Updated: Oct 30, 2018
Author Jenn Mishra
This week, I interviewed St. Louis-based portrait photographer Cindy Knight about the See Me, See Us project. I interviewed Cindy’s partner in this project Lisa Fioretti a few weeks ago and was interested in getting Cindy’s thoughts on this powerful project and how their collaboration came into being. We also talked about Cindy’s own self-portrait project.
"See Me, See Us" is a portrait project focused on women. It’s about bringing out a woman’s soul, both the light and the shadow. Through this project Lisa and Cindy seek to find the real essence of a woman - not what she’s been taught to portray to the world.
Cindy talked a bit about how the project originated.
"The initial inspiration for starting the project was a women’s march. At that point, I saw the collective nature of women.
I tried to look at the group of women as well as the individual woman. It’s important to me because part of a woman’s inability to feel good about herself is because of other women in general. Women compare and judge – we look at what other women are wearing. We edit ourselves to fit in with a group. At the women’s march, I saw myself as equal. We were all coming together. I wanted to document this.
The project for me has always been more about the masses and then about the individual women. It’s about the collectiveness of women and how the individual fits into the group. That’s how we came up with name for project."
From here, Cindy and Lisa collaborated, setting the parameters of the project. They photograph individually. Who they choose to photograph, their style and their process is different, but the goal is the same – to photograph a side of a woman that she often keeps hidden.
The See Me, See Us project is challenging for both the photographer and the woman modeling for the portrait. Both are asked to be vulnerable and reveal hidden depths.
Cindy first approached 10 women who she knew in one way or another, though not well. She started by getting to know the women better through a series of questions.
How do you define yourself as a woman?
What do you hold back or choose not to reveal?
What is one word that you identify with?
The questions are challenging and often lead to surprising answers – for both the photographer and the model. Cindy tries to help the women let themselves go and find out what they are hiding.
"This isn’t a therapy session. I’m helping the woman be more comfortable and be able to show themselves more. I want them to be open to telling me a story about how she feels about who she is as a woman - what holds her back.
One woman explained her story. It was really her story about her childhood. As she grew up, she was made to feel like she wasn’t as good as a man. Later in her childhood, her stepfather helped her feel the opposite. There was a split nature to her. I saw the image of two people and tried to capture that in the image."
Cindy tries to help the women feel safe and assures them that this is a time to be vulnerable. But it’s also the time to feel confident - feel things that the woman might not feel in her daily life.
"I try to assure them that I’m being vulnerable as well. The whole project is about vulnerability. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Allowing people see you and accept you for who you are. Not fixing yourself to fit in."
The women are often worried about what to wear, but the sessions aren’t about the clothing or the fashion. Cindy asks the women to wear something simple – a tank-top and jeans. This isn’t about what the woman looks like, it’s about who she is.
During the photo session, Cindy and her model talk and share. Once Cindy starts to feel the woman opening up, that’s when she picks up her camera.
Cindy knows that this process of self-reflection and opening yourself up to a photographer and the camera can be uncomfortable. This is one reason she started her own self-portrait project. She acknowledged that she was the same as the women being photographed. She had vulnerabilities and insecurities in front of the camera.
"The self-portrait project helped me develop more confidence and self-acceptance – and all those things I didn’t like about me, like my crooked tooth. Silly things. I took a photo of myself each week for a year. It’s interesting to look back and see the first one I did and compare January to December.
It’s hard to get the women comfortable enough to look into the camera. From my own self-portrait work, it was pretty far down the road before I could look in the camera.
I can see you."
Both the See Me, See Us project and Cindy’s self-portrait project have helped her become braver and more confident as a woman.
The See Me, See Us project is about trying to capture the side of a woman that she may not show in public. The process may be challenging, but it can also be cathartic.
Woman have a difficult time showing themselves. The ultimate goal is to create a space where she can do that and know what it feels like and potentially carry that feeling forward.
Everyone has said afterward, ‘Wow that was hard but good’.
The goal of the project is to celebrate women and explore who we are and what we hide. “You have to look at yourself and say 'Damn I look good!'”
Explore the See Me, See Us Portrait project
See a similar project 200 portraits
See more of Cindy's work on her website
** This post may contain affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Article Written by Jennifer Mishra
Jennifer Mishra is an American travel photographer born in Colorado and based in the St. Louis metro area. She has a background in classical music and academia. She is the founder of PhotoYoga. Her photos are published at Wits End Photography or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.
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