Empowering photographs

Today I took what I hope is the first step on a road to combining my passion (photography) with my profession (counseling). I took part in an introductory course / lecture on a photo therapy method called Empowering Photography. The method has been developed by Miina Savolainen (Finnish art and social educator and photographer), and it’s basically a way to look at another human being in a respectful way, to help them feel appreciated and loved just the way they are. (Check her website for more info, I’m not going to go into detailed descriptions of the method here, not yet anyway. I’ve got a lot to process myself, first.)

I have been dreaming for a couple of years about taking a year-long course on this method and learn how I could use it in my work, both in a pedagogic and in some ways also a therapeutic way. I don’t know when I’ll have the money to attend the course, but I’m hoping it won’t be in too distant a future. In the meanwhile this one single day got me thinking about a lot of things. About a lot of things that have to do with how I view myself in photos (and in life!), about how photos have a strange and magical power over us – if we let them.

One of Miina’s most poignant comments was that a photographer does not really know what the subject will consider a good or empowering or healing or even meaningful picture of themselves. Usually it’s the photographer’s vision that is visible in the end result, not the subject’s. Whereas in this method, the photographer has to shake off all their own ideas of how a photo should look, and they should let the subject decide, let the person in front of the camera tell their story and guide the process. That way the person will be able to show how s/he sees his/her own personality.

Other people’s interpretations of a person may be so totally off that the person becomes almost invisible. With this method, the person gets the chance to change that. The photographer has to really listen and understand how the person in front of the camera wants to be seen. There’s a lot of respect, vulnerability, appreciation in the process.

It all feels so difficult to put in words… Perhaps I should’ve pondered about this a bit more before starting to type… I think I’ll need to get back to this, later. Especially since I’m also attending a short course on photo therapy this coming February here in Turku. I’ll probably have a LOT to say about all of this while I learn and process it all.

Anyway, there was a photoshoot about a year ago that I always thought I’d post about, but somehow it’s just slipped my mind. But now a few words (and pics) about it seem appropriate.

It was a shoot where I was the subject, not the photographer. Many of you may know that it’s not always easy to be in front of the camera, if you’re used to being the one hiding behind the lens. I had a bit of that going on, but since this was definitely a unique opportunity, I went for it.

I was offered the possibility of having my picture taken in a studio, by a pro photographer, in whatever style I wanted to. I would get two edited pics at a very reasonable price (and extra photos for a small extra fee, if I wanted to – well, I ended up wanting…) and yay! I had never had my picture taken in a studio, just for fun. It’s a whole different thing to be photographed for graduation or something, for an “official” portrait. This time I thought I wouldn’t want to be the “good girl” of those (dull) portraits.

I went and bought a Venetian mask that would go nicely with my purple velvet cape. Yeah, I’m a fantasy geek at heart, so I actually do own a full length velvet cape… I thought I’d like to have a bit of a dark mystery thing going on.

Photo by Timo Mäkipää.

Photo by Timo Mäkipää

Well, first of all, I do have to say it was incredibly fun to be in front of the camera. The photographer, Timo Mäkipää, had plenty of time for each of his subjects (there were a few of us ladies having our pics taken on that same day) and it was fun to not only pose but also observe him at his work.

Photo by Timo Mäkipää

Photo by Timo Mäkipää

And if there’s something I am willing to say about the pics is that they really were empowering. They were also hitting surprisingly close to their target, in the sense that just about 40 hours before they were taken, something really incredible had happened to me. Something that shook my world on a very personal level. And it still continues to shake, in a very positive way. The images now, in some sense, represent my confusion and perhaps a need to hide my emotions from the outside world for a while. The inner turmoil is visible to me in the pics, perhaps not to the outsider viewer.  Or what do you think?

Photo by Timo Mäkipää

Photo by Timo Mäkipää

The main point of the method of empowering photography is that you, as a subject, define how you want to be seen. What you choose to show to the world about you. And even though our little photoshoot a year ago (almost exactly – only a few weeks short of a year now) wasn’t a therapeutic session as such, it sure as heck gave each and every one of us women a moment in front of the camera, when we were heard and seen just the way we chose to. That’s a powerful gift a photographer can give a person.

Which then got me thinking about my own photography, my past and future clients… But that’s another post, I think. This has been a rambling mess already, no need to make it even worse!

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