Reflecting on photography

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I’ve spent the last five years at SFU photographing people. Hundreds of faces have looked into my camera: students, student-athletes, student-politicians, professors, board members. A large cross-section of the SFU body populates my archives, digitized in JPEG format.

As this is my eighth and final semester as the photo editor for The Peak, and as with any ending position, reflection comes naturally.

I could discuss, in length, the amazing people I’ve met, the friendships I’ve made, and the opportunities I’ve had. However, I’d much rather keep those stories between myself and those who I’ve come to love so much.

Instead, I’d like to share a few things I’ve come to learn about self-image, a result of showing hundreds of people photographs of themselves.

People take to being photographed differently. On any given shoot, a person will sit down in front of me and act in a variety of ways. Where some are confident and comfortable, others are timid and unsure. Some people sit quietly, watching me with suspicion as I set up gear.

Our eyes are drawn to the thing we don’t like about ourselves.

It’s a profound thing to have your photograph taken and one that many people don’t take lightly. It takes a certain amount of trust and if that trust isn’t there, the person will likely decline to be photographed. I think a lot of this mistrust stems from the fact that everyone has things about their physical appearance that they wish were different.

After a shoot, I’ll go through the images with the subject so that they can help me choose the images to be used for publication. As we go through the pictures the first thing I always hear is a negative remark on certain facial features or imperfections. The most common concerns include different sized eyes, blemishes, red or blotchy skin, and wrinkles.

Our eyes are drawn to the things we don’t like about ourselves. These are the features we think others will see and judge us for. They are the features we’ll hide altogether with blown-out highlights and sepia-toned filters.

It’s a sad observation and I wish people could focus on what they like about themselves, and embrace the “flaws” as unique and defining features. One of the reasons I love portraiture is the variety I see from face to face. (You wouldn’t believe how many different types of noses there are.)

I want to emphasize the fact that nearly everyone I photograph behaves this way. I do so because it raises this one simple question: If we’re all worrying about the same things, shouldn’t there be nothing to worry about?