True purpose often disguises itself
as a happy accident. This shoot was not what I intended. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what I was hoping for. I didn't have a clear vision. So I grabbed a loaf of bread, some pie dough, a rolling pin, flour, and in walked this stunning young girl. We photographed a bit later than usual this day, so the light was a little too bright. I purposefully underexposed. I fully intended to edit the portraits the way I had done every other portrait - lifting the exposure, smoothing skin, removing stray hairs, balancing the tones. Until this moment, I was the same baker intending to bake the same the same bread I had for the last 15 years.
Not entirely sure what, I knew I had captured something special this day. The dark, moody tone revealed Scarlett's earthy honesty. The warmth in her skin. The kindness in here eyes. There was a quiet comfort in the work. I resisted in editing out the wrinkles on the collar, popping out the scars on her forehead and her nose, and instead decided to leave well enough alone.
A loaf of bread does not merely bake itself. It is a direct result of the baker's vision and skill. The bread I had baked before was a perfect loaf -- full of sugar and preservatives and molded into form -- but far from authentic or nourishing or whole. I created self-objectifying artifact, modern day petroglyph. I played it safe.
True beauty is odd-shaped and imperfect. Its quality varies day to day. It takes kneading of weathered, knowing hands to take proper shape but then the courage to release it and allow it to become what it ultimately will. I began being honest with myself and in my work.
When I look back even a short amount of time, it's clear I'm not the person I once was. It's as if I traveled along a relatively straight path and then took a sudden hard turn to the left. This shift took place gradually, and then suddenly during the "quiet time" (what I like to call the "lockdown") of the pandemic. With no paid work for a while, I busied myself photographing food and still objects "just for fun." I played. I tested. I explored. I failed. I deleted. I shot the same bowl of peaches again and again. I became a "free range photographer" and I liked what I began to create. When the world opened up and got noisy again, the work returned, I somehow had confidence (or lost the inhibition) to create something new.
I don't want for the same things I once did. I've stopped focusing on creating the perfect veneer for myself and my life. I surrender. I accept myself. I've grown to love Me for who I truly am. I've let my own petroglyph crumble just a bit.
I've also come to embrace a sense of grace in my life. Imperfect skin is perfection in itself. Unkempt hair is a beautiful mess. The scars we carry -- physically and metaphorically -- truly are the roadmap to the soul. So many of my personal choices in life (friends, time, money) inform my choices in my work now. In my lighting, staging, props, and editing. With all the technical wonder available to warp and change and add to what we see in the world, less is so very much more. Everything already exists in its rightful place.
The person I've become also attracts a different kind. In my 20s and 30s, I saw the external. The bottom line. The flashing neon signs of success. I lived in New York. Paris. I was heavy into academic credentials, Zestimates, connections. I worked to validate myself by surrounding myself with the "right" others. I wanted to measure up. Stand out. But not too much, of course. I knew a lady during this time who persisted in telling me I should give up on this and aim for "quiet contentment" instead. At first, I had no idea what she was talking about. Then, I resented her for the suggestion that settle in life (resign?). And then finally, I understood.
Now, I am more quietly content. I trust that the universe will provide, the art will flow, and abundance will show up. Abundance in so many ways. In this belief, I've created the greatest leverage there is in both work and life. I've learned that the only way to win "the race" is to not run it at all.
This shift has allowed me to explore my myself, and create the work I truly love. As I age and start to glean my future, I'm convinced that life not is too short, but rather way too long to spend on people and things you don't really like. So, as I move forward, and knead the dough, and add too much flour here, too little water there, I work not to perfect the bread, but to become the baker I truly want to be be.