Come as you are.

The first time I met them, they sported a shy and slow demeanor, almost dragging themselves into the studio, gauging me from the corner of their eye while bolstering their stance like feral cats.

A handshake, smile, sigh, and then:

“You have to understand, I’m really not photogenic.”

A handshake, smile, sigh, and what I’d actually hear:

“I love your work, but you scare me. Tread carefully and I won’t maul you with angst and disappointment.”

The yesteryears photographer in me would have countered, in a display of almost urgent reactivity, with a slew of compliments, with a shower of praises, as if hoping to stop the emotional hemorrhage that just flooded the gates, as if wanting the person to realize the error in her discourse. I’d go at length, picking apart their aesthetics, their fragrance, their gazes before uplifting them to the Heavens. They’re wrong. They’re beautiful. They’re unique and sublime and gleaming. I’m chanting them. I’m extolling them. The dictionary memorized in my childhood is now a wide open buffet at this point, just pick and assemble whatever words you need. Then, Point and Shoot.

Excuse my French, but what a crock of shit.

Not because I’m lying. Not because they’re really not photogenic. But because I hadn’t even taken the time to contemplate their perception of themselves, to listen to their concerns, and to address them in a coherent fashion.

Over time, I’ve learned to quiet the need to counter. The need to i̶m̶p̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶ tell your friend who’s feeling down that they’re smart and refined as if that was all there was to it. I’ve learned to quiet that part and, in doing so, witness the emergence of a more sensitive and less reactive side. I’ve started to address the concerns and fears at stake more subtly, by shifting my attention away from passive-agressive seduction and actually listening to them.

For a while, that worked beautifully for everyone. Things just felt more and more real. Less and less energy intensive.

But it still wasn’t enough. Something was missing.

Until I replied to the one millionth “I’m not photogenic” with a “I’m not concerned about your photogeny, what I’m after is your energy, who you are away from your fears and desires. I’m after our connecting together and shooting the most heartfelt photos nobody else could.

That surprised them. That surprised me. I stared in silence for a moment.

I had found it. My angle. My mission. My focus.

Energy.

Just like that, nothing else mattered. Not the way you look, talk, walk, chew your food or squint your eyes. It didn’t matter how much weight you gained or sleep you’ve lost. The only thing we’d be focusing on is how much of a good time we’re sharing together, you me and my camera.

Just like that, we’d shift from looks to feels.

Just like that, all guards were thrown to the ground.

Just like that, we could finally be ourselves.