A while back, I was talking to my friend Sara, of Black Lotus Design, about a personal project I wanted to get underway. You see, through a lot of searching and discussion with friends, I’ve hit on the reality that my overall life goal is to increase the empathy in the world. The best way I can do that with my small platform is through showing people to each other – what’s beautiful, what’s true in each of us – and helping us to understand where we’re all coming from, at least in some small way.
As a cis woman, I have a pretty good understanding of what it feels like to be emotionally vulnerable. Openness and emotional availability is encouraged in female-identified people from the time we are very young. It’s kind of one of the hallmarks of mainstream femininity, this idea of softness, of tenderness, of kindness and supportiveness. As the parent of a male-identifying child, I’m especially interested in cultivating these qualities in his life as well as in my female-identifying child’s. To do this, I have to better understand what it looks like for men to be emotionally vulnerable. To bring him up in a world where he and his peers feel comfortable showing and discussing their feelings, I have to help create that world.
So I wanted to photograph some men. I wanted to photograph some men and talk to them about all of those qualities inside of themselves and how they are expressed. I started explaining all of this to Sara and she immediately said “I KNOW THE PERFECT MEN.”
Telling their story
Sam and Karim have been together for years and recently moved out of town. I was so excited when they agreed to participate in my project and allow me to photograph them together, and even more wonderfully, Sara and the guys worked together to create scenes of magical plant-filled surrealism throughout their home. This idea that our very mundane daily realities can be filled with the spark of magic when we’re surrounded by love? It translated beautifully to these floral forms Sara made as sculptural greenery poured out of the laundry machine, spanish moss billowed from the shower head, and I love that I got to give Sam and Karim such a fun memory of the feeling of their former home to take with them to their new one.
Finding real connection
There were a couple of moments during their session that really stood out to me as beautiful and true: one was when Sam was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, lit by the setting sun from behind, and I said something about how that’s the kind of light you always envision your loved ones in when you think about them, and I looked over to see Karim looking at Sam like he hung the moon, his eyes glassy and wet. I love those moments when I feel so connected to the feelings between the people I’m photographing!
The other thing that really stood out to me, felt like such an intimate moment that I asked permission to post about it. I asked when they knew they wanted to spend their lives together, and Karim said he knew exactly the moment; it was when they went to Disneyland together for the first time. Karim mentioned how carefree and light and easy Sam was there, and how surprising it was to see him in such a whimsical spirit. Sam broke down a little and said it was the only place he really felt free to be that way in public.
I just want to let that hang there for a little while.
I hate that we ever feel we need to conceal who we are from the world, but I do feel we put tremendous pressure on men not to have feelings, not to be tender or giddy. One of the most beautiful experiences we can give to ourselves, and sometimes one of the most difficult gifts we can give ourselves, is the gift of laying down society’s rules for who we are supposed to be and just finding our own way. I feel so grateful for the refuge we create between us when we find a partner we love. I’m so thankful these two let me into their space and showed me a little of what their world looks like, and even more grateful they’re letting me share it with you.
If you’re feeling like the weight of the world’s expectations is heavy and you want to put that burden down for a little while, I’d love to help you celebrate.