First of my ‘Wednesday Wonder Women’ is the beautiful soul that is Flo Westbrook. Flo is a photographer who describes herself as “…passionate about capturing raw emotions and the stories of those I photograph.”
I was lucky enough to connect with Flo through ‘The Silent Scream…’ project. As part of the process and journey, she provided contributors with one of her ‘Love Yourself’ photography sessions at the grounds around her home. Her ‘Love Yourself’ shoots are, in Flo’s words, all about “…photographing women who struggle loving their bodies so that through photography, they can start seeing how truly beautiful they are….” something which is close to her heart, as she used self photography as a key tool in her own personal journey toward self love. You can read in more detail about the lady ‘Behind the lens’ here on Flo’s website:
It’s evident immediately that this is absolutely Flo’s calling. The minute you meet her, you feel at ease as her authenticity and open heart shine through. She very clearly loves what she does, and it is about so much more than just ‘taking photographs’ for sure. Her light and open attitude means that you instinctively trust her, and the shoot becomes about much more than just photos. She makes you feel like she genuinely wants to hear your stories and your feelings around the experience, and that this informs the pictures she takes of you. When she asked how I felt about being photographed at the start, I immediately felt comfortable telling her the truth-having previously read her website and recognising her inherent empathy and shared experiences.
I told her that I’d never been photographed professionally before, and that in selfies or photos with friends, I was becoming increasingly adept at ‘hiding’ the parts of myself I was less accepting of. Whether it was by careful posing, cropping or editing, I never felt comfortable being fully seen in pictures. Now I’m smart enough to know that other people don’t just see a head-shot or heavily edited Instagram post walking around in front of them, so the only logical conclusion is that by doing this I am hiding from MYSELF. Having Flo behind the camera, in control of which parts of me I would ‘see’ when I got the photographs back was quite a vulnerable experience in that sense, but I felt fully trusting and relaxed. With Flo’s enthusiasm for and enjoyment of the experience alongside you, it would be hard not to have fun on a shoot with her. It’s also quite liberating in the sense that following a photographers direction allows you to do things you wouldn’t really dream of just by yourself. Like getting in among the trees and lying down in the scattered leaves on the ground!
I am still on the very beginnings of my journey to self-acceptance and love. When I got the photos back from the shoot it was a real turning point for me. For the first time I looked at photos of myself, and although I noticed things that i don’t necessarily LOVE about myself right now, I was accepting rather than spiraling into shame or sadness! Yes, I’m in a bigger body than I probably ever have been before. Yes, I’m aging more than I realised… lots of little things that would have previously bothered me a lot, so invested was I in the ridiculous idea that being pretty, picture perfect and taking up the least possible physical space were the most amazing things a woman could offer society?! It was really great to see the photos to help affirm that I am well on the way to breaking the hold of the impossible to achieve, commercially driven ‘beauty standards’ I once used as a stick to beat myself.
What off all of those little things when I have these beautifully shot reminders of the day, and all that it represents! I am all there to be seen, no hiding from myself-and i like it. I am flying all the way to London for photo-shoots?! I am meeting the most wonderful, inspiring women! I am writing and speaking truths I never thought I would ever reveal. This is what these photographs evoke in me. There’s so much more in them for me than just a 2D image to compare alongside other 2D images. So much more than”should have dieted and worked out more before these” or ” should have worn more make up…” I’d recommend to anyone who is lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with Flo on this, or any other type of photo-shoot, grab it with both hands!
Please don’t just take my word for the beauty and talent that is Flo Westbrook Photography, and head over to her website to have a look at some more examples of her work:
I really hope I’ve done her justice!