Whenever someone points a camera at me, my instinctive reaction is to duck. Most of the time I force myself to stay in place – trying to be a good sport while the person on the other side of the camera clicks the shiny button.
While I stand there, visibly uncomfortable, a whole monologue is going on inside my head: oh, please, not today, when I’m tired and puffy and rumpled; these jeans make my thighs look enormous; will the blotches on my forehead show up in the picture?
When I’m holding the camera, I often see the same panic reflected in the person on the other side of the lens – that uneasy moment, that flicker of self-loathing.
Which is why I was thrilled when I stumbled across Erin Vey’s blog a few days ago and read about her Believe project.
A few years ago, while shooting high school girls, Erin was surprised at how many of them were reluctant to pose for the camera. Not yet twenty, they were already dissatisfied with how they looked and unsure of their own beauty.
That experience set the stage for her most recent project, called Believe. Inspired by a quote by Sophia Loren - “Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful” - Erin shoots everyday women in black and white. The results are striking – fresh, sleek and honest, her subjects radiate a sense of confidence in their own beauty.
I had a chance to chat with Erin about her project via email, and she was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions.
I loved your observation that women often display their wedding photos in their homes, but rarely have other photos of themselves on display. Why do you think that is?
A wedding day is definitely the day women put the most time and effort into looking good, so it is somewhat natural to have those displayed throughout the house. But the more I looked around, I found that there are hardly any options out there for women to get simple, classic portraits of themselves.
I also think more often than not, women end up being the designated picture taker for the family, thereby leaving themselves out.
How has your own perception of beauty changed throughout your life?
It has definitely evolved over time and is probably similar to many women out there. I like to think of it as a journey. Things I thought were beautiful 10 years ago don't even remotely compare to what I see now.
How has your perception of yourself and your own beauty been affected by this project?
I wasn't willing to start the project until I put myself in front of the camera first. I shared the images with a few people and got some really great feedback. Getting that feedback put a little extra spring in my step and made me feel good about myself. I wanted other women to feel the same thing and hopefully they do when they see their images.
How have people responded to the Believe project?
It has received a tremendous response and for that I am so thankful, because this project would be nothing if I didn't have any women willing to step outside of their comfort level. I think it takes a pretty large amount of bravery to sit in front of the camera. In the first few days that it launched, I ended up with over 30 women interested. I received emails that included just a few lines expressing interest. But other emails came from women that were making major foundational changes in their life and wanted to record those changes on film.
Tell me about an experience you've had in the course of this project.
I think the most meaningful experience for me at this early stage is getting emails from women all over the world. Letting me know how much they love the project. It means a lot. I also liked shooting my Mom, who has always hated having her photo taken. When we were little she would always make a face (I do the same thing). So getting her to be natural was fun and she ended up loving the images.
What are your plans for the Believe blog?
I just switched to the Blog format this week because I had a friend mention that I should record my experiences somewhere. A self-professed web geek, I am most comfortable recording experiences online. Right now I am treating it as an online journal and I hope to share some words from the women, their reactions to their images, as well as the images themselves.
Where do you go in Seattle to have fun & be inspired?
Those who know me will not be surprised that my favorite place is my local dog park. It is an amazing place, complete with a river, acres of fields, trails, and tons of dogs. It forces me to unplug from everything and is a great place to think. (Note: Erin is a fabulous dog photographer, who applies an artistic eye to dog portraiture and creates gorgeous photos of canines... I wish she lived closer so that I could hire her to shoot Petra.)
Thank you, Erin!
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I'm so excited to have found Erin early on in this project, so I can follow it as it unfolds. It has caused me to think about my reaction to being photographed and to wonder why the idea of thinking of myself as beautiful feels self-absorbed or indulgent - when in fact learning to do so would be truly empowering.
Now a question for you: do you believe that you are beautiful?
Portrait above: Photographer Erin Vey, provided by her & used with her permission