This is a project that I did well over a year ago now. I’ve posted and spoken of it briefly before, but I’ve never released it. It’s been difficult to do so. Not because of the images themselves, but for the meaning in which they hold. I am connected to this project perhaps more so than any other that I have done. It is technically simple but emotionally profound. It’s been hard to put its entirety out into the world for I would hate for it to be viewed in any other way that what it is; An honest and pure exploration and expression of one person’s emotions. It has, time and time again taught me lessons and values on life and art. It was one of the most emotionally challenging and still intensely therapeutic and calming. It holds power in it’s honest simplicity and those that I shared that experience with (Hayley and Lisa) I have a deep connection to. I hope that you’ll take the time and thought in considering it to its full extent and also take the time to consider what it may reflect about your own life. These images reflect the emotions of us all in some ways. They show the power of feeling and healing as well. Lisa, my friend and subject of these images, actually experienced all nine of these emotions in one sitting. It’s one hell of a thing for someone to do and both gripping and powerful to witness. In those moments, shooting with Lisa, there was no helping the immense connection experienced. It’s one of the most honest and unbiased human connections that I have experienced.
Prior to shooting, Lisa and I met several times and discussed the emotions and feelings to be used. We put them in a very specific order, starting with the most reactionary of them; Anger, ending with the most learned emotion; love. Pride we placed in the center of the nine as it is such a pivotal turning point.
In our meetings, I also asked Lisa to provide me with very personal music to each emotion. As a photographer, it’s not at all uncommon to have music playing during a shoot. It’s a nice ambiance and can set the tone for a shoot. More than that, I really wanted to use the music as an unseen character. It would act as a kind of usher of emotion and guide Lisa through this immense emotional on-taking.
Lisa and I met once more on the scheduled shoot day. About an hour before we began we sat down and she told me why she selected the songs that she did. As it is to so many of us, music is so very personal to her and the whys behind the selections of her songs were both inspiring and heart-breaking. Even in that moment, we shared tears. I had no idea then just how much the knowledge behind that music would mean while shooting.
There’s no easy way to begin shooting a project like this. We both knew that the emotions that she was about to experience were going to be difficult. For the sake of honesty and purity, she would be nude and on a blank backdrop with no props in which to interact. Everything had to be expressed in body language and facial expression. We quite literally had to just press play.
As the music began, Lisa allowed herself to fall into it, and quite quickly she did. The first emotion… Anger.
Below, you'll find the actual playlist that we used in Lisa's shoot. The songs are in order, and I would encourage you to listen to them while viewing these images.
It is quick. It is reactionary and easy to experience. Perhaps more so than most emotions, it comes to the forefront of our minds quickly and is easy to react to without thought of consequence. It can be a beast to wrangle in and make it work for you.
We all experience doubt of self in different manners, but it always seems to begin the same. Usually you don’t even notice it at first. It’s just a small little drip, but as it goes unnoticed, ignored or unchecked it will erode away at your spirit. Before you know it, you’ve fallen into the great hole that this once small drip has created and if you stay there to long you will drown in it. Suffocated by your own election to allow the drip to go on. Know that you’re never alone here. Know that you have the choice to come out of it. To stop the drip. If it’s too much for you then reach out, because someone else around you is going through the same thing.
I very easily related to Lisa in this emotion because we all know it so well. I think especially in the world of a creative, which Lisa is certainly a part of, it can be haunting, for you so heavily rely both artistically and financially on knowing.
Out of all of the baggage that we might carry, sorrow may be the heaviest of it all. It sits right up on your shoulders and whispers in your ear. It reminds you of a past that you’d rather forget. Of mistakes you would give anything to take back. It pulls tears from our eyes and tells us to regret. Sorrow’s weight tries to keep you from standing tall and does its best to make you feel smaller than you are. Like so many other things in life, some of the hardest lessons learned come with the best chances for realization, change and progression.
Instead of feeling small because sorrow sits on your shoulders stand tall underneath its weight until you can let it down. Instead of taking on regret, be glad that you now have the knowledge and know-how to do it better the next time around. When sorrow pulls the tears from your eyes let them fall from your cheek for the joy that there are always second chances somewhere. When it leans down to whisper in your ear to tell you how horrible you are, take the chance to prove sorrow wrong.
You can’t retract the actions that you’ve already taken. It’s done. It sucks, but it is. If you can mend that harm then do so. If you can’t you must take the hard lessoned learned and do it better the next time around.
Seeing this emotion erupt from someone… from Lisa… this is where it got very real for me, and I think for Lisa and Hayley as well. It was in this moment… in the moment the music changed and I lowered my camera to meet Lisa’s eyes, and know just what she was feeling… the best way I can describe it is an impact. Almost like being in a car crash. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. It was real and surreal in the same moment, and something that I will vividly remember for the rest of my life.
Such a mixed experience. Reflection is a series of highs and lows. It is a source of some of our greatest joy as well as deep sadness. It influences the steps we take out of our door and the turns we make when we come to the cross-road. Reflection allows us to fall ever so deeper into the eyes of those we love and it reminds us of the pain of a unthoughtful decision made. Your friend. Your enemy. Reflection will always be around. Love it and use it well.
For Lisa, we placed reflection between sorrow and pride for a very specific reason. It is because you can look back on the past and use those times and lessons to make a new choice today. A choice to be proud of.
Not pride in the sense of boastfulness or ego, but pride in the sense of knowing, accepting and loving one’s own self. An honest pride can be at the center of a break-through, for it is a realization of limitations and potential. It is knowledge and with knowledge is the power to change. The ability to present yourself for all that you are with no regrets in doing so.
You’ve looked back. You know who you are and who you want to be and now you may move forward in your knowing. You’ll still mess up sometimes. You’ll still make mistakes and learn further lessons, but with a sense of self and a proudness and ownership of that self you can do it better and with more truth than before.
Lisa began to glow here. Still so very emotionally powerful, but joy was really starting to pour from her. We shot this in my house, in a studio set up in my living room. I looked over at one point to see Hayley sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. Tears of joy streaming from her eyes as Lisa raised her arms in this honest pride.
Like pride, there are good and bad representations of sassiness. Think of it more as a celebration of who you are. A visual of pride. In its best form, it's showing the world how wonderful you are. This is where you let your flag fly and you show all that you can be.
As Lisa shifted into this wonderful version of herself, the light shining from her became very colorful and she let the music really dictate her flow and movement. It was fluid and full of joy and fun. You could see the honesty within it. Especially after having witnessed the progression from anger.
What can one say of freedom that the understanding of the word doesn't already say? The ability to be. Freedom is where you dance because… why the hell not?! It’s where you grow and share. Freedom is liberation of restraint. Even restraint of one’s own self. Declaring yourself free and really taking ownership over that fact is perhaps one of the greatest things that we can do as a human being for we then have the power and potential to impact the world however we wish.
Lisa is a free spirt. She does things because she loves them or even because they scare her and often she does these things from a heart of kindness and care for others. Seeing this type of freedom within a person is bothe rare and immensely inspirational! It's trait the we could all stand to learn from and give our own best example of it, for such a well intended heart could only stand to help the whole of humanity.
This is acceptance of self. More than acceptance, it is loving yourself and realizing that you are in fact beautiful, despite whatever faults you may see in yourself. Many times, you are beautiful not in spite of these so called faults, but because of them. The little individual traits that make us all so wonderful, different and unique. They are to be and should be celebrated! Celebrate yourself because you are!
Like anyone, Lisa has her own reservations about herself, but I know that in these moments she felt pure and beautiful. I believe that she could see herself in the way that all of us that love her see her. It was one of the most beautiful things that I have witnessed. We can so easily get caught up in what the world thinks of us and what the world tells us that we should be. The world tells you what it wants but it doesn’t often ask what you want. You have to make that known, and concerning self-image we all want to be okay, and what we have to realize is that we are. Embrace all that you are and love yourself for it!
An emotion so simple and complex at the same time. It takes many different forms and is both cherished and abused. It comes last in this series of emotions because a true and pure form of love seems best experienced and understood as you are aware of all else that you feel. It embodies a love of self as well as a love for others. In the moments that I witnessed this change of emotion in Lisa, she was already glowing from the acceptance and experience of “beauty” as well as other emotions just moments before, but that glow transformed into a bright shine. The seeing of this alone filled my heart, and if mine was so very full from only seeing this I’m not certain how Lisa’s own heart didn’t burst! As an emotional project, there couldn’t have been a better way to have ended it. With love.
At the end of this experience and cannot describe just how elated I felt. It was a mix of peace, joy, purity, hope and love. It got into my bones and I think will be there forever. It changed who I am as an artist for the better as well as the connection that I have with Lisa and Hayley.
What Lisa did was incredibly brave. She looked into herself and found some things that scared her or made her question. She then decided to confront those things and not only to confront them but to immortalize the process. Furthermore, she placed that trust and vulnerability in my hands. She placed her emotions in my hands and said “I trust you with these.” I cannot tell you how very honored and grateful that I am for that. What a very rare human experience. I believe that it is in large part that trust that makes this project so very special and dear to me. In the year plus since we have done this project I have reflected on it time and time again, especially when I’m feeling my of emotional challenges and self-doubt, and every time I learn something more from the experience that we had.
Lisa, thank you, from the bottom of my heart for sharing yourself, and being such a vulnerable human being as well as a beautiful example to others.
Hayley, thank you for your hair and makeup talents for that day, but much more than that, thank you for connecting and sharing this moment. I couldn’t imagine it without you there.
The idea of continuing this project scares me, but I was scared to do it in the first place. Some of the best things happen when we face our fears and this is certainly proof of that.
I’d like to open this project up to you for participation. If you would like to have this experience yourself, please contact me and tell me why. The emotions may slightly alter to reflect you and your individuality, but otherwise very similar. I may say no, and if I do please don’t be offended. This is a project and process that I cherish and if it continues and grows I want it to be for the right reasons.
Thank you all so much for taking the time in reading and considering. You are all wonderful!