Meet Andrea: How a Photography Session Helped Her to Look in the Mirror Differently

This is Andrea, one of my oldest and most favorite friends. We’ve been friends since the second grade, and I know her to be a generous, quick-witted, and very insightful person. She is loyal, incredibly smart, and giving of her time and energies to others.

Ever since she was a child, Andrea has been just a little bit overweight. Through the years, I think this little, and not so important fact about her has colored how she sees herself in the world.  So when she called me and said she wanted to come to California (from New York City, where we grew up) to be photographed, I was over the moon.  I knew that I could finally show Andrea the beautiful woman I see when I look at her.

Like many of us, I think Andrea had lately stopped really caring about her appearance. I have a suspicion that she was putting only the minimal effort into her work clothes and hair, and how she presented herself when going out on the town.  I have totally been there. Sometimes you get in a rut and just don’t care anymore, when doing your hair and putting on makeup seems like such a chore, and who cares anyway?

Andrea was nervous when she came to the studio. Even though she trusts me and has known me her whole life, she was still a little scared. Most of my clients are nervous. They feel vulnerable and afraid that they won’t look pretty in the pictures, or that they won’t know what to do or how to pose. I take very seriously the trust my clients put in me and do everything I can to put them at ease. The studio feels homey and comfortable. They can kick off their shoes and listen to whatever music they like. We treat them like family so they can relax and know that we will take good care of them.

Maggie Cathey, my awesome hair and makeup artist, smoothed and tamed Andrea’s hair, found a fantastic lip color for her, added lashes, and did her makeup magic. Ta Da! Andrea looked beautiful and was starting to feel good.  I brought her into the studio and after a few minutes of guiding her through poses, she started to relax a bit. She saw that I was going to tell her how to position her body, where to place her chin, how to smile, and she realized she just had to follow my lead and it would all be OK.

Then I showed her a photograph in the back of my camera, and that is when the real magic happened. “WHOA!” she said, “what the heck?!” I said, “Yup, that’s you, babe. There’s no Photoshop or manipulation to this. That’s you, and you’re beautiful.” And for the first time, I think she started to believe it.  I kept showing her the back of the camera throughout our session so she could truly see that this is who she is, and this is how the world can see her, just like this is how I have always seen her.

During her reveal session, I showed her my favorite 30 pictures, lightly retouched, some made black and white, some made a little edgier.  Andrea was blown away. She laughed out loud, called her brother into the room and showed everyone around us her portraits. She chose a 20 image folio box and my trio of mini canvases. Two of the canvases she would give as gifts, but for the third, she chose a portrait of her laughing and looking joyful. She would put that by the front door where she puts her keys as a reminder, before she leaves the house, that this is who she is.

Andrea wrote me an email a few days later, “I don't know what to say even. It was the most amazing gift I've ever received and certainly given myself! It's such an incredible memory and I can't tell you how much it means to open this exquisite box and hold and look at - ok stare - at all there pictures.  I am somewhat stunned. To feel them and see them up close. And to remember the wonderful time I spent with you creating this incredible memory.”  Over the phone she told me that the experience has changed how she sees herself in the mirror.  Wow. 

Sometimes we need someone else to show us who we really are. Did I do anything extraordinary? Definitely not! She had her hair and makeup professionally done. I put her in pretty light and taught her how to position her chin and her body. That’s pretty much it. The “after” picture at the top of the page has had no re-touching AT ALL. The photograph is straight out of my camera. This is all Andrea, and she is a beautiful woman.