Monday, April 28, 2014

Lady Business Pity Party: An Open Letter to a Pushy Photographer

 Dear Festival Photographer-

I know it was your job to to photograph each and every dance group performing at the dance weekend. I felt for you having to round up hyper kids and overwhelmed adults and make them look good for the festival photos. And you had to deal with me - the hot, sweaty clogger, blind without her glasses, snapping "I think we know how to stand," when you directed us to place our feet just so. No I didn't smile and, no, I didn't care. You just wanted to take our picture and get us out. I just wanted to cry.

It's been two years since my surgery  (a radical hysterectomy for cancer) and while my recovery has been just fine according to my doctors, it's been painfully slow for me. I've always been a fairly active person, working as a house painter through my college years and as a theatrical scenic artist after college. I've danced various types of social dance (contra, couple dance, international, a little Morris and vintage dance) for most of my life and I've been dancing with an Appalachian clogging group for the last 11 years. At this point in my recovery, though, I have about half the stamina I had before the surgery and even a short time dancing leaves me winded and exhausted.

Most of the time I'm happy with my progress and feel almost normal, but there are moments where I become Cancer Girl all over again. One of those times is when I see my teammates looking fresh as everbloomin' daisies after a 10 minute performance and I stand beside them red-faced, sweating and panting. I feel the waistband of my tights digging into my scars, my bra straps digging into my shoulders and my calves already starting to cramp. Sweat dripping off my chin, bangs plastered to my forehead, mascara raccooning around my eyes. I'm already starting to ache all over and know how much I'm going to hurt the next day because my muscles haven't caught up to the inevitable post-menopausal weight gain and shift in my center of gravity.

And you want to preserve this ghastly moment for all time.

Honestly I could have handled it if you just took the shot and left me alone. But after I changed and came back for my things you had to stick that damn camera back in my face crowing, "There I got it!" You're lucky I just turned away and you weren't sweeping camera bits off the floor.

I don't know why you felt entitled to my image or why you couldn't respect my desire to exercise at least a little control over how I present myself. I would have loved a picture with my dance group where I looked relaxed and dry and more my happy self, but I ended up angry and sad and painfully self-conscious that you captured the wretched feelings, not the nice ones. And I'm furious that I let it get to me leaving me weepy and fragile for the rest of the night and wishing I could go back and say the right thing to make you stop.

I'll get over feeling sorry for myself. I'll find healthier ways to respond to situations that make me feel discouraged about my slow progress and my changing body. I may even get stronger and learn how to set my limits when I tangle with people who don't know when to back the hell off.

And you, Pushy Photographer, I hope you can remember that when someone shares their image with you it is a gift, not something you are entitled to take. Every person who gives you a glimpse of  their story deserves your respect and compassion. Love your subjects and the images reflected back will be glorious.
A few of the many portrait photographers that get it:
Humans of New York
JJ Tiziou
Riverhouse Photography
Sandra Parks
Bill Tucker


Georgianna Grentzenberg said...

Thanks for representing an important view of our aging experience. I was sorry/glad to hear you have some of the life-lag I've experience in recuperationg from my 'heart thing.' Even though it's been months since I had 'the procedure' and several other health issues have intervened and over a year and a half since my mom died, I'm appalled sometimes at the depth and breadth and endurance of my fatigue and grief. Glad you're hanging on with grace, dancing and writing it all down.

~S~ said...

Oh no! Hang in there Georgi, I really hope it get easier for you. We all need to give ourselves all the time we need to heal and recover! Sending lots of love!!