Lisa Fioretti and the "See Me. See Us" Project

Updated: Oct 30, 2018

Author Jenn Mishra

Lisa Fioretti is a St. Louis-based portrait photographer and is one of the founders of the "See Me. See Us" project along with Cindy Knight.

"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. By photographing women for the project, Lisa learns a lot about herself.

I talked with Lisa about her approach to photography and the purpose of the project.

"The project that I’m doing is about showing a side of a woman that she usually doesn’t chose to show. So many books show images of beautiful women. One thing that’s different about this project is that we’re not handing the easier choices over to the subject – the photographer is doing the work to help each woman reveal a side she does not usually choose."

What makes the project different is that the goal is to photograph women in a different way, breaking through integrated stereotypes.

Lisa describes the project and what makes it different:

"It is common for photographers to ask the subject to show them who they are; to pose for the photographer. In this project, we are choosing to hear what may not be heard when speaking to the woman or may not be seen when the woman initially presents herself.

My job as the photographer is to see another piece of the woman that may come through subtly and bring it out. It is about guiding the woman to reveal something outside of who she has chosen to be in public. It is giving her a word or image that is not what she chooses, but what I see and hear in connecting and sharing with her. That may be a surprise to her, but this revelation brings us all acceptance in showing it and then seeing it in the photo."

Lisa spends about two-thirds of a photo shoot talking to the woman she’s photographing and connecting with her. “We all have layers. There is a side we all want others to see. This may be a side that we’ve chosen years, even decades ago.”

Lisa talks directly to the woman about how she wants to present herself to the world and tries to find out where that role started in her life. Often the role started in childhood.

Lisa believes that many women are taught from childhood to be nurturing and keep others uplifted, even when they are in the depths of despair. They are told through advertising and society not to be too loud or too unique or too aggressive. They hide their true nature even from themselves.

Lisa’s goal is to listen and understand the woman and where her comfort zone is – and then to push past that to an underlying layer. In Lisa’s words, “Tell me more about your story and I’m going to find something I hear in it that isn’t something you show.”

Lisa supports the women to feel safe in order to reveal something life-changing about themselves. “My gift to a person I’m shooting is to show them that I will be venerable first and that somehow in that vulnerability we will connect.”

Photo shoots are often revealing for both the woman being photographed and the photographer. Lisa notes:

“With each portrait I take I find out about a piece that another woman reveals to me that is also inside of me. I see myself dropping veils that I hold in front of me. I can identify more with my fierce side through this project. What I choose to show about me may not be about my light, but also my shadows. Shadows are where we are able to move forward.”

Lisa’s first photo shoot for the "See Me. See Us" project was of a friend’s mother who had just finished her last chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer. Lisa remembers, “When I first met this woman, she was wearing many layers of clothing and a wig.” The layers were real as well as symbolic.

“My mother and grandmother both went through breast cancer. I never shot one photo of them and always regretted that. Photographing this woman helped me come to peace with that.”

Through their conversation, Lisa decided that this was not going to be a dark photo. It wasn’t going to be an end-of-life photo. It would be about this woman finding strength. “As she spoke, it was almost as if I could see this realization she came to when speaking to me ‘I’m here now I made it.’"

When it came time to shoot the portrait, the woman was ready to strip off the layers, both physically and emotionally and open herself up to the Lisa and the camera.

"I asked her to look through the lens at herself on the day the doctor told her that she had cancer. I asked her to see herself sitting in the chair not being able to process all the words. Then I asked her to tell herself through the lens that she’s here now. She came through it. I truly believed she saw her past self. It was so powerful; I really had to hold it together. That shot told me that I was supposed to keep doing this project."

First photograph Lisa took for the See Me, See Us project featuring a woman with breast cancer.

Lisa usually finds women and brings them to the project. One woman Lisa approached on the street was homeless. Lisa took her to get some food and got to know her story. When it came time to photograph, Lisa had some very specific views:

"I didn’t want the image of a homeless person to be presented as someone who had given up. In some ways we’re all looking for where our home is. This woman was really a pillar of strength and I wanted her to feel powerful again."

Lisa set up a photo shoot in an abandoned building and used the support pillars as a symbol of this power. Lisa recalls the point in the photo shoot when the woman exclaimed, “I’ve never felt like I’m this tall!” This was a moment of realization, a surprise – It was a “this is me” moment. Lisa values these moments of clarity, when the woman comes to a realization about herself during the photo shoot.

Photograph of a homeless woman as a pillar of strength by Lisa Fioretti.

These portraits are as much of a growth experience for Lisa as they are the women being photographed.

“I usually present my soft side that is more peaceful, more generous to others. I have found out that the characteristics I so admire in other women are the ones I’m most uncomfortable with - lack of control, fear of being too big of a presence. When I see a women who includes these characteristics in their everyday persona, it’s reminder to me that those characteristics are in me.”

As a final thought Lisa adds, “Photography heals me.”

Lisa and Cindy created the "See Me. See Us" project, but Lisa encourages other photographers to participate and start their own version of the project.

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Find women that are willing to be uncomfortable with seeing every part of themselves. Discomfort leads to joyfulness. Confront what is holding you back from how great you can be.

The "See Me. See Us" project is a journey. It’s about understanding our own boundaries and struggles through the experiences of other women.

Explore the See Me, See Us Portrait project

See a similar project 200 portraits

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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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