I don’t particularly enjoy talking about my feelings, not unless there’s a punch line involved. I am happy to express my emotions in the context of a good joke or self-deprecation, but the second we cross into “oh wait, she’s serious” territory I awkwardly start to panic. My brain clamors as the other person’s expression turn serious and their head starts sympathetically tilting toward one side. Quick! Think of the next logical subject change! Uhhhh…. Zac Efron!
In the weeks following my mother’s death, I avoided social interaction as much as possible. I knew where ever I went there was the risk of well-intentioned people asking me how I was doing. I wasn’t at the point where I could deliver an “I’m okay” convincingly. And tears, averting the eyes, awkward deflection; these were all dead giveaways that I was indeed not okay.
Seven years later I am comfortable writing about my feelings, but there was a time when I didn’t have the words to describe my grief even privately. In those early days, the only tool I had for self-expression was my camera.
On the days when I felt really bad, I would prop my camera up on a stack of books and take grief self-portraits, feverishly running back and forth between the shutter button and a the frame, over and over again until I felt I got it right. I truly don’t like being photographed, but it felt so satisfying to get my feelings out into the world without having to talk, or describe, or explain.
“You want to know how I’m feeling? Look, this is how I’m feeling.”
To this day when I feel so depressed and/or anxious that I can’t put together a coherent sentence, I turn to my camera. The results almost always channel my mother in one way shape or form.
Here is my most recent grief self-portraits. If you have any inclination to give something like grief self portraits a try, read our post In Defense of the Grief Selfie and check out the self-portrait exercise shared below.
Grief Self-Portrait Exercise: Transformational Self-Portrait
Choose one of these prompts to attempt, or photograph all 3 in a series.
- Create a self-portrait specifically based on your loss. This portrait could reflect how you felt in that moment, details of the experience, or how the event impacted you at the time.
- Create a traditional self-portrait of you in the here and now.
- Create a self-portrait inspired by your hopes for healing. This portrait looks into the future and represents how you want to change or how you want to feel in the future. This portrait may involve a little bit of imagination. For example, you may photograph yourself looking strong, even though you currently feel helpless and vulnerable.
For more information on using photography to cope with grief, check out the following articles:
- Beginners Guide to Exploring Grief Through Photography
- Exploring Grief Through Photography
- Healing Through Photography: Photos from Our Grief-Friends
- Exploring Grief Through Photography: Photographing Emotion and Mood
- Photography How To: Photographing Symbols
We invite you to share your experiences, questions, and resource suggestions with the WYG community in the discussion section below.