On Beauty, Light & the Power of Seeing Yourself

One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten has been from a client’s mother who asked her “does Vanessa only photograph beautiful people?” I laughed, first, because it’s funny, but then because I didn’t have an answer. How do you answer that? I had no idea. If I say no, well I’m calling my clients ugly and if I say yes then those who believe themselves to be not so beautiful won’t feel worthy of being photographed. Today, I can freely answer that question because I now fully understand what I do and why I do it.

Photography has been connected to a part of my soul that has always seen more than I could be cognizant of in my day-to-day life. It was as if I entered another part of me whenever I photographed people. I could filter through to the smallest gestures, the truest expressions, the subtlest of emotions, without knowing how, just seeing something that lit up, a spark of life beyond words, a glimmer of light, an undefinable beauty.

I had never known what drove me, what gave me the patience to wait for those sparks to show up, what it was that I was seeing. Now, I know, it is light. It is the light inside. That light that turns on when we are born and turns off when we die. For a very long time, I realize, I could not see that light in me, but I could see it in my clients, especially when photographing children. That untarnished light was visible in everything they did, and I wanted to capture it, I wanted to remember it, to connect to it.

That light is in us all, it is what makes us all beautiful in our own unique way, it is what I look for when I shoot, it is what I see when you hear me say from behind the camera “there it is.” We all have it. Yes, every one of us. But, because of our own issues and the continuous diet of photographic lies we consume with every magazine cover we see depicting ‘beauty’ as perfection and flawlessness, we believe the superficial description of beauty. We believe that the lines on our faces, the dimples on our cheeks, and the marks on our bodies are ugly, uncommon, and unacceptable. We feel less worthy of compliments, less accepting of ourselves and in turn less accepting of others. And that light slowly begins to dim, every day, to the detriment of our well being and to those that love us.

Too many times I hear my clients shying away from being in a photo because of weight, self-image, insecurity, or all of the above. The irony is that they understand the value of a photograph, the impact of it, they get it, they hired me to photograph their family, they know it’s important, they value the fleeting stages of life and want to capture them; but yet, they degrade their own fleeting time with simplistic descriptions of themselves that say nothing about who they are and everything about how they feel.

For some time now I’ve been speaking to different women clients/friends about the importance of having a professional photo taken of themselves, just them, as women; not as Moms or caregivers or part of a family, but them as individuals. It is as important for them, for everyone, to see themselves as being important, worthy of it, to see that beauty, to see that light sparkle, to remember who they are and that they are here to shine.

So, this year, for my 38th birthday, I decided I would begin a new tradition for myself, and put my money where my mouth is so to speak. Starting now, I will do a self-portrait on my birthday every year until, well, the end, no matter what. This is not as easy as it sounds, especially for photographers (who notoriously hide behind the camera and are probably the least photographed bunch in the world). However, because I’ve been in search of that light inside me for some time and finally feel like it’s beginning to shine again, I wanted to document it, even if it was hard to do.

Now, I know this is a good year for me to start this, as those of you who knew me prior to 2008 are probably thinking. But, I also know that I’m no model, and I’m no Benjamin Button, and I’m not getting any younger, and the lines will get deeper, and the hands will get more wrinkled, and gravity will take it’s toll. So it’s even more important to me to remember how I feel, to see the light sparkle, to document what I looked like and how I felt at 38 (I know my 88 year old self will thank me one day).

To answer the most pressing question on your minds, yes, I’ve done very minor retouching on these, the same I do for my clients, but I don’t believe in ironing the skin beyond recognition; so, you can still see my frown line, my imperfect skin, my veiny arms and hands, the marks on my skin, the scar on my forehead etc. I will post some before & after shots on the Facebook page for the curious few.

Ladies, women, Moms…I urge you to open up and give this gift to yourselves. I promise you, you will not regret it. You are beautiful. I can see it. As a photographer, that is always my goal. To reveal beauty beyond what you see with your eyes, to go to that place that reveals the beauty that is in us all, to reveal the beauty that is not just seen but the one that is felt.

I will post a special promotion for our Facebook fans that want to see the beauty in themselves.

Keep shining.
♥ Vanessa

VLM Studios photography

Victoria - Vanessa, I completely agree with you in everything you’ve shared here, and I applaud you for taking a stand and showing us your inner beauty and light! You photograph beautifully and your self-portraits all posses that same essence your work is known for (at least for me).

I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time (3 years now :D) and I am eager to see where you take this project! Self portraits are a nightmare for me. And as you mentioned, photographers are used to taking pictures not being in them! Can’t wait to see the pics on Facebook. :)May 3, 2010 – 2:33 pm

amanda - i LOOOOOOOVE this post! and i love your idea of a selfie every year on your birthday. you look absolutely beautiful!May 3, 2010 – 2:40 pm

aris - oh amiga, i’m sooo proud of you, first of all because you have the best arms LOL! and then because you look better than ever, also because you picked such cute outfit for your self-session, but most importantly for the courage of sitting in front of the camera to celebrate yourself in such special way and put your real feelings out there.

feliz cumpleaños.
te queremos mucho por aca

tu amigaMay 3, 2010 – 7:40 pm

Maitte (Ryan's mom) - First HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

I can’t tell you enough how your words have touched me as I am guilty of acute self consciousness and self criticism. It is only through the birth of my children (and death of one) that I have been able to TRULY see who I am; to see my inner beauty and the inner strength that I possess. I am not perfect but I am perfect enough for me.

Your 88 old year old self will thank you!
You are amazing Huge Hugs and we will see each other soon!May 4, 2010 – 3:08 pm

Nicky - I can’t tell you how much this spoke to me, well said! You do really see the light in all your clients, therefore yes, they are all beautiful:) You look so gorgeous, Happy birthday!
P.S Thanks for the oh-so helpful tips:)May 4, 2010 – 10:46 pm

Kathi Cook - You’re so beautiful inside and out Vanessa! We must meet in person someday :)May 5, 2010 – 3:42 pm

Ana M. Ramos - You are YOU! What else is left to say … other than some of us are very smart to trust our children’s lives through YOUR EYES! :DMay 7, 2010 – 1:42 am

Vanessa - Thanks Ana!May 11, 2010 – 3:19 pm

Vanessa - You’re so sweet Kathi. I’m hoping we’ll definitely meet soon.May 11, 2010 – 3:20 pm

Ila - one word…Fabulous. As in, you are fabulous!May 20, 2010 – 9:36 am

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