Photography as an art. As the capability to see what most of us don’t see in plain sight. The ability to extract beauty from mundane scenarios. The capacity to freeze a moment in time and make that time a tangible memento.
Wabi sabi…the Japanese way of viewing the world by celebrating imperfections and embracing impermanence.
Mix photography with Wabi sabi and you get: MAGIC.
Last Thursday was my 9th event. This time we were graced with the presence of Jen Goldberg, from Jen Goldberg Photography and Private Portraits.
Jen is a force of life. She is not only a photographer by trade, she is a photographer by trait. There is a difference. She embodies the art of photography, or maybe it’s that photography embraces her whole essence – I’m not sure which way it goes…
During our conversation, she shared that when she’s taking pictures, that’s all she can do: photograph. Her mind doesn’t wander anywhere, she’s fully present, embedded. The same goes for when she’s not taking pictures, she’s present in whatever it is that she’s doing and therefore cannot photograph.
She explained that for gatherings or celebrations in her family she actually prefers not to be asked to photograph because then she’ll miss out of being with her family and celebrating. I guess I just assumed that because she was a photographer, she’d constantly be taking all these amazing pictures of everything in her life. But the more she shared her work philosophy, the more I understood that there is a sacredness in photographing for her. It’s more than just the act of taking pictures per se. It’s the state of “flow” she immerses herself in when taking pictures.
Positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has been credited with having popularized the concept of “Flow” (also known colloquially as being in the zone):
“Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting loss in one's sense of space and time.”
I believe it’s a blessing to find any activity in our lives that can drive us to this state of “flow”. I’ve been lucky enough to witness Jen in this state, while photographing my children. It is fascinating. Lost in her work and –unwillingly- helping me see beauty in the chaos.
During one of the sessions, at her gorgeous studio, I remember feeling super tense. The boys were just being boys, giggles, laughter, goofiness. All awhile my muscles kept tensing up more and more. My thoughts racing with my own insecurities: “are they behaving?”, “are they too wild?”, “I wish they would cooperate a bit more to get that “perfect picture”, sit still, look at the camera, smile all at the same time with their eyes open” ... and on, and on…Noise in my brain. Imperfections.
A few days later, while at her studio looking through the proofs, I was blown away. Not only by the amazing pictures she took, but by the fact that she captured these beautiful images that I – having been present with her in the same room at the time- had completely failed to see. Had we actually been in the same place at the same time?! I had been so focused on hoping for “perfection” that I totally missed the beauty lying right in front of my eyes. The noise in my mind took away my ability to be present. Meanwhile, all that I had labeled perhaps as “imperfections” she embraced and celebrated and gifted to me in pictures. Priceless. Tangible proof of the rewards derived from being present.
Jen has had a life-long passion for photography, inspired at a young age by her artist mother. Celebrated and motivated, to this day, by amazingly supportive parents. And with a steadfast personal drive to follow her passion. In 2011, after working alongside a fashion photographer for 14 years in NYC, she decided to go her own and founded Jen Goldberg Photography, which is a lifestyle portrait brand, focusing primarily on kids and families. Then, four years ago, she started Private Portraits, which is a sophisticated boudoir brand.
As the conversation moved towards her latest endeavor, Private Portraits, many life lessons came to light. Amongst them, how can we, primarily women, look at ourselves in a different light? One that can celebrate our beauty, just as we are in this moment.
How many of us remember feeling self-conscious for a picture and then looking back at that same picture fifteen years later and thinking “what was I thinking?! I look perfectly fine in this picture?!”.
If perhaps we could gently embrace what we identify as imperfections and instead view them as marks of life’s loving wear and tear, the patina of experience, signs of victory, of this body that has been through everything with us and for us and has brought us here, right up to this moment.
When Jen photographs she says she doesn’t see the person(s) in that moment in any judgmental way – tall, skinny, overweight, short. What she’s looking at is how to make the most beautiful image of that person(s) with the elements given to her in that moment in time: the light, the brightness, the shadows, the background…hence she’s always able to derive beauty when clicking away at her camera. Here’s the difference: she truly observes, while the rest of us see, perhaps allowing all too many times for our self-consciousness to see for us.
She spoke about how images of ourselves can be a source of personal empowerment, a testament that we’ve made it here so far with strength and courage. A reminder of our uniqueness. A celebration of our inner and outer beauty -here and now- just the way we are in this moment.
“Images of ourselves can be a source of personal empowerment, a testament that we’ve made it here so far with strength and courage.”
We then spoke about legacy and I felt a strong urge to make this a duty for myself. Something I owe to my children and grandchildren to come.
We all love taking pictures of our children (or others for that matter) … it’s in our comfort zone. Most of us love surrounding ourselves with pictures of loved ones. Yet, many women, myself included, in an ordinary day-to-day situation, will bolt at the sight of a camera and happily volunteer to take the picture instead of being in it…
However, who does not treasure a picture of their parents at a younger age? (or of ourselves at a younger age!). As Jen said: ‘I want to know what my mom looked like when she was my age”. As I many times find myself wondering “what did my mom look like when I was xxx age”.
These images give us a sense of grounding, of life’s growth, a sense of belonging and family roots. It’s our story. And the story of our children. It truly is a treasure. To this day, I relish looking at pictures of my mother. It never gets old, and I know it never will.
Jen’s conversation was a beautiful invitation to create this legacy for ourselves and our children. To step into that picture with our kids and document those tired eyes from these years of child-rearing, that messy hair bun and coffee stained sweater we are sporting after cheering on our kid playing a sport on a cold rainy morning, or that spit-up shirt after yet another sleepless night. Posterity. Imperfections. Impermanence. Beauty. Click.
It was an incredibly inspiring evening, with and incredibly inspiring woman. The conversation was deep, yet felt fresh and reenergizing. Thank you Jen for sharing yourself in such an open and honest manner with all of us that evening.