera. I didn’t tell myself that I needed to shoot one a week because I knew I couldn’t stick to that. I just needed 52 total. I was going to take pictures even if I had just woken up and looked like Nick Nolte’s mug shot. Even if the lighting was bad. Even if there was nothing particularly compelling going on to an outsider. None of that stuff mattered. I didn’t actively participate in this project online – in fact, I wasn’t sure that I was going to share it at all. But this last week of 2016, I combed through my personal photos and found that not only did I take 52 self portraits, I hired two photographers and handed over my camera so much throughout the year that I ended up with over 500 photos where I am actually in the frame. I’m present with my family. I’m present with myself. With the moment. I’m really, really there.
This project was not always at the forefront of my thoughts – it was usually humming under the surface as a gentle reminder to make myself seen. It let me recognize moments that I wanted to capture where I was really there, moments that I would have usually just documented from behind the lens. Some photos were taken just for me – so I could really see myself as I navigated through a lot of introspection this year. Some were taken for my family. Some were taken so that I could remind myself of these moments that could too easily be forgotten. A picture of my keys on my leg as I head off to another school pick up, of handing off a bowl of cereal, of starting the dishwashing process, of the constant up and down the stairs – those photos will remind me of what my life was like when my children needed me to do everything for them. I’ll blink and they’ll be getting their own breakfasts. They’ll spend all their time in their rooms. The keys will be on their legs instead of mine as they head off into the world without me. Those photos are for my future self to always remember these times where I sometimes think I just can’t be held onto anymore, that I can’t hear someone call “Mama” from upstairs one more time. These mundane moments of routine, repeated frustrations that are all wrapped up in a big ball of love are all part of this season of life and I wanted to remember them.
We moved this year and I documented every emotion I felt as we left the home we brought our babies home to. Some pictures I propped my camera on any surface that was close (usually the floor) in order to capture. Others, like holding my daughter in her rocking chair in her room for the last time as tears streamed down my face – those I handed off to my husband. The last photo taken in the house of me and my husband holding each other on the floor where our couch once lived – that was captured by my then 3-year-old son. He and my daughter took several photos of me this year that I loved – a reminder of how they see me. Of how I look in their eyes.
There were photos I took to experiment artistically, to stretch outside of my comfort zone. Photos of myself alone are hard photos to take, not only just from the technical side of things (grabbing focus, lighting, lost tripod, etc), but being vulnerable enough to show myself who I really am when no one else is looking – that’s hard for me. But in order to grow, we cannot be stagnant. We must push on and reach outside of our safe zone. We have to be vulnerable and look at each of our wrinkles magnified at 3:1 and have the guts to say, “I’m going to leave them.” These photos helped me see who I was – the me I was finally becoming after searching for 35 years. And those photos gave me so much more confidence, even magnified at 3:1.
Some of my self-portraits are just pieces of me – my feet, my hands, my legs, my reflection. These photos mean so much to me because they are shot the way I see the scene. They are shot to show what I am seeing when I look out at the world. While each photo I take is shot through my eyes, these photos are designed to remind myself of exactly how I see it. My hand closing the door to my daughter’s bedroom as I said, “Goodnight, Sleep Tight” to her as I had done every night for five years – I wanted to remember that. My sandy feet as I looked out at my children playing in the water as the sun dipped down over the water – one of the last warm days of the summer. Spraying my children with the hose as they washed my car, sitting in my red lawn chair with my feet propped up as they splashed in their pool, the way my son’s tiny legs would curl up on my lap. These photos will trigger all these memories of simply placing myself in context with the scene. Looking back at them now, I can still feel exactly how those moments felt. Those pieces of me in these frames are freezing those moments in time. And when my children see them someday, I hope they can see themselves through my eyes, too.
This year, I began to embrace the snapshot again. Not every photo needs to be artistic and compositionally perfect and have killer light. Some photos just need to show that we were there. We travelled this year and we did things as a family that I wanted to remember. So I handed off my camera to my husband to grab a quick shot or we set the camera wherever we could (table, tree stump, again…the ground), set the timer, and grabbed ourselves some snapshots. I know that those snapshots are going to be some of our most treasured photos as the years go on because we just took them to show that we were together. And I don’t care if they’re not technically perfect – they are perfect just as they are.
I’m not going to share 500 photos, but I am going to share my favorites. One for every week of 2016 and a few more. Portraits of Me gave me so much more than any other photo project I’ve done in the past. It not only showed me how we live and love, but it helped me see my place in it all. It helped me find my place, my voice, myself.