This holiday season has me, along with many of you I’m sure, feeling especially introspective. Stripping away the “biz” of the rest of the year, melting away the hurts and hurtles of 2013, and leaving only the fact that I am where I am, how does it compare to where I was a year ago? Does it measure up to where I wanted to be? If I achieved what I thought I wanted, did it truly make me happy? What do I want now? Am I seeing the honest truth in my current state, and am I allowing myself to see the beauty in it as a stage in my life, no matter how painful and imperfect it might be?
image courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
As the wife of a photographer, ours is unfortunately yet another retelling of the peddler’s family story. Just as his family never had shoes, it’s a rare occasion that my husband and I decide to capture our own life events in photos, and it’s rarer still to have photos that include both of us in the same frame. I didn’t even take photos of my sister and myself at the 21st birthday dinner-drinks date we went on together the other night. What was I thinking?!
For whatever reason, even in the age of camera phones and the ease of the digital world, we hardly ever make the effort to capture our own personal events on film, and instead focus on our latte art or latest professional adventure. It could be that we don’t want to feel “on duty” when we’re not, or it could be the stress of life that we are trying to avoid confronting by documenting it in an image.
But what is life, but a string of imperfect moments, vulnerabilities, celebrations and triumphs, balanced by disappointments and unexpected setbacks? The lens through which we choose to see our reality shapes our attitude, our choices and the resulting story that we choose to see or ignore.
At the core of everything is the truth of our own situation, without judgement, without guilt. This honesty is what a photograph truly can be, at its very best, in its most genuine and intrinsic form. Why does it so often require dire circumstances to break through to our most vulnerable and genuine?
Photographer Angelo Merendino and his late wife Jennifer were able to put all of this into action with his incredibly moving and visceral project, The Battle We Didn’t Choose. If this man, his wife and their family can be brave enough to bare their soul and capture the pain, joy and beauty of their life together, even in the face of defeat, cancer and death, why can’t we? They made the conscious decision to let all of their insecurities and judgements fall away to expose and capture the reality of their innermost and true moments: genuine love and appreciation for each other, the bittersweet joy of their time together, and the pain, fear and sadness of knowing how their story would soon end. It was more important to them to be honest and real in their experience and relationships than to live in the denial of the gravity of the hand they were dealt. It was certainly more important for their photos to tell their truest story, than to focus on generating a more perfect, more beautiful and more contrived image to telegraph to the world.
The force of their bravery, love and vulnerability has created a legacy. The project has now turned into a book, which has laid the groundwork to create a new (two month old!) non-profit called The Love You Share, which benefits cancer patients while in treatment. This couple’s honesty and pain has created hope and fostered healing in the global community. Such is the power of vulnerability.
To have your mind blown, check out Brené Brown’s talk on vulnerability on TED.com,
and just Google her while you’re at it.
In our industry of glitz and glamour, image and public relations, it’s important to stay grounded in our own truth, and vulnerable enough to create honest relationships, both with ourselves as well as the people with whom we choose to share our life. When we are off duty, away from the red carpets, away from the casting calls and production meetings, who are we? Who do we want to be? What is the truth of our story, and can we see it through the lens we are currently using?
Selfie before selfies from 2005
For better or for worse, where we’ve been and the choices we’ve made have created the story of who we are, and the choices and memories we make today will create the story of who we will be in the future. We have a powerful opportunity to strip down and jump into our life today, with the people around us today, with all of our collective imperfections, disappointments, celebrations and all.
What lens are you using to view your life? What kind of stories are you telling with the images you take?