Tag Archives: Photographs

Put yourself in the picture

This is the second post in a series about learning to appreciate, respect and love our own bodies. You can read the first article, Leggings, Body Love + Beauty Queens, here.

i.
Five years ago, in a posh Tokyo neigbourhood filled with restaurants, bars and elegant shops, I finally found a hair salon where I could get an amazing hair cut and colour. Both the stylist and colourist are lovely people who speak English and, over time, we’ve become friends. For many people living outside their home countries, this is like finding the holy grail.

Before I even sit down at the salon, a member of the staff has placed a couple of English language magazines on the counter where I will be sitting. They never forget. They place those magazines out for me because they know I don’t speak or read Japanese and they want to make my experience in their salon as lovely as possible.

I absolutely experience this gesture as love. But the thing is that I never open the magazines.

Vogue. Cosmopolitan. Others magazines from that particular high fashion family. There are no women in these magazines that look even remotely like me because all of the industries involved in making these magazines (fashion, beauty, diet) are based on the assumption that the worst thing a woman could be is fat. These magazines tell us how to dress to look thinner (not fat), how to apply makeup to look thinner (not fat), how to pose for photographs so that we look thinner (not fat).

In my teens and early twenties, I bought and read these magazines but the thing that got to me was the complete and utter absence of roundness. Not only were there no women who looked like me, the “average” sized women I knew were not represented in these magazines either. I watched as many of my friends and colleagues compared themselves unfavourably to the women portrayed in fashion magazines. Even when they received a compliment, some of these women would skip right over the thank you and dive straight into the self-criticism, “But my butt is too big” or “my hair is too curly” as if the whole damned world would shut right down if she were to say, “Thank you. I do look awesome.”

So I stopped buying the magazines. After a while, I stopped reading them in waiting rooms as even the articles were based on the assumption that a woman should do whatever was humanly possible to look beautiful… where beauty was always defined as being thin and taking up less space.

That has not been my experience of beauty.

My little protest of one didn’t have an impact on the beauty industry but I felt a LOT better.

So when the staff at the Tokyo salon place those magazines on the counter in front of me, I experience this gesture as love but I don’t read them.

Last year, during a morning at the salon, another English speaking client mentioned that she’d like a magazine.

“You can have mine,” I said.

“You’re sure you’re done with them?”

“I don’t read them.” And I explained the reasons why.

“You don’t even read them aspirationally?,” she asked.

Nope. Not even aspirationally. Especially not aspirationally.
 
ii.
While I was thinking about this piece, I watched a documentary called The September Issue about the making of the annual September issue of Vogue. The issue documented in the film featured photo shoots in Paris and Rome with sumptuous interiors, lush exteriors and amazing clothing, textures and colour. The photos were stunning.

Perception is a funny thing. Because the only women we see in these kinds of glamour photographs are very thin, we develop an expectation that these are the only women who SHOULD be in these photographs… who are ALLOWED to be in these kinds of photographs. We start to believe that THIS IS JUST THE WAY THINGS ARE.

If you’re a woman in an average sized or larger body and you visit Paris or Rome, you may may find it really difficult to put yourself into a picture that you don’t believe you have a right to be in.

It’s not like anyone will say, “Hey, round girl. Are you crazy? You’re not allowed to have your photo taken draped across that red velvet sofa like that. At your size, it’s indecent. Here, just take a nice Instagram of your cafe au lait beside these pink roses on this lovely marble table top.” Except someone does say that. Many of us have taken all the implicit and explicit messages we’ve ever received about beauty, bodies, power and pleasure and we’ve come to this ridiculous life-limiting conclusion on our own. We’ve built up a wall between ourselves and the fun possibility of being photographed on the velvet sofa.

In another example, I’ve noticed that a lot of my women friends are not in photographs with their kids. They’ll say, “But someone has to take the photo.” Sure. But it doesn’t always have to be you. Your kids are going to want photographs of you together and I promise you that they will not care about whatever you’re currently obsessing about… your tummy or your hairstyle or what you chose to wear on that particular day in September 2017.
 
iii.
In the first two decades of my life, I stopped reading fashion magazines because there was no one in them that looked like me. In this part of my life, I want to put myself back in the picture of my own life and I want to challenge you to do the same.

It doesn’t have to be a glamorous photo. You could start with a photograph with your kid. Give someone in your life an opportunity to love you and care for you by asking them to take that photograph.

It takes courage to be seen, especially if you think society doesn’t want to see your body. What I’m discovering is that everything that’s been learned can be unlearned.

Here’s a new thought: There’s no wrong way to have a body. Try that on. Wriggle around inside that thought. Isn’t it delicious?

I look forward to seeing your photographs.
 

Noticing ~ Central Park

NYC
 
We visit New York City at least once a year and sometimes twice which is a pretty big deal since we live in Japan. For us, it is the centre of Everything. We go to plays and musicals, we have delicious meals, we meet up with friends who go to school or work in the city and other international-educator-kindred-spirits who still have family there. Oh, and we shop! We also walk more in New York than we do anywhere else. In New York, twenty blocks feels like just up the street.
 
I took this photograph in Central Park on the 29th of December. That was the day we were scheduled to fly home but Winter finally arrived in Canada, specifically Toronto, so we pushed our flight back a day to miss the storm. We spent our “bonus day” eating French Onion soup, browsing in a book store and walking in Central Park.
 
I love that some things still feel like magic. After all these years.
 

Photographing Japan

maps

“Everybody’s face tells you about the society they live in, and what they’re feeling inside. Faces are maps.” ~ Sue Ford.

People ask why
I photographs strangers:
train people,
school kids
and people on the street.

I don’t think of them as strangers.
These faces are Japan.

The Japanese live by a code of conduct
held in place by a spiders web of obligations.

i.
Whether saying hello or good-bye,
most greetings are a version of I’m sorry.

ii.
When moving into a new home
you buys gifts for your new neighbours.
The gift itself is unimportant.
Only the message matters:
“Hello. We’ll do our best to be quiet,
to respect you. To live harmoniously beside you.”

iii.
When asking someone to a gathering you realize
that even though they’ve said yes, they actually mean no,
you must begin the gentle cutting
of the invitation thread.

iv.
Regardless of how crazy or drunk another person is,
you do not comment or call attention to this behaviour.
You act as though this violation of the rules
is not happening. You look the other way.

We foreigners learn to observe these rules
but it’s not natural, not written in our DNA.
We lack centuries of this story shaping us.

When living here is hard work, my face shows it.

With the Japanese,
mostly their faces
are calm
like water
but sometimes the sorrow
or joy
gets through.
Ripples appear.

When I photograph them,
I photograph Japan.

Art, vulnerability + purple flying cows

12

We’re having an art exhibit
at our school.

We display student art
all the time,
in classrooms
and in hallways,
but this show
is different.

The art in this exhibit
was made by adults.
Parents and staff.

DP printed three photos from Beijing.
Beautiful blurry-on-purpose photos
against the clay-red backdrop
of the Forbidden City.

I chose two shots
from a perfect Paris afternoon.
Seated outdoors at a Rue Cler cafe,
we saw the clouds roll in.
Waiters scurried to beat the rain.
Rolled down transparent plastic sheets
to protect the cafe-clan.
Pedestrians drifted by
in a rain-distorted
dream world.
Muted by droplets
and ripples of plastic.

Friday after school
our library
changed its bookish stripes.
The book worm spread
fragile
iridescent wings,
became an art gallery.
There was sparking juice
and crackers
and the vibe was buzzy.
“I didn’t know she was a painter.
Her work is gorgeous.”

Some of the artists were
very
shy
about their art.
Embarrassed.
Dismissive.
“It’s no big deal.”

I want to say that
ART
is
a
very
big
deal.

The younger kids
at our school
think of themselves
as artists.
(Also
Pirates.
Explorers.
Opera singers.)

The younger they are
the more fearlessly
Warhol
Picasso
O’Keefe.

Years pass.
Some lose our way
back
to Neverland.
Narnia.
Wonderland.
We relinquish our place
in those dreams of
imaginary gardens,
labyrinths and castles
floating on clouds.
We forget the names of fierce dragons
we fought as four-year-olds.
We grow too big for
art-dreams
of purple cows
flying through the air.

Years pass.
We become judgmental
about what makes good art.
We develop criteria
to discuss the ways
in which a piece
is flawed.

We grow fearful
that our own photos
and doodles
don’t meet those standards.

We quit.
Pack away our crayons
and paints
in faded shoe boxes
labelled
“Childish Things”.
Turn towards adult pursuits
that pay the rent.

On Friday afternoon
adults at our school
sent their inner critics
to detention
and let their artists out
to play.

Vulnerable,
we were,
with our purple flying cows
exposed
for all the school to see.

Shy
and also
happy
like little kids.

Isn’t this how school
should be…
where the
adults
also
take risks
and play
and grow?

An Ode to Transparent Umbrellas

There is something about
transparent umbrellas
that gets me every time.

I first saw one in Ginza,
a Hello Kitty neighbourhood,
far too posh for us.

One minute it was blue skies
and then the rains came down
like locusts, but better behaved.

DP bought our first clear umbrella
at the Family Mart near our hotel.

“Brilliant” we thought.
“You can see everyone around you…
nobody loses an eye.”
{Everyone with a child
or a childhood
understands the significance of this.}

The Japanese… they know what they’re doing.
If you’ve been here, you know this.
If not, you’ll have to trust me.

Now that we live here
I love to take photos of people
walking with their umbrellas.

{I acknowledge this is an odd little habit.}

I’m especially fond of the clear umbrella.
I can see the face of the umbrella-person
because it lets the light get through.

The clear umbrella is practical in the extreme.
Durable and disposable.
Contradictions persist in Japan.

Recently,
over drinks,
my umbrella confessed
it had been owned by 58 people
over three short years.
Each one found the umbrella
on a train or in a cafe,
abandoned
when the clouds disappeared.
I want to promise fidelity
to my umbrella
but who can tell?

This same seven dollar umbrella
could have blown inside out
on the first afternoon
of its short umbrella-life.
The site of its suicide:
a bridge over a canal
that starts at the sea.

The transparent umbrella
protects us from the rain
but leaves us
so wonderfully vulnerable.

Mostly dry.
Entirely visible.
Like life.

two thousand words {bangkok and paris}

{Above: Crepes & Co in Bangkok, Thailand as seen by Monna
Below: A bistro in Paris, France as seen by DP}

two thousand words is a (sometimes) weekly post featuring one photograph from Monna and one from DP. Would you be able to guess which one of us took which photograph if I didn’t tell you?

Princess Sophie, Prince Tyler and the Art of Photography

“Are you a princess? I said and she said I’m much more than a princess, but you don’t have a name for it yet here on earth. ” — Brian Andreas

Princess Sophie
This is my niece. She is absolutely gorgeous and definitely more than a princess. She lives to be photographed. I actually have to coax her not to pose for me. In her head, she’s a New York City socialite or a Monterrey diva.

Prince Tyler
My nephew Tyler – also gorgeous – cannot have his picture taken without rolling his eyes or scratching his forearm or jumping up and down so the chances of my getting a blog-worthy photograph of him right now are exponentially lower. Trust me, though, he is a gorgeous boy with nutmeg hair and a generous sprinkling of freckles across his nose and cheeks.

The Art of Photographing Nieces and Nephews
1. Always show up with hugs and kisses… and your camera 
2. Pay attention to what kind of mood your subjects are in.  Bad day? Put the camera away.
3. Ask permission to take their photograph. They will appreciate being asked.
4. Take a lot of photographs. (I’m talking, here, about many… heaps… tons.  Line up your shots and take them quickly!)
5. When the kids are done, you’re done. This will help ensure that the next time you want to take their photograph, they’ll have a positive memory of the experience and will be keen to play again!
6. Ask them to choose their favourite shots of themselves and their siblings.  Get them to tell you why they like a certain photograph.  (I promise, you’ll learn cool things from them!)
7. Bonus: If you have a point and shoot digital camera in your house, lend it to the kids.  They take the most amazing photographs because they don’t have any knowledge or preconceived notions about “the rules” for photography. Create a gallery of their best shots. If your child/niece/nephew shows real interest, you can begin with a few simple lessons but don’t let technique get in the way of genuine enthusiasm and a unique vision of the world.

This photograph of Sophie – which I love (especially the appearance of a halo above her head) – is one of 28 I took within about five minutes. I’m convinced that great photographs are part skill/training, part luck and part tenacity.

What are your tips for taking interesting and memorable photographs of children?