A few years ago I decided to do something that would help me grow as a photographer. I wanted to thoroughly understand what someone might be going through in front of my camera. That way, I could balance helping them feel comfortable and confident while also being “in my zone.” The best way to do that, I determined, was to be in front of the as many different photographers as I could be. It was there in my vulnerability I learned not only how to be a better photographer but about the importance of healthy boundaries.
When I first began my project, I started out with photographers I knew - keeping in my comfort zone. Then, as I grew in my confidence, I started venturing out and working with photographers I didn’t know. It was here in the realm of the unknown photographers that I met a man we’ll call Blake.
Blake was a quiet man with a gentle demeanor who happened to have a love for the horror genre. When we first talked about working together (because I ALWAYS recommend meeting with someone and talking ideas over before you officially decide to work together) I was specific about the fact that I had a few dresses I wanted to wear and was open to some more creative ideas as well but did not want to do any or much horror-esque photographs. We came to a set plan and scheduled the session.
The day of the session, I met him on location, rotated through a few outfits and then we looked through the RAW images. Once we’d selected our favorites, he asked if I wanted to do some more “horror-esque” photographs with fake blood and wearing some torn up clothing he had. I commented that it wasn’t really my cup of tea, like we discussed, but would be okay if we could brainstorm an idea we could both get behind. Ultimately, we found an idea that he was still excited about and I was feeling okay about doing. (Do you see my wavering boundaries?? Eeek - I should have acknowledged those flags going off in my brain)
As we photographed the last segment of our session - the horror-esque portion - Blake began to try and push my boundaries with the horror aspect. While I’d previously stated I didn’t want blood or anything too dark, he started to ask again if I was sure and then make slight passive aggressive remarks like “this would look MUCH better if we could do blood” and “too bad you don’t want to have more fun.” (Throw up more of those flags!!!) I began to grow uneasy and uncomfortable. I kept politely declining his asks and, finally, after he made the comment about not wanting to have more fun, I finally put my foot all the way down.
”Um, no thank you. I'm done and I’m going to go home now. Thank you for your time” I said. I remember hearing the shake and irritation in my voice. I’m not a confrontational person but I felt disregarded and like I was being manipulated. I was done being pushed to do something I was uncomfortable with and I needed to course correct and honor my original boundaries.
This experience sticks out in my mind because it happened at the stage of my life where I started to be more assertive on my own behalf. I remember how uncomfortable it was to be asked to do things I didn’t want, how small I started to feel when he disregarded my simple boundaries and how icky I felt after the whole situation. I walked away with stress bearing on my chest and guilt riding on my brain.
This experience helped me learn that I need to be assertive with my boundaries up front. I need to be kind but firm in what I say and I need to walk away more swiftly from situations where I’m not being respected - even if it’s as simple of a situation as my time with Blake. If I would have set my boundary more firmly upfront, it would have been more difficult for him to try and push me and manipulate me. I also wouldn’t have walked away feeling gross that I had been disrespected because I would have had confidence in knowing I did my part.
To this day, I still see those images on occasion and I wish I’d set my foot down earlier. Hind-sight is always 20/20 and, while the images aren’t trashy, they still pick at my brain a little. They just remind me of a time I was uncomfortable because I valued keeping someone else happy over truly sticking to who I was. In the grand scheme of it all, I’m thankful for the reminders that pop up and show me how much I’ve grown, encourage me to keep growing and reinforce how important it is to care for myself and respect myself always.