As part of the Women’s circle facilitator training we experienced a very healing and powerful photography shoot. As women, throughout our entire lives we experience mixed signals from society and those around us in regards to how we should and shouldn’t behave, dress, live life, eat and even speak. From my own personal experiance as both model and victim of verbal abuse, I understand very well how confusing it can be just to be, as a I am, as a woman.
When I used to model for professional photographers I was praised for my beauty and at the same time I’d be criticised for it too. Told by individuals my beauty should be covered up, told that I’m vain, told that my self worth is based on money and material posessions. I’ve experianced jealousy, bullying and isolation simply for being me.
I know what it feels like to be silenced and unheard- only there to make the room look pretty I suppose, how can someone good looking also have a brain? I know what it feels like to be around insecure men, treating women like their posession.
I know what it feels like to wear a mask and live with fear, to smile at the camera and be an object for the viewer. Directed where and how to pose, who to be, what to wear and when to smile.
You can imagine how vulnerable I felt being in front of the lens once again but as myself. It was a very liberating yet frightening experience. Jean Manuel as a photographer allows the subject to take the lead, where do they want to go? How do they want to be?
The whole photographic experience with Jean Manuel was all about having a pure connection, the photographer’s “ego” had to fall away and allow the subject to just “be”- this is what makes Jean a brilliant photographer, I call him a photographic wizard because he simply is magic, another aspect to Jean that I love is his gentleness and air of mysticism. The thought behind this process is: You wouldn’t direct a mountain or a flower into a perfect pose, so why would you do that to a woman? From the subjects point of view, it encouraged a sense of freedom to be vulnerable, let the masks crumble and to just see what naturally occurs. This was hard for me for reasons stated above: the ex-model in me kept awkwardly saying “What do you want me to do? Is this angle ok?” But Jean Manuel barely spoke and just observed like a lion in the grass. Memories of my ex partnership then flooded to the surface and I began to shy away, believing I was wasting Jean’s time, I’m not beautiful enough for this experience but he’d quietly came closer until the lens, like a great eye was staring deep into me, like a lover or at least how a lover should look at a woman and that made me angry “Why couldn’t my ex look at me this way? Why couldn’t he love me?! Wasn’t I good enough just as I am!?” I didn’t just feel anger for that relationship, I felt all my previous relationships shiver through my bones like a raging tidal wave! I felt ferocious! Until I said “Stop”, Jean replied “What’s wrong?” I said “My spirit animal is coming out, she’s a Leopard”, Jean replied “Good, let it come out, its what you need.”
This was a very vulnerable experience for me, as it was for other women in the group but I had just gone through a break up with my long term partner so I still had raw emotions stirring in my sacral chakra and they were building up like a volcano. I had a deep emotional wound that was broken open. To add salt to the wound, and being an ex-model in my younger years; my ex is a professional photographer who throughout the majority of the relationship refused to photograph me or if I wanted professional photos to promote my skills he’d treat my request for help like it was a huge burden he had no time for, I’d beg and pleaded like a nagging house wife just to get new photos. It made me feel undeserving of his attention and even support, yet I’d see him swan off to photograph beautiful women in sports gear or lingerie for his job? I learned over the course of that relationship that I wasn’t somehow good enough, I wasn’t photogenic or worthy of his time and skill. A relationship of any kind should (for the most part) be effortless, it shouldn’t be hard work to want basic love, attention and support.
With Jean Manuel it was a different story: I had never experienced such an intimate yet innocent photoshoot before and it overwhelmed me to my core. In the last two photos of me sat alone by the tree, I was unaware I was being photographed. I was alone in that moment because I was full of despair and needed my space after a morning workshop, a lot of murky trauma had been released. But you can see he’s captured a moment of my true self shining through, I’m not posing in any of my photos at all. Jean simply observed and followed. My smile is natural, my sadness and solitude is natural and my feelings of sensuality is natural. Its all me and all for me and this is where the healing occured, I wasn’t putting on a display for anyone, Jean captured my raw beauty.
When I was a little girl I used to run away to the rose gardens when I was sad, I wrote poetry and talked to the trees. I’m 33 and I still need the trees, I’m still that little girl. When I was shown these last two photos Jean said “Its so you!”, I look like a wild animal, so natural and feral and all my masks had fallen away.
Jean really saw me as I am, he had no expectations, he didn’t attempt to change me in anyway. It was all about what I wanted, it was holding space for me to take a break from wearing the mask, this is who I really am.
So to be seen in such a beautiful, innocent and loving way has made my heart sing. No one else has ever truly captured me as I am and essentially seen into a moment of my heart.
To see more of Jean Manuel’s photography click on the link: Jean Manuel Photography
To learn more about the Be Woman Project click on the link: Be Woman Project
To read my full story about my experience with the Be Woman Project, click on the link: Be Laksmi: Women’s Circle Facilitator Training