"Who are you?"
This is the thing we have to answer on the first night of The Shed Workshop.
"Who are you?"
Fuuuuck. Seriously, none of us want to answer this question. And when we do, we answer it in context to the relationships we share: "Mother", "Wife" or list a job title. Some of us just blurt out, "I don't know" and then ramble on about all the things we can come up with, in the allotted time.
The next day, we settle in to why the question is important as we spend three hours focusing on self-portraiture. Nothing intimidating about that. Nope. I can totally make that work. Except that it's so much harder than holding out a cell phone and snapping a selfie. I wish it were so flippant. But as I struggle to understand aperture and ISO and focus when dashing back and forth from behind the lens to in front of it... I find myself frustrated and pulling at a dress when I DON'T WEAR DRESSES! Why am I wearing this dress and draping myself around like a spastic supermodel, way past her prime?
Finally I give up and take my pants off, pull on someone else's top and find the courage to stare directly into the lens. In essence, I stop fucking around and just show the camera who I am, even though I wasn't sure how to define that in words the night before.
Using yourself as the subject means you get to make all the mistakes without wasting anyones time. It also means you have to love yourself a little. Dammit, you have got to be kind. I can do that when it's another soul in front of my lens, but when it's me I want to curse and yell and tell myself to get it together, GAH!
The results are more honest. They don't make me feel so much like a failure. It was still hard and the number of successful portraits are limited. But the lesson is tangible: don't try to make your subject into something they are not. Ask them to be who they are, even if that scares the shit out of them. Let them settle into the moment and play. Let them be comfortable.
Even if that means they have to take off their pants.