We live in the age of the "selfie," one-armed snapshots of ourselves, alone or with friends, mugging for our own cameras. The Oxford Dictionaries even named "selfie" 2013’s Word of the Year. I think all this duck-lip, doe-eyed snapping is giving the selfie a bad rap.
“My typical style of photography is all about the color. Vibrant color and the use of natural light is my comfort zone, but in self-portraits, I found myself turning more and more to black-and-white.”
A few years ago, I had an epiphany. Though I had thousands of images of my life, my family and the beauty around me, I had so very few images of myself in any of it. Being the photographer in the family meant I was always holding the camera, keeping me behind the lens, not in the frame. If there came a rare occasion when someone else was manning the camera, I still had the power to view each image and then push that ever-tempting Delete button. I was erasing my own proof of life.
I grew up in the generation of film. No one had the opportunity to view or delete an image if we didn’t like the way we looked. You took the roll of film, sent it off for development and anxiously awaited its return. Then those prints were thumbed through over and over, stored in albums and boxes, forever freezing time, preserving history. My basement is full of this beauty. At anytime, I can go through albums and view all members of my family in those printed treasures.
Then came the age of digital photography. This changed everything. We save, rather than print. We shoot, view and delete. What would my children have? Several thousand shots of the coffee I drank, how the steam rose out of the cup, the perfect slice of sunlight glinting through the steam. Thousands of images of themselves and loved ones. But what of me? That’s when I decided to turn my lens around and find my proof—all of it, the good, the bad and all the in between.
Portraiture, in itself, is a powerful thing. When you shoot a portrait of anyone, you’re capturing them at a moment in time that can never be replicated. There’s a huge vulnerability between shooter and subject. This doesn’t change when you’re both shooter and subject. Turning the camera on oneself, after years of finding comfort behind the camera, can be scary—allowing not only the world to see you, but for you to see you. Once you allow yourself permission to see yourself just as you are, there’s no going back. To me, it has become a form of self-care, a way of seeing myself in my world and of connecting to the greater world beyond the bubble of my own home.
My typical style of photography is all about the color. Vibrant color and the use of natural light is my comfort zone, but in self-portraits, I found myself turning more and more to black-and-white. Stripping away all the happy shiny color, leaving only the simplicity of shadow and light, allowed the emotion of the moment to pierce through. The humanness of the image feels more powerful in the starkness of black-and-white.
Sure, I can shoot "pretty" self-portraits, smiling and happy, but what about the real-life moments? The not-so-good days, the hard times, the sick days, the headaches, the sadness, the rawness that comes with being human? I found when I shared those images, the connections others made to them were visceral. "I see you. I feel this. Thank you."
I came up with a saying in my head each time I turned my lens on myself: "For proof, not pretty." It has become my mantra. What I’m figuring out, click by click, is that my proof is beautiful.
5 Tips For Self-Documentary
|1 | Shoot in the moment, and allow yourself to be vulnerable. There’s nothing more beautiful.
2 | To help stay in the moment, shoot handheld self-portraits. Sometimes pausing to set up timers or tripods can take you out of the emotion.
3 | Fingers off the delete button. Shoot a whole lot, then let them live for a while on your memory card. This is a hard practice, but one I’ve found very useful. By coming back later to your images, you may be able to see them in a kinder light.
4 | Convert your images to black-and-white. Something you may have discarded in color can take on a whole new emotion and power in black-and-white.
KRISTIN ZECCHINELLI is a mother, a wife and an artist living on the coast of Maine. You can find her writing for Shutter Sisters and Paper Coterie or musing about her everyday on her personal blog, Maine Momma. She’s is a co-founder of NOW YOU Workshops. See more of her work at shuttersisters.com.