I sometimes wandered along the darkest streets of downtown Los Angeles…streets filled with people whose makeshift homes were doorways, bus benches, dark space beneath an isolated bridge, along the sides of a deserted building… carving out their own small spaces, surrounded by their few precious possessions.
The lucky ones have cars with trunks adequate to hold their belongings, food, a change of clothing and maybe even some toiletries.
A camera on my shoulder, I was always prepared to freeze an image in time, not to be forgotten, wanting to remember the depth of my despair, my sense that everyone is entitled to a roof over their head, a place to live and to feel good about themselves. These feelings have rested deep within me throughout the years.
Four years ago, Evvy Shapero planted a seed, she shared information with me that led to a discovery, a realization that we could do something to help. She gave me an article about an amateur photographer in New York, who photographed homeless families in Central Park. Her gift to them was a copy of the photograph, probably the only one they would have to remind them of their precious family.
This seed inspired the birth of Glamour Project. Our studio, homeless shelters. Our subjects, those who have suffered great loss. Glamour Project is where hidden beauty blossoms before the lens of the camera.
Evvy and I arrive at homeless shelters with make-up and props in hand for an afternoon of what best can be described as the girlish pastime of “dressing up.” Each woman is given a make-up application, a fashion styling, and her “glamour shot” as a gift, a heartfelt reminder that she is acknowledged and respected despite her current circumstance. The radiance captured in each photograph is unmistakable. The seeds of change have been planted so that these women can begin to reclaim their confidence, beauty and sense of hope.
Our day begins with setting an atmosphere of safety and comfort combined with excitement and fun. As the ladies enter the room, their eyes are drawn to tables and tables of glamorous accessories, fake furs, boas, jewelry sparkling with rhinestones galore, and a sea of vintage and modern hats in all colors to delight their eyes.
Many of these women, as children, never experienced going into their mother’s closet to play dress up (and those who have can reflect on the fond memories).
They begin to smile. Our volunteers are there with compassion and understanding to help choose what they feel comfortable wearing. This is the beginning process to offer respite from distressing circumstances and an opportunity for distraction to forget about immediate problems.
Next, Evvy studies the face of the ladies. Like an empty pallet, she begins to bring color, shape and form to this undiscovered beauty. She enters their close and personal space, sharing a unique intimacy. Many have not felt the gentle touch of a human hand. As she works, she offers a stream of compliments…the color of your eyes are amazing... your skin is perfect....some women I know pay a lot of money to have lips like yours.... the shape of your face is like a precious heart. And, because the women can sense the authenticity of the words, they begin to take it in at a deeper level.
The application of make-up with kindness brings us to what is defined as Therapeutic Photography. Photography can be used in so many ways, to accomplish so many things...to capture beauty, to offer explanations, to show culture, to prove scientific concepts and on and on. In Glamour Project, my focus as a photographer is to create an image that will please the subject, and enforce her self-esteem in a more positive way.
“Therapeutic Photography techniques are photographic practices done by people themselves (or their helpers) in situations where the skills of a trained therapist or counselor are not needed – for example, where photos are used to increase people's own self-knowledge, awareness, and well-being, improve their relationships with family and others, activate positive social change, reduce social exclusion, assist rehabilitation, strengthen communities, deepen intercultural relations, lessen conflict, bring attention to issues of social injustice, sharpen visual literacy skills, enhance education, produce other kinds of photo-based personal/emotional healing and learning. In other words, therapeutic photography is any use of photography that enhances learning, human growth or healing. It can be used for insight and transformation. Photographs are footprints of our minds, mirrors of our lives, reflections from our hearts, frozen memories that we can hold in silent stillness in our hands -- forever if we wish. They document not only where we have been, but also point the way to where we might perhaps be heading, whether or not we realize this yet ourselves..." -- Judy Weiser, Founder/Director of the Photo Therapy Centre
A continuation of the rapport Evvy has created with the subject is critically important before, during and after the photo shoot. Without prying, I engage in a way to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere.
My life experiences and degree in clinical psychology help me to better understand these women and allows me to view their beauty through the lens without violating their space. I realize photography is only a layer of the treatment and does not take the place of a licensed therapist. We are not trying to cover imperfections in the photo shoot but are working toward enhancing the beauty that already exists.
I never pose the women in a way that takes them far out of their comfort zone. As the saying goes, “eyes are the window to the soul” Therefore, I focus on the eyes as an entry to the heart. Lighting is very important and i always use a reflector to capture that spark which is the essential element. I do not use a flash as it would destroy the intimacy which almost removes the sense of the camera in the space between me and the subject.
When the camera disappears, our work is almost done! The ability to capture that certain smile is the harmony of working together. During the session I am communicating and connecting with my subject. The process of confidence building is constantly taking place to insure the right moment is captured. This is collaboration between me as the photographer and my precious subject. The rapport is the doorway to trust and confidence which allows me the freedom of creating the photograph. The power of the photograph comes from the emotions it creates. Gaining trust is crucial to insure success. Not only will the subject feel more confident during the shoot, her self-esteem will continue to be boosted when she receives a copy of the photo. Photographs allow us to pretend to be someone different. In pictures we can create new realities. We can be silly, serious or build a fantasy world. Photography can be a game. It can be fun and provide a sense of freedom and creativity encouraging and nurturing the subjects’ fantasies. A time to connect with another human being.
The concept is to use photography to affirm the self-worth of every individual, whatever his or her circumstance, and particularly those who may not have had a picture taken in a very long time.
When we “take” photos, we can pay attention to what we are attracted to, what we see in the subject and how we might explore what we see. When we stop to photograph something, we stop to really see it, and create a more intimate relationship to the person we are photographing. For me, the joy of photography is not found simply in the technique but in the experience of seeing the subject and in the process of capturing something in the essence of that moment.
Glamour Project celebrates the moment and embraces the window to the soul. We know the beauty is there and our goal is to bring that beauty to the surface…our challenge…to help create a positive image leading toward the healing process.
In this way we allow photography to add to culture and life beyond beautiful images. "A picture is worth a thousand words," so said the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte. An idea can be communicated with a single image in many instances. And, that is not always the truth as is illustrated in this month's portfolio…the statement presented herein reads…not one, but rather, two photos are worth a thousand words…the before and after!
I hope that my work will encourage self-expression in others and stimulate the search for beauty and excitement in whatever way sparks your creativity.
Keep Glamour Project close to your heart. You can help support our project by purchasing one of our signature bracelets.
All proceeds go to Glamour Project. $60.00 Make check payable: Glamour Project
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