As the reality of social distancing continues to impact our daily lives, many businesses have been challenged to adapt to the new normal — including professional artists. To connect with clients in a safe way, some studio photographers are turning to video chats to coordinate shoots.
Scrolling through my Instagram feed, I've seen plenty of photographers offering remote sessions, but I didn't think a FaceTime photo shoot was for me until I came across Carrie Anne Kelly's Virtual Empowerment Space project.
The Virtual Empowerment Space project originally started as a way to bring back some lost cash flow for Kelly’s family. Kelly has been documenting and uplifting people who are social distancing and stuck at home through remote photoshoots. Her small business, a body-positive boudoir studio, was forced to close up shop in mid-March as stay-at-home orders in the state of California made in-person photo shoots impossible. While Kelly’s husband has retained his income, the loss of hers put a strain on their finances.
“My income was a huge chunk of our lifestyle and it was definitely really stressful at first. I went from expecting income to literally not be able to expect anything,” Kelly told TMRW. “The way my brain works, I don't really just kind of stop and settle. I sort of freak out at first, and then I start moving into action and trying to figure out plan B, and plan C.”
One of those plans of action became the Virtual Empowerment Space offering: a $100 30-minute FaceTime photo shoot and feel-good session with Kelly that yields anywhere from 5-10 professionally composed and edited iPhone-quality photos (taken using the FaceTime live photo feature) that the client receives the same day. While the sessions provide a relatively affordable way to have professional portraits taken in your home, Kelly said the sessions are more than materialistic. “It's really about connecting with another human and creating a space for you to feel uplifted and feel really good.”
Seeing her images pop up in my feed immediately inspired me to send her a direct message and book a session for myself. The images from the shoots she’s done so far ooze creativity and intimacy while celebrating each subject amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic we’re living through. As a single person who lives alone in a studio apartment with a cat, the uplifting experience promised by her Instagram was alluring. Between working from home, taking long walks to the park alone, playing too much Nintendo Switch and casually virtually dating, I felt called to treat myself to the opportunity to (virtually) invite another person into my home and celebrate myself, even if just for 30 minutes.
As I prepared for my photo shoot, I realized it had been nearly two months since I’d put together an outfit and done my makeup and hair. I tore my closet apart, emptying its contents onto my bed and taking photos of outfits to send to friends for their input. I tried on about 6 different options ranging from an old dress I found in a ball at the bottom of my closet to a pair of ripped jeans and my favorite crop top. I settled on a vintage jumpsuit I found last year in North Carolina while I was shooting a short documentary.
In my bathroom mirror, I danced and sang along to the new album from The Wrecks as I did my makeup and beach-waved my hair. I tried to remember the last time I got ready to go out and be seen, but I couldn’t remember exactly when it was. I briefly grieved my old life filled with friends, live music and dancing. I finished winging out my eyeliner and layering my mascara and took a look in the mirror. I looked good. I felt hot. This newfound confidence enveloped me like a warm hug as I added the finishing touches: a pair of dangly earrings and my favorite ring. I realized I forgot what it felt like to feel good about my appearance. I had become accustomed to seeing myself in my glasses, a ponytail, tie-dye T-shirts and joggers.
Twenty minutes before our shoot, I ran around my apartment frantically tidying up where I could. I was beginning to feel nervous. I had no idea what doing a photo shoot via FaceTime would feel like, if I’d feel comfortable or if I’d even end up liking the photos at the end of it. I began to worry I picked the wrong outfit, that my eyeliner was too much, that my hair looked messy and dumb. Then my phone rang and Kelly was on the other end of the line.
I immediately sensed her compassionate energy flowing through the FaceTime and my mood shifted from nervous to excited. We chatted briefly about our quarantine experiences and the silver linings we were finding in our new normal. I told Kelly about the joy I’d discovered by picking up my guitar for the first time in years and teaching myself basic chords again. Our photo shoot began there as she asked me to play for her and started snapping photos. Through the phone, her voice directed me on how to pose, where to look and when to relax and breathe. We traveled around my apartment together finding pockets of natural light and places to prop my phone up so she could get the shots just right. By the end of our session, the corners of my mouth hurt from smiling and my abs strained from a 20-minute fit of giggling.
The last shot Kelly tried to get was on my bed as I posed with my uncooperative rescue cat, Minnie. About two minutes into the attempt, the cat, no longer entertained by the treats in my hand, launched herself off the bed and our session came to an end with Kelly assuring me that she was sure she got a cute picture of the two of us. I thanked her for her time, we wished each other well and hung up the call. She promised me a batch of edited photos within the hour.
The mental effect
When you're stuck in your house alone endlessly scrolling through Instagram, seeing everyone’s workouts and meal plans, it's easy to fall into the rabbit hole of negative self-image. Coupling my social media addiction with quarantine fatigue, I've definitely felt my body-image and confidence sinking over the past few weeks.
This experience pulled me out of that slump immediately. Hearing Kelly's direction and compliments coming out of my phone as she shot me were the best part of the experience. It made me realize that not only was I missing social interaction, but I also missed feeling seen.
For Kelly, these virtual sessions have been key to remaining positive during this tricky time. “I get reenergized by making people feel really good. That's kind of the core of my being and why I am a photographer,” she said. “I just feel really good after every single session. Because I'm giving someone something that they didn't have, you know, an hour before we even started.”
I walked around my apartment putting props back where they belonged. A stack of books used as a makeshift phone tripod went back to the coffee table. My guitar went back to its stand by the mantle. I noticed I felt refreshed and I felt alive. More alive than I’d felt in a while. I looked in the mirror and saw myself glowing. Text messages from Kelly stared to light up my phone as the edited images came in. I was blown away with them.
I looked happy. I looked stylish. My apartment looked like a cozy garden oasis. I was elated.
The photos she took not only celebrated me, but they also celebrated my living space too — a place I've been feeling trapped inside for weeks now. Seeing the images reminded me of how lucky I am to have a roof over my head, to be healthy and to be, for the most part, happy. The experience also showed me how important it is to be kind to ourselves and our bodies as we adjust to the our new normal and that silver linings can be found everywhere as long as you remember to look.