Crying in the Bar : Being Vulnerable and Shit

I originally started this post by saying it was a hard one to write, but that's a lie. It's incredibly easy to write and it's all pouring out of me now (apologies in advance, y'all)... the hard part is knowing that people are going to read it. 

I cried in a Vegas bar today. And in an elevator. And in a gorgeous terrace suite full of women. And while sitting on the floor outside of my hotel room because my key wouldn't work and I had just hauled ass for what felt like 20 miles in 5 inch heels and, quite frankly, did not feel like walking back down to the front desk or to find my roomies for a key. 

After about 6 years of saying "next year for sure!", I finally attended my first WPPI conference: an annual photographer's convention (spring break) in Las Vegas. I was looking forward to meeting SO many industry faces that I'd connected with over the years but never met in person, as well as old friends who I don't get to see nearly as often as I should. I was psyched to walk the trade show floors and get my hands on hundreds of new potential product offerings for my clients.  I was anxious to take a crap load of classes with like-minded photo friends. 

Then there was this one workshop that I was equally DYING to go to and TERRIFIED to go to. There are plenty of boudoir photographers out there...and honestly, so much boudoir work looks the same to me...mine included. Enter Denise Birdsong and the Modern Love Photography team.  Her work is literally dripping with raw emotion and sexual expression.  Seeing her work made me realize so abruptly what mine was missing. I am VERY particular about where I spend my "continuing education" budget on. When I saw the announcement for the Stripped Down workshop, I knew that it *HAD* to be a part of it. I needed it. My clients needed it. 

Denise Birdsong coaching emotion with model Hannah for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS 2015.

Denise Birdsong coaching emotion with model Hannah for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS 2015.

While my roommates were out on the town for an event I was supposed to be at, I sat in my room and gave myself a really pathetic pep talk that basically went: "You're getting yourself all worked up for nothing. You've got this! It will be way easier that you think!"

I was SO wrong. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my career. 

I sucked. 

It was as if I had completely forgotten EVERYTHING that I have learned in the last 8 years. Like I forgot how to use a camera. I had forgotten about posing, connecting with a client, being creative, proper lighting...really...everything. 

When it was my turn to direct the models, I flailed about. I was drowning.  With all the FANTASTICALLY BRILLIANT INSTRUCTIONS I was given from the queen of vulnerability and emotion herself,  it was like there was no more room in my brain for my old tried-and-true knowledge.  I caved under pressure. I felt deflated and defeated. 

I was given these incredible tools, but I couldn't use them. What was WRONG with me!? 

Between my pre-workshop pep talk and me writing this blog, I've cried about 12210980 times. Bet you didn't know I was *THIS* emotional, huh? Neither did I. 

After the 10 hour long workshop, I grabbed some dinner with a couple friends, in a bit of a funk, and then ran into some of the other Stripped Down attendees. All it took was for one of the other photographers to say to me... "Wasn't today amazing!?!" ... and I started crying. Right there in the bar. 

Then I bumped into Denise. More waterworks ensued with that chat. But she gave me the mother of all cheerleader talks and I felt at ease and excited to take my work to the next level.

The Stripped Down workshop did JUST that to me. It stripped me to my core. It made me very highly aware that I was NOT comfortable being vulnerable and that I associated vulnerability with something negative and weak. I am changed. I spent the rest of my Vegas trip being completely overcome with emotion. I'm guessing it was 90% due to Denise opening the flood gates and 10% due to rooming with/being surrounded by a bunch of women for 5 days.  But you know what, it was JUST what I needed. 

Model Shelby Owen for the STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS workshop. 2015. 

Model Shelby Owen for the STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS workshop. 2015. 

This workshop was THE MOST INCREDIBLE thing I have ever done for my career. It opened up the door to adding vulnerability, sensuality, sexuality, passion, desire, and longing to my images.  I went into it thinking I was just going to be handed a bag of tricks to elicit emotion like "Squinch your eyes and say prune to pucker the lips perfectly". I truly had no idea that we were going to be channeling true emotion (and yes, I feel like a total bozo for thinking that!) from the subject and opening ourselves up to being vulnerable too.

Model Shelby Owen for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS workshop  

Model Shelby Owen for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS workshop

 

I learned that while a technically sound image is obviously important, what the image says and how it speaks to the viewer is far superior to me. I was shocked at how my photography skills went out the window once I started focusing my all on coaching expression... and while my ratio of "keepers" to "rejects" plummeted, the ones that I kept had more emotion than ever before. I know that continuing to shoot for emotion will become more and more naturally to me as time goes on. 

Model Shelby Owen for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS 2015.

Model Shelby Owen for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS 2015.

For my clients, this means we will be digging a little deeper together to create empowering art. For my friends and family, it means putting up with a far more in-touch-with-her-feelings version of myself, and for myself it means even more "job" fulfillment and connection with my clients....and an even more in-depth understanding of what boudoir is for me. "It's not about seducing men. It's about embracing womanhood."

Model Shelby Owen for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS 2015.

Model Shelby Owen for STRIPPED DOWN LAS VEGAS 2015.

I'll be releasing more images from this workshop as I proces them, including some from the other models.  Thank you to Denise Birdsong, Lacy Hammock, models Ashlynn Taylor, David Sachs, Shelby Owen, and Hannah Fugazzi as well as all the incredible female photographer attendees whom I grew to love so hard over the course of the 10 hour day.  Hashtagblessed.