Jillian

photo essay 3/4

Jillian McHugh

for Jill this poem I found SELF PORTRAIT AS THE MIND OF A CAMERA

She read to me from The Little Prince: “You are beautiful but you are empty,” he continued. “One cannot die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passer-by would believe that my very own rose looked just like you, but she is far more important than all of you because she is the one I have watered. And it is she that I have placed under a glass dome. And it is she that I have sheltered behind a screen. And it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except for the two or three saved to become butterflies). And it is she I have listened to complaining or boasting or sometimes remaining silent. Because she is my rose.”

When I asked Jillian to send me some thoughts, she returned with her journal entries, written before she knew I wanted her words; unblemished by expectation of readership, a social media post and a note to me.

24 November 2019
Journal entry

Tasj wants to shoot me and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot. Partly because I’ve never done it before and partly because I think it’s an opportunity to say something about anxiety and vulnerability.

I feel like an unglamorous creature and I don’t want to be made beautiful by someone who has the skill to do so.

28 November 2019
Journal entry

Tasj took photos of me today and it was such an enriching experience. To be seen and valued by someone. To have to go outside my comfort zone a little and spend time with someone creative and have a shared unique experience.

And if I could pick anyone to shoot me like that, it would be Tasj.

It was nice to be directed by someone else, for someone else to take the control away from me.

I feel really connected and on fire. Something about the experience speaks to me on a level that’s important and affirming. Ben and I had video sex later and I didn’t feel self-conscious about it. I felt good and comfortable in my skin and sexuality.

28 April 2020
Instagram post

I don’t post photos of myself very often. First because I’m an awkward sort, and second because I’m usually on the other side of the camera.

When the incredible Natasja Kremers asked if she could take some images of me for a personal project I was excited because if there was one person I wanted to take my portrait, it was Tasj. She has this incredible, soft, beauty in her images that I admire so much. There’s a vulnerability and a rawness in Tasj’s work that could only be captured by someone as sensitive and perceptive as she is.

She asked where I wanted to be shot and I said at home. I feel like an unglamorous sort of creative and I didn’t really want to be made glamorous by someone who had the ability to do so. It was the first time someone had really taken a portrait of me that would speak to who I was and it felt important that it spoke to how I was predominantly feeling at that time, which was a time I was trying to come to terms with anxiety and vulnerability.

Having my photo taken by someone I admired so much, to have someone put time aside because they saw the value in some time with me, was a beautiful thing. To go outside my comfort zone a little and sit on the other side of the camera. To feel uncomfortable, and excited, and all those other things my clients must usually feel, was a beautiful thing.

Afterwards, I felt a new sort of comfortableness in my own skin. It was a special experience and a bonding one, that made me appreciate what I do myself even more.

Thank you @natasjakremers for these images, but also for the experience, and for this project that nurtured a beautiful friendship. You are such a wonderful woman and I have renewed appreciation for our art, because of you.

13 May 2020
Note to Tasj

It’s a rare thing to share a space of vulnerability with someone. It’s something I seek out more often as an adult female, and moreso with other females. Part of maturing is realising that you cannot have everything in your partner. We expect so much of our lovers in this day. To be pools of unwavering support, to be our confidants, our passionate lovers, our best friends and pillars of happiness. Part of being a woman is to know the beauty of sisterhood. To be understood, to be caught and to be loved by a woman friend may not carry the lust that other loves do, but it has the stable, grounding sort of feeling of being home that you will not find elsewhere.

“Ya need some girlfriends, hon, ‘cause they’re furever. Without a vow. A clutch of women’s the most tender, most tough place on Earth.” – Where the Crawdads Sing

What is art without context? Devoid of meaning, devoid of heart. To know the context of an image is to understand it. The art is a signifier of something else. A way of representing something to someone else, or capturing that feeling to save it. These images are beautiful and I treasure them, for a rare record that they provide of me, a person who largely goes unrecorded for being on the other side of the camera, and for being a little bit shy. But mostly I treasure them because of the friendship it blossomed between you and I. The time we shared in which you saw me, you were interested in me and I ‘sparkled’ more than I did on any date, for someone I respected and sought a connection with – a more long-term connection than a fleeting romance with a man – wanted to spend that time with me.

That shoot taught this photographer that capturing images is about far more than the finished product. The shoot is in the heart of what happened. A vulnerability, a catching and a meaningful connection.

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