All photos by Jaime Patterson of Hidden Exposure Photography
When You Look Around at Your World, What Do You See?
I’m sure you would answer the same as most people: the small and mundane things that make up your life and the people surrounding you. These people — your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers — are people you have gotten to know, and likely some of them are part of your inner circle. You have come to know and care about them, and they in turn help shape your world and how you view it.
This can be both a blessing and a curse, because often times those closest to us resemble us and vice versa, making it sometimes harder to see another side of things. This obfuscated point of view can become so commonplace that when one’s views are challenged, it’s easy to become defensive. For some, there exists a desire to fix this situation, especially when in a position where it can influence your work. I see it often when we, as photographers, have conversations about inclusion and diversity. The immediate response is often denial, followed in time by this desire to expand one’s world view.
Diversity & Inclusion Are about More Than Your Portfolio
From this point, we read article after article about how to make this happen: how to write the perfect model search, what to do on your webpage to make it more inclusive, etc. While all that is great and a step in the right direction, I think that before you can get to that place of doing a specifically diverse styled shoot or booking an Indian wedding you have to start by making your own personal corner more diverse. Before you can really think about diversifying your portfolio, I firmly believe that you first need to work on diversifying your life and investing in people who are different from you. Diversity and inclusion are more than images on your site or a carefully worded blog post. It matters that you dive deep into this because it’s only as you truly get to know people that you will become more invested in the imagery you create, and not just using people as “tokens” to gain more revenue and bookings.
Truly investing in folks who are Black, Asian, LGBTQIA2+, fat, or disabled means learning to approach each session and interaction with a level of awareness and compassion that maybe wasn’t there before. As this happens, you’ll start to view your whole world through a new lens. When choosing a location, you will start to become aware of the terrain or the amount of stairs involved because you now know that for some clients those places are hard to navigate. You will ensure that the seating in your studio is sturdy because you will want to make your clients comfortable so that they can really come alive in front of your lens. You will learn posing techniques that work for all bodies, cultures, and relationship pairings because you want to capture your subjects at their best. With your boudoir clients, you will be careful with word choice because you’ll be aware of how vulnerable and, for some, how downright scary it is to take the leap into this type of session. The wording of your contracts will be more inclusive because you know how much that matters on every level. Even as you edit, you will edit in such a way that all skin tones are represented faithfully, and not just use your go-to presets.
You will do these things because you have taken the time to invest in the people in your life who may be part of one or more of these marginalized groups, or who have to deal with various and similar issues on a daily basis. Knowing them makes you that much more aware of worlds that are not your own, and helps you to empathize with and desire to know more about their customs and concerns, enhancing your own work in the process.
Becoming an Inclusive Wedding Professional Is an Ongoing Inward-Looking Process
This level of emotional investment in people affects more than just your session. It will inform the businesses you support, and the ways in which you use your voice in certain spheres. The businesses you’ll want to support will be run by black and brown folks, and people from other marginalized groups. You’ll endeavor to avoid companies who ignore their presence because you know that more than emotional support, investing your monies in these companies speaks volumes.
As you navigate online communities with other photographers or attend conferences you will be more apt to advocate for better representation. You will advocate not just because you know it is the right thing to do, but because you have heard stories from your friends — friends who are bothered that they don’t see themselves reflected in our industry. They are not just missing in our imagery but also at our conferences and as product ambassadors. You’ll want to support their work, amplify their voices, and advocate for their causes because, as you will realize, there is room for all of us at the table and not only a select few.
There are tons of awesome articles out there to provide you with the steps needed to make your portfolio diverse. They offer great and practical advice. But before you even get there, before you start down this road in earnest, challenge yourself to first look at your world. Invest in folks in your life belonging to marginalized communities and hear their stories. Actually listen to them. Let them impact your work as much as the latest Instagram or photography group does.
So Let’s Ask Again: “What Do You See?” Maybe It’s Time To Change the Landscape.
Jaime Patterson is the photographer behind Hidden Exposure Photography: Hi, my name's Jaime and I'm a body-positive lifestyle, family, boudoir, wedding, and portrait photographer based out of Richmond Va. I believe everyone has a unique story to tell, and I want to be on hand to hear it, capture it, and share it with the world! I love those moments that you may miss — that shy smile from your partner when you think they're not looking, how your hand rests on your belly when your baby kicks, the way your eyes sparkle when you see your person walk down the aisle, and the way you embrace your whole self when wearing your best outfit and truly looking as sexy as you feel. I think every body, every relationship, and every family deserves to be seen.