Ability to Emphasize
Our empathy as human beings allow us to relate our thoughts and our feelings, we may not have similar experiences but I am a human being, I can feel what you feel and I can understand that feeling, it allows us to better communicate in a more honest, more genuine way when we can empathize. When somebody begins to feel, when we observe somebody beginning to feel those emotions, you don't wanna cut it off because you're uncomfortable. I know that I almost had you in tears. While I feel bad, that's part of my job. And if you feel comfortable enough in my presence, which I know all of us are here so that might not have been as intimate a setting, had it been just you and me, perhaps you would have felt more comfortable to just let loose and then start to cry. I am not going to cut you off from feeling those emotions. I want to allow you to do that. And I'd feel honored if you had enough comfort and faith in me to do that. By observing when somebody's on that threshold, you need to be aware...
, to let them go down that route. Often, we feel nervous about pushing somebody too far. When we observe that behavior we will know when somebody's been pushed too far. Did I push you too far today?
I didn't think so. I've done it before. I've learned my lesson. But there's a fine line we walk. Okay. One of the most important parts, sometimes I feel like a therapist, and all I gotta do is listen. If I ask the right questions and I observe body language and I am aware of the situations, all I've gotta do is just prompt, listen, and let the flood gates open. I like myself, I mean, I'm, that came out wrong. (audience laughing) I, like so many others, hate the sound of my voice. I get so tired of hearing myself talk. But I so enjoy hearing other stories. So, for me it's not hard. Sometimes, though, that voice that we hear in our head, where we're thinking 10 steps ahead, well, gosh I wish you would get through the story because I really need to actually get porch in, I need to put the light over there, I hope, would that be distracting, if I put the light over there, if I get up and stand up and I move, would that be totally disruptive to what I'm doing right now, and what will I, wait, did she just ask me a question, God I hope she didn't ask me a question, I wasn't really listening 'cause my mind's 10 minutes ahead. Microphone, please.
I always find that I do family sessions quite a bit and a lot of times, I see more kids with autism than, than, you know, there's many more coming on, and I always find that when my client is, like, oh my god, he's so hard to deal with and I can feel if a child has, you know, is on the spectrum 'cause I just know those symptoms and I'll always say, listen, it's fine, I have a child with Asperger's at home or a child with autism, and that automatically puts mom at ease because she's not being judged by me because I know what she's going through and that immediately switches, you know, puts her in a switch and she just lets the child be the child.
And I constantly tell her, I'm like, he is who he is. You can't change him.
But you know you'd want somebody to say that to you.
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Absolutely. You know, 'cause it's uncomfortable when strangers see your true family, I mean, honestly, you know, I lose it with my kid all the time.
And nobody wants to see, you know, wants other people to see that. But, you know, and a lot of my clients become my friends afterwards because they realize that, all right, this is a safe place, we can act like complete maniacs and I can, you know, (laughing) berate my child and we can have fun and, you know, all of that stuff, so.
Well now you're really living, right?
It's being completely open and honest about who you really are.
It's that barrier. It starts with empathy and trust and understanding and allowing yourself to be who you really are so that you get what you give.
Right? Lastly, I wanna talk a little bit about reiterating the fact of empathy. Empathy requires that you be presence of mind and that you're mindful of others and that you recognize that within yourself, that you shut that voice off in your head and you allow the space for that person to talk and to be genuinely present, taking that information in. Not only is it important to engage in establishing the relationship and keeping connectivity, but later, when you're getting ready to actually take photographs and you're going to use this content to prompt emotion and those micro gestures, you've gotta know exactly what they said and be able to recall it. So, just listen. Relate. Be present. Take it in. If they're sad, let them be sad. If they're happy, get on board and get right there with them. It's about the subjects. It's not about you. All we do is we let our subjects be themselves. We as photographers, we capture those moments.
So, a question came in from Alisa Ferarri who said, how do you get comfortable with taking photos of someone if they do get to a place where they start crying or are otherwise upset? Can you expand on that a little bit?
So, getting comfortable with emotions actually is all about getting comfortable with yourself. And being able to be vulnerable. From the very moment that I meet my subjects, I am who I am. I have verbal diarrhea sometimes and I say inappropriate things, but hey, that's who I am. I'm not gonna try and change that. I am a klutz. I have traumatic brain injury so sometimes I'll repeat myself accidentally or I'll completely forget my train of thought and go on this complete tirade but I will just let that fly because I am who I am. I wear my heart on my sleave. If I'm feeling emotional, if I'm feeling happy, I will let that all out with the anticipation that my subjects will reciprocate. If my subjects are feeling that raw emotion, I am going to let myself be part of that experience. They are saying, I want you to be on this journey with me. We are on this journey together. You have to be able to accept that part of this job. When the mother's crying, that baby's on their chest, how can you not get emotional? Every single time I imagine you have this skip in your heart where it's like, ah, who, every time. But you're there and that emotional tie to that moment is what probably makes you so successful at your occupation. Your ability to break down that fear, that deeply seated fear of being judged for family dynamics or how we behave with our family dynamics, your ability to cut through that is what makes you exceptional. An ability to shoulder that emotion when that time arises. So each and every one of us have experiences that allow us to accept those emotions as part of this work. If you're feeling like you can't emotionally take this on there are steps that you can do to help heal that process afterwards 'cause for somebody like me, doing the Veteran's Portrait Project I hear stories that nobody should have ever lived through. And often it's 30 and 40 times a day. I'm emotionally invested in each and every one of the stories that I've heard and each and every one of the individuals I've photographed. But I have to be able to wash those emotions away at the end of the day and that's part of this experience. Just to let it go and not let it travel on with us to the next session that we do. And that's all about self-care and preservation and how we treat each other. And that's finding an outlet to let it go. 'Cause at the end of the day sometimes we are the mother, the brother, the sister, the therapist, the friends with like experiences. And it's just an opportunity, that opportunity they were waiting for to be able to purge and be open and release and being the capturers of these stories in that moment will be lifetimes and generations of moments for families in years to come. So it's a very, very special thing that we do.
We do have a question from Brad Newman who says, so to capture the micro expressions, back when we were talking about the micro expressions, are you photographing while the subject is talking and while they are sharing those stories?
My camera is an extension of me and from the moment I meet a person it is there, up at my face or at least relatively close, sometimes I'm clutching it right across from my face. You'll see a lot of pictures of me when I'm in the middle of shooting where it's here. When I'm shooting, I will, and again, I will just go through that methodology of having the camera at or near my face or right in front of it and, as I continue to talk to them, sometimes the minute my camera goes up, they stop talking and then I peek down like, I'm listening, I'm right here, so just look down the lens, I'm watching you, I have my eyes on you, just keep talking. This is great, let's just keep talking. And then eventually, one grows accustomed to that sort of awkward moment when that camera's in front of the face and then it's just, then it's just like I carry on and nothing's really different than if my camera wasn't in front of my face. So, it's kind of getting over our discomfort about not having direct eye contact because we feel, and sometimes we project that onto our subjects, but if we're confident about that methodology, then they'll get over it.