Behind every face, there is a story waiting to be told. ~ Nishith Shah
I follow several professional photographers on Instagram. Most of them are portraitists and even if they’re not, they always have people or animals somewhere in their photo. My photos are most often plants or sunsets or my cats. I don’t often photograph people, although I desperately want to. And I’m not talking about selfies with my friends, but real portraits. I want to get to know the real person behind the pose, so that I can capture in an image who they truly are.
One photographer told the story of how he got an amazing portrait of a his friend who is known to be a bit guarded. They knew each other well and the photos were good, but he wanted more. They were talking as he was shooting and suddenly he asked his friend a question about his best friend who had died in an avalanche. He looked away as if to collect his composure and his thoughts. The moment he looked back up, his eyes were filled with emotion and the photographer got the shot. That’s what I want to do with my photography. I want to see through the facade. I want those unguarded moments. It takes vulnerability on the part of both the photographer and the subject, which is something that doesn’t come easily.
I know it’s cliché, but the eyes truly are the windows to the soul. They are also the windows from which one’s own soul sees others. Most of the time, I keep the blinds drawn on my soul windows. Not because I don’t want to see others, but because I don’t want them to see me. Recently however, my soul decided to move the blinds aside just slightly, like that nosy neighbor who doesn’t think you can see them spying on you from their bedroom window, so that it could show me what I’m missing when I don’t allow myself to see or be seen.
I was with a group of people who I’ve known for quite some time and while I’m very comfortable around most of them, there are a few I still feel pretty guarded around. I took my usual seat at the outside of the circle and listened in on all the conversations. I’m pretty good at being invisible. The conversations were loud and lively, but a quiet young mother caught my attention. She was also sitting there observing, but didn’t know she was being observed. She’s known to be rather volatile and unable to relate to people very well, but as I watched her watch her young girls and everything going on around her, I felt a sudden overwhelming feeling of empathy, compassion, and love for her. It was as if all the layers of protection fell away and I was able to see her for who she really was.
I basked in that warm feeling for as long as I could, when the cacophony of the room brought me back. I then had a conversation with another woman with whom I’ve been acquainted for many years, but don’t know very well. She’s always been kind and generous, but I never felt any connection with her. She asked me a question and we spoke for a few minutes then the conversation waned. As she turned to talk to someone else, I continued to watch her, much as I had the young mother and in that brief moment, I didn’t see the person I was familiar with. I saw a person who had her own experiences, her own joys and sorrows, who was doing her best to get by in the world and find happiness. She had done nothing remarkable. She had simply smiled and laughed, but in that moment, I saw her. I was taken aback by an unconditional love for another soul that I don’t allow myself to experience very often.
There’s a saying that goes, “If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies, how very different our ideals of beauty would be.” That’s the experience I had that night. It was kind of like deja vu. Time slowed way down and I felt very removed but very aware. I saw much more than what they presented to the world. It was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had. It broke my heart wide open. I hope one day to see everyone I meet with that kind of unconditional love. It’s not hard. I just have to remember to open my eyes.