I've always been envious of people who know what they want.
There is a certain sadness that comes from knowing you have things to give while being completely unsure of how to apply those things in a meaningful way. I have been having this existential crisis for as long as I can remember. Mostly it comes up in regards to a career.
And then I met Deanna.
And what do you know, she feels the same way! haHA! So we've bonded over our shared confusion, but bonding doesn't give you a clear direction on what you should do with your life. Or does it? Maybe relationships push us outside of ourselves in ways that inform what we think we are capable of...
Strangers. Roommates. Friends.
When I moved to Washington, I moved into a house with three people already living there. Two of them were complete strangers, including Deanna. The crack into getting to know Deanna came when I recognized her as competitive. I could see her getting upset at losing board games and I LOVED IT because I'm like that too- who has the time to spend an hour playing a game that you invest in and then not get mad at losing?!?!
Once you live with someone, especially during the weirdness of Covid Times, you enter a strange alternate timeline of intimacy. I've only known Deanna a few months, but it feels VERY WEIRD if I don't see her for two days.
Deanna's job includes working in the backcountry, so in addition to having gorgeous, epic landscapes, it was fitting to do this session on a backpacking trip. We did a three day, two night trip up to an alpine lake. We stayed in the same spot each night, giving us a whole day to relax, read, take pictures, snack hard, and skinny dip in the lake. That means she carried her dress and clothing options in her bag- which is dedication because every additional ounce makes hiking in and out harder.
Deanna is really introspective, and acutely aware of herself. She expressed to me that she is the listener in every one of her relationships. She shared that this is perhaps a character trait, and also very likely the trap of being a "nice girl". A quiet girl. I think a lot of women can relate. Girls are shown explicitly and implicitly that they are there to please others. We are often placed in this situation from a young age. Pulling apart this narrative might take us the rest of our lives. Thanks, Patriarchy. Anyway, Deanna is sifting through who she is apart from expectations.
Together in our pre-session chat, we agreed that the goal of the shoot would be to empower Deanna by highlighting her strength and capability. My personal added goal was to make this all about her for once. As the "listener", as the "quiet one", as the "understanding, supportive" one, people can start to feel erased. This session is a declaration by and for Deanna alone.
This session felt exploratory, both for Deanna and for myself as a photographer shooting in a new environment. Feeling at home in a naked body is not necessarily an easy thing; and putting yourself front and center can be unnerving for a number of reasons. One of the things I loved about this session was observing Deanna as she settled into her body. In our pre-chat, she said that she wanted to explore an intimacy for herself outside of the sexual. That kind of intimacy feels very clear to me in our session. What a beautiful concept too- to feel appreciation for your body outside of cultural definitions of nudity and sexuality.
Who is Deanna?
It's difficult to describe Deanna because there is so much going on beneath the surface. She describes herself as boring, but I don't think that's even a little bit true. Her reserved nature usually makes her one of the quietest people in a room. People often equate quiet to boring. But I know. I know that she's observing, searching, and (probably) over-analyzing with deep intellect. Here's a few other fun facts that might put these puzzle pieces together. Deanna has a truly calming presence, and is usually down for an adventure. Her generosity shines through her gifts of homemade kombucha and scones. It's easy to feel taken care of and appreciated by her. Her witty comebacks are perfectly timed and perfectly executed. Her eyes twinkle if you suggest an idea that she likes. She reads a lot. From what I can tell, she doesn't really judge other people because she's too busy putting in work to better herself. Finally, she can't make a casual decision to save her life, so don't ask her to pick where to get dinner.
She carries a sense of humility, but as you can see from our session, that is not to say a lack of confidence. I'd be remiss to not point out the level of boldness that Deanna embodies, during this session as well as after, in this publication of her images. Deanna's demeanor is complicated to trace.
This is by and for Deanna alone, but that's a lie because it was clearly also for me. I mean just look at all these cool pictures! Deanna was extremely open to my vision and ideas. Even when I forgot simple words like "elbow" and explained it as "the part of your arm over there that bends". Listen, photographers are always trying to do like four things at once. She trusted me implicitly, and I am thankful for that.
That face is a reaction to when I told her, "Think about your life in the next five years." Sheer panic. Comical and oh-so-real.
This day was perfect. It was hot and sunny, so we would dip into the lake and then dry out on the rocks. We had the entire area to ourselves, aside from some adorable marmots. A truly good sport, Deanna submerged herself in the VERY icy lake multiple times so that I could get more shots.
*Here's a little behind the scenes view of our camp.*
Nudes in Nature is an ongoing series that started as self-portraits. This series has continued to inform my other portrait sessions as well. Forms and patterns in nature are mirrored in the human body. The use of black and white images highlights lines and shadows in both the rocks and her body. These repeated motifs help the viewer to see the interconnectedness of humans and the natural environment.
The sun dipped below the mountain peaks and cast a warm glow along the rocky ridges above us. I felt like we were kids, playing around and exploring all that we could before nightfall. These last pictures hold both a sense of calm and a sense of searching. An ideal representation of this specific chapter of Deanna's life. You can see her confidence- earned through her years of work to get there. You can see her desire to figure out the next step. And you can see her thinking it all through.
Deanna's Vibe= Composed and Complex: Thoughtfully figuring it all out.
In the evening of our last night, we ventured up to the pass trying to catch the sunset. The wildfire smoke from California, Oregon, and Washington crept in and obscured it, but the view back down to the lake was worth it.
We hiked back down, drank whiskey and wine, and looked at the stars. It was as lovely as it sounds.
Dear Deanna, you created these images. You inspired all of the softness, strength, openness, and beauty. What you see in the images is what I see in you. Now please make popcorn, grab a bottle of wine, and come to the living room to watch TV with me!
To see more of sessions like this, follow me on Instagram @SkinbySilt!