Behind the camera, I am comfortable. I see the light, engage with the subject, compose the shot. I click the shutter. And again. Change positions a little, higher or lower, from a different angle, closer. Closer again. Pull the camera away. Reset. Begin again.
This I know.
Out in front, when I am the subject? This is another story altogether.
When I brought this up with Kristina the other day, she commented, “Madre, this is my camera face.” Picture her chin dipped, face turned a little to the side, a twinkle in her eye that suggests mischief, and a tipped-up grin. “And this is yours.” Picture a deer head, frozen and devoid of expression, eyes wide to the fact of the oncoming 18-wheeler.
She is exactly right. Or she has been. Because I’m working on it. I really am.
The roundabout point is that it’s a constant labour to look courageously at glass
and trust the person wielding it.
A week or two after Kristina came home from her freshman year at college, we sat down on the couch with baby photo albums. We never tire of this. New stories emerge, memories are reaffirmed, we marvel at the many changes since then.
In those pages, I discovered two self-portraits I made with Kristina (on film) when she was much younger.
These I treasure. I seem more comfortable, next to her. Not a tragically frightened deer – just a person.
I also came across this one, from when we attended the Brandi Carlile concert at Woodland Park Zoo last summer.
The tickets were a Mother’s Day gift from Kristina, and we had so much fun. That was the concert when Dave Matthews casually sauntered out for a short set with Brandi. NBD. (See what she means about the camera faces?)
I had fun with the ones I made last fall, but I can’t say that I’m excited about the ones since. They don’t have much variety. Maybe I need to take another look at Xanthe’s collection for inspiration. Or Susannah Conway’s. Or maybe Meredith Winn’s.
Maybe I need to trust the person wielding the camera. Ahem.
Today, I read this post about a photographer who has made a series of mother-daughter self-portraits. These were made with intentional way, composed with a specific vision. Aglaé Bory, the photographer, has this to say:
Photography shows and freezes things, I try to see what is invisible, to show what is hidden, to freeze what is volatile. I especially love doing this because photography is dealing with tangible reality so I try to explore the power of photography by approaching its boundaries as a medium.
The cable release in my hand is visible, so the moment-of-shooting itself is visible too. I like this. These photographs are self-portraits, so I was ‘blind’. I had to imagine the postures, to see not with my eyes, but with my mind. It helped me to go inside myself and reach interiority.
Would this practice help me with self-portraits? To see myself and the composition, not with my eyes, but with my mind? And perhaps, with my heart? Being gentle with myself in this way could make it a more intuitive rather than a technical experience. Aglaé Bory adds this:
Even though the camera is a tool which takes its aim on reality, it does not work of its own accord.
It is a tool to establish relationships.
Maybe this is where the real work is for me: in establishing that relationship with myself. And then capturing it in the photos I make.
I hope for two things – an improved comfort in front of the camera, when I am the subject, and an even deeper compassion behind the camera, resulting in better, more vibrant photographs either way.
Where are you more comfortable?