Photoshoot with Kaye Ford
Last year I made a huge breakthrough in tackling social anxiety by attending #MHMeet - something I never thought I'd have the courage nor ability to do. The sense of achievement I felt from this turning point undeniably became a huge catalyst for change. Having pushed myself so far out of my comfort zone, I wanted for this not to be a standalone moment of success, but instead a vital stepping stone in my recovery and journey of self improvement. This all may sound hella pompous, but it's true. From this experience I found that the most rewarding and progressive way to combat social anxiety (and depression) for me has been, and is to, repeatedly put myself in situations I naturally have a tendency to avoid. Without doing this, I know I would simply continue standing in the same spot, and I am not prepared to stay in the cosy hole I made for myself any longer.
With this in mind, I began to think of all the experiences that bring me discomfort, and putting myself in front of the camera was one of them. I have never enjoyed the feeling of having all eyes on me. It sends my heart and mind racing. Anxiousness builds and builds. I speak too fast or say nothing at all, I don't know how to stand or if I should even be there. This is especially present when someone whips a camera out and asks for everyone to pose for photos. My thoughts turn to those of a negative self-focused nature. I become very conscious of those around me, whether I'm with people I know or I don't, what they may think of me, how I look, the parts of my body that make me feel insecure... Then I start to fixate on where that photo may end up, who will see it, what they will think, and (if I don't like it) whether the person who shared it will take it down - or if they won't care to. I would decline any photos of me at secondary school to be published on their website or in booklets, my natural reflex is to move out of family photos or group pictures and it's why I don't use Snapchat.
I have felt bad in the past when my nearest and dearest have encouraged me to jump into a picture, and I physically couldn't bring myself to. I am fully aware that I shouldn't care about the worries that fly around my head, and completely appreciate these concerns hold me back from capturing memories I know I would cherish if I had them, but I also recognise that these worries are symptoms of social anxiety. And because of this, I decided not beat myself up about them, but instead to choose to understand them and seek out ways I felt would best tackle them. Before arranging the shoot, I had known Kaye for a little while as we had attended training sessions with the same roller derby league. Out of everyone I have ever met, no one else has radiated kind and happy vibes quite like Kaye does. Naturally I was drawn to her spirit, and began keeping up with her work. Scrolling through the stunning portraits on her website, and seeing the results from shoots she worked on with bloggers, immediately told me what I needed to do. My feelings of reluctance then confirmed it further; I had to book a shoot with her. And it had to be in a public place.
I had to include this test shot as the unnoticed tangle of coat cord and backpack strap has me written all over it.
To psyche myself up for the shoot, I wanted to come up with a fun idea that would excite me and make it something to look forward to. After years of lusting over any and all photography featuring neon lights, from portraiture to cityscapes soaked in a glorious glow of colour, made this the obvious theme to go for. I ran the idea past Kaye, who was totally game, a date was booked and the countdown began. I can't recall feeling overly apprehensive in the run up to the shoot, but as the day rolled around I did sense nerves beginning to creep in.
Throughout A Level study, my time at university and now in my job, I'm used to being behind the scenes when filming, so this was something completely new to me.
What if I can't bring myself to do it with people watching? What if I don't like how I look in any of the photos? What if I make a fool out of myself?
I let Kaye know of my pre-shoot nerves immediately. I knew keeping this to myself wouldn't help either of us, and figured that it was very likely she had worked with others who were nervous prior to shooting too. She quickly reassured me that when she works, she talks all throughout the shoot and that I wouldn't even notice she was snapping away.
I sucked it up, boarded the train for London and met Kaye in between Kings Cross and St Pancras. We started off by taking some test shots next to the luminous birdcage swing that stands before the St Pancras tube station entrance, before moving on to the streets of Soho. I felt a little jittery to begin with; focusing on what my face and body were doing, as well as if anyone was wondering why the heck I was the subject of a shoot, but to my surprise these worries quickly began to subside... I started to tune out what was going on around me, and instead began to enjoy the experience. I'm no professional, so mostly opted for averting my eyes in different directions and slightly adjusting my stance, but Kaye was on hand with brilliant nuggets of advice. Including what to think and how to position myself to improve not only the quality of photos, but my confidence too.
I am so grateful to have shot with Kaye. The shoot went so smoothly because of how comfortable she made me feel and how easy she made the shoot feel. Kaye was more than happy to show me photos as we went along, offer retakes and listen to any uneasiness I had regarding my insecurities. She took everything I said seriously, and worked with me to create shots I'm stoked about. She was also completely right about how I wouldn't be overly fixated on her snapping away. Like every hour of everyday, I thought about anything and everything
- including what was on the menu for dinner! Kaye's choice to talk to me throughout the shoot (about photography, pizza and everything in between) was SO helpful. Any trepidation was shattered when I realised that most passersby simply walked on without battering an eyelid at what I was doing. Even if they did, it was so fleeting that any worries I had were forgotten mere seconds later as we chatted away.
If you were to take a look back through my blog, Instagram or Twitter accounts it wouldn't be long before you noticed that photographs of myself are incredibly sparse. Undertaking a photoshoot in a busy area of London, on a Friday night, and then being able to present all of these images to the world in a post is such a huge deal for me. Not so long ago, I wouldn't have given doing something like this a second thought, nor even imagined myself having a hypothetical photoshoot, but I did it. And I'm so glad I did it.
Social anxiety made me feel unable to participate in experiences like this due to fear. Being so overly cautious made me feel stupid, weak and inadequate. Yet in the days since the shoot, I've felt more confident in my own skin. It has made me see that I am strong. That I am enough. I am even beginning to see that some of the issues I have with my body aren't so much of an issue.
Whilst the concerns I have will not seize to exist after one shoot, this is a giant leap forward. I did everything I set out to; have photos taken of myself in a public place, and now they've been shared on my social media accounts, as well as on Kaye's too. I even did a silly little dance in the street for Kaye to Boomerang for Instagram to top it all of!(!!) In terms of body confidence, I am now endeavouring to work on what I can change and learn to love what I cannot, and in terms of social anxiety... Well,