Because I’m busy not writing a French paper right now, here’s an old essay written for college applications circa 2012. Be warned: This essay appears to be nothing more than a sneaky way to assert to admissions officers that I’m good at photography. Looking back, it might just have been a sneaky way to convince myself that I’m a good person despite being way too cocky about photography.
Admirers of my photography act as if I am some superhero: Photowoman with the superpower of the Eye. They ask me, “How did you do it? How did you make me pretty?” The secret to my superpower is not kryptonite or a spider bite. My world is just as beautiful as everyone else’s. I can’t move the sun or bend the clouds. No, my power rests in two things: I appreciate light, and when I do, I can press a button. When my photographer switch flips, I am not shooting people, or trees, or grass; I am only shooting light. For instance, when I rip off my business suit and get into my Photowoman cape and leotard, even a crumpled piece of paper is transformed into a gorgeous mosaic of different planes, each unique simply because of how each differently receives light.
This point of view is so natural to me that I never expected to be a paid shooter. As increasing numbers of people have asked me for photo-shoots and yearbook photos, I have struggled to maintain my identity as Superhero, Recorder of Beauty rather than simply Assassin, Shooter of People. My subjects worry more about their zits and tummy rolls than the light dancing across their faces and it is hard not to follow suit. Rather than appreciating the sunlight in front of me, I often simply envision the finished photo, Photoshopped and airbrushed. I shamelessly manipulate reality to fit into some preconceived and rigid beauty standard. I add lens flares, accentuate cheekbones, brighten eyes, and whiten teeth. I eliminate “distractions” like zits and scars, producing my client’s flawless look-alike. Wonder Woman? Try Discount Superman.
As lowly as it may be, the work is enjoyable. Over the past year, I have realized, to some extent, there is a place for a sellout in the photography business. Why? Because people deserve to feel pretty. It’s as simple as that. In a world full of fat-free celebrities and flawless models, my photography gives high school girls a fighting chance. During every photo-shoot, a client will mention at least once, “I’m not photogenic,” or, “I’m super awkward.” Each time, I get to respond, “No. You look beautiful,” and mean it. Using the Eye and some Photoshop, I can produce photographs that make an uncomfortable girl look in the mirror and proclaim, “Hey, I am pretty!”
Since beauty is so subjective, I could never place a set rate on my photography. My father always shakes his head, urging me to demand more money or send out pamphlets. My business model is simple: If they like the pictures, they’ll pay. My job is to bring out beauty and if the photos don’t make them feel pretty, then I haven’t done my job. I tell my clients to put away their wallets and go home. When I finish the pictures, they can look through them and pay me what they feel like, if they feel like it. They always pay me, sooner or later. I’ve received cakes, gift cards, free meals, and even socks in return for the photos.
So what if I am a photography sellout? No matter how many times I tell a model, “Open your eyes wider!” “Look over here!” or “Fix your hair!” I can never lose the Eye. Photography to me is a changeable lens on life, whether I am capturing beauty or creating it. Even when not holding a camera, I can still put on my cape and smile at the world. The world will always smile back, shimmering with its infinite light.