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Why I am a portrait Photographer

There are a lot of generic answers to the question why are you a photographer? most of them a variation of something like ‘I love to capture fleeting moments’ and ‘I love telling stories’.

But why do we crave doing that? Capturing moments, making memories and telling stories - insert all your typical replies to this question - are merely a symptom of a deeper desire.

Ultimately, I am a photographer for completely selfish reasons.

I am a photographer not only because I don’t want to forget but because I don’t want to be forgotten. Because I want connection. I am a photographer because I want to be seen and witnessed. It’s what all of us want.

Making photos for others helps me make this a reality for them - it gives them visual memories to hold on to. It makes them feel seen, witnessed, connected. I get to freeze other people’s life moments into images that will make them live on.

And in some small way it makes me feel connected and seen too.

In my favourite novel, The history of love, it says that when you take a picture of someone, it is proof of their existence, but it’s also proof of the photographers existence; the author calls a photograph “the opposite of disappearing”.

This sentence has carved itself into my heart years ago and has never left me.

In December, after a client received her images she messaged me saying: “I particularly love this close up photo of the curls on my shoulder, it looks like the point of view of a lover.”

It’s something you only realise is missing when you don’t have it, and you take it for granted when that’s all you have ever known: being witnessed daily. Having a person (or more than one) around who sees you, who knows what you drink in the morning, who asks if they should pick something up on the way home, who knows that your nose crinkles when you laugh and who knows that the colour of your hair changes in the sunlight.

Someone that witnesses a new line around your eyes and notices how the seasons of your life bring around small changes on your face and in your soul.

Someone that takes photos of you as you evolve. Someone that sees you.

There is something about being seen in a visual, physical way that translates into also feeling seen on an emotional level. To me, the two are connected.

I have always had this small dream inside that I’d love to be with a man who takes photos of me, just randomly, just because he wants to remember the little moments that go otherwise unnoticed. I do this a lot with friends, whenever I spent time with someone, I usually make at least one picture, but I don’t have a lot of friends who do the same in return.

I sometimes feel like I’m disappearing. There is nobody there to witness me, to see me every day, unless I make myself seen.

So this is what I do. In order not to disappear I love other people with my eyes. Through images. My camera becomes a lover that sees the hidden things in plain sight, the beauty and change and joy and love and sadness and reflects it back to them. That way, I feel like I too, exist. The photographer Jenny Rova published a photo project of images that nine of her ex-boyfriends took of her. She wanted to explore how they saw her throughout the relationship. In a German interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung she said something that hit me deeply: “You start existing as a person once someone else looks at you.” We can argue about that and the nuance of this statement, because of course the gaze of another person isn’t what makes us worthy, real, valuable or alive - but that’s for another day. The fact is that there is a deep truth in this sentiment. And we all can feel it, can’t we? Because ultimately we are not made for isolation. We are made to see each other. To be seen by someone. We are made for connection. This is why I am a photographer. Why I take a lot of images of myself, why I love the ones on the phone a lot. In the moment. Unscripted and not overthought. This is why portrait photography fills my heart like nothing else does. I really found my home in making portraits of other people. When someone allows me to see them, they are giving themselves the gift of vulnerable connection - and giving it to me too.


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