This session was quite different then some of my more recent ones. I was able to photograph someone I’ve known for many years. When Tess first sat with me and had the conversation about her deciding to transition from male to female, my (almost) immediate response was “we have to do a photo shoot”. It was important for a lot of reasons. From a photographer’s standpoint, having a photo shoot of yourself while going through a massive physical change can visually document the change, but beyond that, it’s an emotional journey of acceptance. I wanted to help support that with Tess and show her how radiant and beautiful she is.
After a few weeks of back and forth, we finally had a few drinks, chatted, and then we began the documentation of her journey.
I don’t claim to know the depth of emotions that comes along with the decision to transition ones gender, but I do know the bravery and vulnerability that is required to step into the world and say “this is me”.
There is an alluring aspect to “being you” in this world, but in order to do that, you have to be suited in armor, ready for a war. For some reason, our culture is especially difficult for those who challenge any “normality”. What is normal anyways? Who defines that? It’s something I will save for another blog post. In any case, I don’t appreciate that about our culture. Bring me who you really are. There is nothing more beautiful than photographing people who are authentic. The fear is a barrier that we can work through together. This is the aspect of portrait photography that doesn’t get much light. The connection required to get some of the most beautiful portraits is profound. Oddly enough, I studied Behavioral Science and probably should have gone into the social work world but alas, I love art. That being said, I do think there is a huge link between the two. My photo shoots don’t involve a bunch of fancy equipment and sterile backdrops. I want a connection. I am interested in authenticity and understanding who you really are. This allows me to capture you in a light that is your own. This is more about you, than me anyways, really.
That being said, the session with Tess was quite moving, for both of us. As I showed Tess the photographs, she struggled to recognize the magnificent and developing woman that was in them. It was humbling to witness. I asked Tess to write a few words of her own for this post because as an outsider, I only have a tiny slice of perspective here.
“I’ve known Kaitlyn for more than ten years although this was the first time that she’s ever photographed me. Several weeks ago, I shared with her my transgender journey, almost on impulse, but I’ve always been aware of her empathy and openness. Talking with her provided me with meaningful insights and emotional support. When it came to actually sitting for photos, I must admit that I was apprehensive. I’ve always felt conflicted about my gender, my sense of self, my presentation to other people. Gender transition is a long complex process, of personal growth, of physical changes, and of emotional acceptance. Kait gave me a chance to express some of my deepest feelings in an emotionally safe context. When she began taking photos I was already feeling very emotional, and Kait was able to capture such exquisite nuance of expression. But even more so, the photos revealed a woman that I’ve never seen before. A woman that I barely imagined existing in real life. Kait’s photos helped me see myself in ways that I couldn’t before. I’m so excited to continue to document my gender transition in Kait’s photos. The experience has been literally life changing.” - Tess
I want to express my deepest gratitude to anyone who shows up every day, even if it’s hard as hell, even if you fell asleep sobbing and alone, even if you aren’t sure why you woke up. Thank you for sticking around, for pushing past the fear and being who you are. I am a comrade to you. When you bring me your most authentic self and allow me to photograph you, I do believe that’s where the magic is.