Expressing Ourselves Through Photography – Episode 29

In this episode, Beth Cougler Blom talks with Michele Mateus about owning who we are, putting ourselves ‘out there’, and expressing ourselves fully through portrait photography – whether we’re facilitators of learning or anyone else who needs or wants to show up in photos.

Beth and Michele also talk about:

  • the vulnerability of having our photo taken
  • the importance of evoking emotions through photography
  • smashing beauty standards and saying no to creating ‘cookie cutter’ photos
  • shifting our relationship with ourselves and our bodies
  • the impact of great photography

Engage with Michele Mateus

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Connect with Beth Cougler Blom

Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth Cougler Blom
Hello, thank you so much for choosing to join me on this podcast today. This is Episode 29: Expressing Ourselves Through Photography.

Now, on first blush, you might have looked at the title of this episode and thought, what does that have to do with facilitation? [laughs] But actually those of us who facilitate, teach, instruct, we usually have to have some sort of photo to be able to send to people, to be able to put on our website, photos to send if we’re going to be facilitating a short session at a conference. Photography comes into our work as people who facilitate learning a fair bit because we’re trying to figure out how to share who we are with the world. But I have noticed in my work with other facilitators and other learning designers that not everybody likes to show up in photos [laughs]. And actually not everybody likes to show up on videos, which is something that a lot of us have to do in our work these days as well. When we’re teaching a course, maybe we need to share videos of us greeting the group or even being on Zoom is a way to show up on a camera and be ourselves. And so this is a skill that we often don’t talk about when we’re designers and facilitators of learning that photography and being on camera, whether it’s a still or video camera, this is something that we need to figure out how to be comfortable with and how to really do to be able to put ourselves out there in the world.

So as I was planning episodes for the podcast, I thought about my friend Michele Mateus. Michele is a photographer, an artist, a coach. She calls herself a bonafide cheerleader. We actually met years and years ago. Both Michele and I used to be in volunteer management and we used to sit on a board together. So this was going back many, many years and I’ve watched her career blossom since then. And so I just say that because I want you to know, we do know each other and we make a couple of comments around that history that we have together. So I just wanted to be clear about that as I introduce her to you.

In this episode, we have a lot of fun, but we also get into all the ins and outs of what it means to show up on camera, to put ourselves into that vulnerable and to put ourselves into that vulnerable position. I won’t go into too much because maybe the show notes have given you a little bit of a teaser as to what we’re going to be talking about. But generally to know that Michele is a person who has studied embodiment coaching, she also has a boudoir side of her business that she does. She really is focused on using the powerful work of embodiment to guide her clients to connecting with themselves. So while we might think, oh, we just need business photos to do this thing, she’s helping her clients and can be helping us to think more deeply that no, we’re actually using photos to connect with ourselves. And when we do that, maybe our clients will be able to connect with us a little bit more.

This is a great episode to listen to if you’ve ever worried about taking your business photos or ever thought anything about your self before during or after the process of taking business photos. I think actually this will help us feel so much better about working with a creative photographer to be able to show ourselves through the pictures that we take and use of ourselves. So buckle up and join Michele and I for this conversation. I hope you enjoy the show.

Beth Cougler Blom
Michele, it is so wonderful to see you. Thank you for being on the podcast today.

Michele Mateus
Thanks for having me, Beth. It’s so lovely to be here. And I’ve been listening to the episodes so I’m really excited to be a guest.

Beth
I’ve been looking forward to this for a while and I wanted to say that I’ve just really appreciated how I’ve watched your career evolve from when I knew you when we both used to work in volunteer management. Just to see how you’ve been able to take your career and do so many great things with it. I feel like you’ve become this force of nature in your work and via social media. You’re this truth teller that I’ve so appreciated watching. Can you share a little bit about what you do and how you got to doing what you do as well?

Michele
Oh, OK. Yes, absolutely. So I am a photographer and I specialize in intimate portraiture and brand photography. I’ve been doing that now for almost nine years, which just is wild [laughs]. I really feel so grateful that I get to make my living off making art. And I love that I have these two genres that I focus on because with brand photography it’s definitely – people have different intentions. It’s often for websites and – there’s that beauty school dropout song [laughs]. I always think of that song because I’m like a master’s school dropout. Because yeah, I was really interested in communications. I was doing my master’s, wanting to go that route. I apply a lot of that mindset to the brand photography that I do. And I went to Emily Carr for design as well. So I feel like the – even though my career has changed, it’s all so interconnected including with the volunteer management work. And then the intimate portrait work that I do is really about that storytelling. I’ve always been such a ‘Curious George’ kind of person. Both genres allow me to tap into what makes people tick and who are they, and really getting – like you said – trying to tell that truth and trying to help them tell their truth. Because so often we have so many masks on and so I love that.

How did I get into this? Well, to be honest, I lost my mom when she was very young. She was 49 and I bought my first DSLR camera, it was the Canon Rebel, it had just come out! Like, I still have it. I don’t know if my son will think it’s cool or just a paperweight, but I’ve been holding on to it [laughs]. And for me, photography was just therapeutic. I took a lot of courses in it. There used to be a photography school in Vancouver and I took courses there and it was just my thing. It allowed me to be alone. I have always been seen as such a social butterfly kind of person, and realizing as I age that I’m actually an introvert which would surprise a lot of people but I love being alone. So wandering around the streets with my camera just allowed me that time to grieve and express myself creatively. Then I went to Emily Carr and did design. It was funny, I was working in non-profits, took a break, went to art school, then went back and worked in non-profits [laughs] because really that was where my heart was and connecting to people and guiding people through that work, but using now those artistic elements.

So when I had my son, I decided I didn’t want to go back to work and I was already doing design on the side because I had learnt that at Emily Carr, and it just kind of segued into, ‘hey I actually might make my hobby into my business’. That’s how it all came to be. And here we are almost nine years later.

Beth
I’m so glad you did. And I think that actually you are in communications in what you do as a photographer. Someone might not think that that’s about communications but I think especially the way that you do it, it is about communications. You said you’re helping people tell their story. What is your approach to photography, particularly the brand photography? Because we’re going to think most of all about people who facilitate, people who train and get up in front of groups and we’re having to have photos to be able to do that work. How do you approach a brand session with someone and how do you begin to help them tell their story through photography?

Michele
Yeah, it’s funny. I’m thinking back to my Royal Roads days when I think I last saw you. That’s when I came to your house. One of the topics that I was really fascinated by was ethnography, where you go and – I mean obviously I’m not doing ethnography with the people I photograph, but going and being with the people and getting to know them and really understanding what makes them tick and their ins and outs and all of that kind of thing. When I was doing my masters, that’s where I was like – that’s how I wanted to do my end project was some sort of ethnographic study. So yeah I have like this hidden real dorky academic inside of me [laughs], which still lies there, which I think is what I bring to my work when I’m doing the brand photography. Because yeah, I don’t just show up with a camera. I really want to know people. I want to know what makes them tick. I want to know what makes them interesting. I want to know what their hobbies are. Quite frankly when I ask them a lot of these things – so I onboard them, I give them a questionnaire. It’s if it was paper, it’d probably be about – I don’t know– five pages. It’s long. And so I asked them a lot about themselves and their business and their hobbies and all kinds of questions – that I learned a little bit through my work at Emily Carr being a designer, because when you’re creating a logo or brand set or something like that for clients, you need to know more than just the fact that they make pens or fries or whatever, like what else – is it Grandma’s recipe? [laughs] You need to know these things as you’re crafting messaging. And also trying to do it visually, you know? So I like to know all of that. Then we jump on a Zoom call and we go through that together. And it’s really interesting because a lot of people tell me as they go through it, they’re like, ‘I didn’t realize how boring I am’. I’m like, ‘Oh you’re not boring’. Because I don’t think they’ve thought about themselves in that way for a long time. They’re like, ‘I make this thing. I do it really well…’ or ‘I’m an academic. I’m known for this and I’m known really – I’m really respected in the industry for that. But me as a person as an individual with my own interests and dreams and thoughts outside of being the thing? The academic, or the person that makes the pens or whatever… They haven’t thought about that in a long time.

It sometimes really brings up anxiety for people, because they’re like, ‘I just thought you’re going to take some headshots and call it a day’ [laughter]. And I’m like, ‘OK well, you know, yeah I can just take headshots. You don’t need to be doing anything overly fancy or headstands or anything like that. But, like, where do we want to be? What is the sense of place that we want to be in? How are we going to bring out your personality?’ Especially when you are doing something more esoteric, right? I photograph a lot of counsellors, a lot of coaches. They don’t really have a thing to show. What they’re showing is their personality. And why should I – and we all know there’s like a bazillion-gazillion coaches nowadays. It’s like, ‘well why would I pick you? What about you makes you interesting?’ So I need to know that so that I can try and bring that out of them. Sometimes they go along with my quirky ideas.

Beth
I love the creativity that I see in the photos that you do. I assume some clients are allowing you to share on social media what you’re taking of them. And I think sometimes it’s just in a facial expression or if it’s a way they’re sitting that it kind of surprises you, because you think, ‘Oh that’s not a traditional business look!’ [laughs a bit]. (Yeah.) You know, you don’t want to do traditional, like you’re trying to break people out of that for their own benefit, right? And I think their businesses benefit, probably, as well.

Michele
Oh, yeah. When it comes to communications – and I always tell my clients that too like, ‘Hey, I’m coming at this with a communications – like marketing as well as storytelling…’ because communications isn’t just marketing there’s like, um, talking to the human heart. There’s so much around – like people don’t buy things. They buy connection and experiences, and they buy values, right? So when I was doing my masters, a big – we were talking about Aveda, you know, the hair company. I think they started with shampoo. So when they first started, they’re one of the first green shampoo companies, and they’re also higher end. They weren’t selling shampoo. They were selling having a green lifestyle. They were having people connect to their business and their brand through how it would make you feel.

Beth
And we’re not used to thinking about that as entrepreneurs, are we? (No.) I don’t think that crosses our minds, in some respects, as we’re putting our materials together whether it’s our websites or whatever it is – the photo itself.

Michele
Yeah. So I always say like, I want my work to be evocative and I don’t mean provocative. You know, it’s like – maybe. Sometimes. (Yeah!) But I do want it to be evocative, which means to generate emotion, create emotion, get the stories, get people curious. And emotions can be joy. They can be mystery even, right? Like, ‘Ooh what’s that person all about?’ So yeah. I think a lot of people are like, ‘how do I stand out on social media? How do I stand out here …’ [and the answer is] by trying to tap into what makes you, you. I don’t know. Do you collect frogs or something? I don’t know [laughs]. Do you have some sort of weird, different hobby that nobody would know about? Because you know what? Somebody else does know about it. And that might make you more interesting than – I don’t know – the next person. I always love to encourage people to bring their pets, if they have pets, because people connect to pets. When you’re trying to tell a story, especially when you have like – I don’t even know how many seconds it is nowadays – like five seconds on a website and people jump off – you want to capture their attention and just sitting there with your laptop, I don’t know, it’s just not going to do it anymore. It doesn’t really say much about you.

Beth
No and it doesn’t open up that kind of ‘who is this person?’ – how am I saying this? – it’s like you want to try to tap into the real person, and just sitting in front of a laptop with your hands on the keyboard – and don’t get me wrong. If you look at my website I literally have that photo! [laughs].

Michele
Well and everybody does, Beth. That’s so many. I have taken that photo.

Beth
I wasn’t creative enough, you know, with the photographer. Yeah. And so how do we do better than that? How do we take photos of ourselves where you see this, even a little glimmer of something more something – personality. So does allowing people to bring their pets and items that they like, and does that help open a person up so that you can take those kinds of more evocative photos?

Michele
I think so. Yeah, because it takes a little bit of the pressure off of them being – it just being them. And now they can interact with something or be in the energy of something. I’m a bit woo woo as well, but being in the energy of something that they really love. Now, I don’t want to use that thing or the pet or whatever it is to be the focus, of course, and know I’ll remove it strategically once we have a few shots, but I think that it’s really hard for people to tap into – and this isn’t anyone’s fault other than the patriarchy’s – to tap into like what makes them unique, and why should they be celebrated for who they are? Because we don’t celebrate ourselves. We haven’t been taught to celebrate – we celebrate our grades or our accolades or whatever, but like we got them. We don’t celebrate owning that. I said to you before, it’s like that whole ‘modesty is the best policy’ – it’s like, well, why? Why is that the best policy? But we’ll go to an art gallery and we’ll look at art and we’ll admire that or we’ll admire our friends and we’ll cheer other people on. But when it comes to putting ourselves on that centre stage, it can be really intimidating. And then all of a sudden, it’s like that stage fright, you know, it’s like, ‘OK just take my picture. Get it over and done with’.

Beth
Yeah and that’s the look of fear [laughs] that you’re capturing or something, isn’t it? That’s not the essence of who they are and what they’re hoping to put out to their client relationships or their personal relationships or whatever. (Um-hmm). Is it hard for people to go through sessions with you? I mean, it’s not easy for everyone to do this. I have felt the nerves as well. I got my business photos taken just recently and I was waiting for it to – not – I actually enjoyed the experience of it – but I was nervous to go into it and you just kind of want it to be over because it’s hard being the centre of attention. Like, what comes up for people? Do you sometimes feel a little bit of a therapist (Oh yeah) as well as a coach?

Michele
Totally. Totally. Body image for everybody, and even regardless of where you are on the gender spectrum. Body image comes up. The story we have often told ourselves is ‘I don’t feel comfortable on camera’. There are walls, you know. I definitely have had people break down emotionally crying during their brand photo shoot. Now, you would think, ‘What? These are business photos. Like, why are they crying?’ Because it’s so emotional. It’s so much to put yourself out there. And it’s so vulnerable. I think we forget to honour how vulnerable it is. Yes, it’s celebration. Yes, you’re going to use these for marketing and there’s all these intentions about the ‘why’, but it can be so vulnerable to do that. I always say: We create things, we have a service, but we are often kind of standing just behind that. We’re not always standing like side by side with it. Like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me. I make that!’

Beth
Yeah, I look at people’s websites and I go, ‘where is the photo of them? Like, who is the person behind the business?’ And sometimes I can’t find it. And you wonder – I wonder why am I not seeing that? Because we do do business with people we like. Especially if they’re a small entrepreneur, I’m like ‘where is the photo? Show me who you are’. And that might be a person I want to do business with.

Michele
Totally. I will tell you a story about my son. Uh he has a lot of support needs. And about four years ago I needed some help. So I went shopping for a counsellor for him that specialized in working with children. I will tell you – and I have told so many people this story – the amount of websites I went to where counsellors working with children did not have photos on their websites [laughs]. As a mom, so my child’s 9 now, so he would have been 5 at that time, he was small, right? As a mom, I was like, “uh-huh, how can I trust you? Where are you – how are you building that relationship with me the minute I get to your website? I want to know are you friendly? Do you look fun? Are you doing play therapy? Can I see you doing …’ Now, I have photographed a lot of counsellors so maybe I will be biased because that’s where I will encourage them to go. But I was really shocked at the lack of connection they were creating from the moment I walked into their storefront. There was no welcome. And then I go to the About page and it’s a selfie on a phone. Now I am the first to say that organic content is important. If you go to my social media, you’ll see I have a lot of organic content of myself just taken with my phone mixed in with professional photos as well. And so in that space, yes, I think that’s important actually because it doesn’t just become like a perfect curated grid, which starts to feel really fake. But on your website? [laughs] Plus, you can have really authentic photos that really show how you work with people, or your energy and your vibe. So yeah I was really like, ‘wow, you work with kids, and I want to know if I’m going to feel OK with my kid going …’ And so I’m sorry, like we are humans. We do judge. We judge. Clearly I was judging, because I was judging them for not having photos. And clearly I was looking for something (yeah). You know I was looking for that sense of safety. I was looking for that sense of comfort. I eventually found it. But it was a really interesting process. My husband was like, ‘you should write these people’.

Beth
Slip them your business card [laughter]. Yeah, exactly. It makes me think about how we – like, what are we looking for? We’re not actually looking for what the person looks like, are we? (No.) We’re not judging a book by its cover that way. (No.) You’re saying we’re – I think this is really true – we’re looking for the emotion that that picture is going to evoke in us – like trust (yeah). Do we feel like our family will belong with this person and get support? Like, there’s all sorts of emotions that we’re looking for there. And we’re just trying to tease it out from a photo. (Totally.) And your photos could get a person there, I think, right? (Aw, thanks.) But not everybody’s photos can. And they maybe even would do a disservice to the person to create a different kind of feeling therefore.

Michele
Yeah, I think a lot of the times in my industry, too, and the way a lot of us are taught – and I do again really thank the foundational elements I have from working in non-profits for so long, especially in volunteer management. I mean, you’re trying to get people to come along connected to the values and the mission of an organization and work for free. It’s hard work! [animated]

Beth
It’s good training!

Michele
Yeah, it is, right? It’s created such a great foundation. And I think as a photographer, I use that a lot because I’m like ‘Hey come along with me. I have something else I want to show you’. Because I think so often they do – or they’re like, ‘I need new photos for my website’ – and I do have a lot of people that have worked with other photographers who they’ve loved, and maybe they just want to try something different. I always compare it to going to restaurants. You might go to Italian one night, you might go to sushi another night. So I’m never offended if someone tries another photographer and nor should anyone ever be. And I think it’s just getting that different flavour. But for me, I really want to capture something – that sparkle, that essence – and even if it’s moody – it doesn’t we don’t always have to be like ‘smile at the camera!’ [laughs]. Depending on the business, I think there are so many ways to show that we are approachable and that we’ll understand what someone is going through. I’m thinking of a counsellor I just photographed. She does nature therapy. She’s amazing. And yes, there was some smiling at the camera, but she brought all the things that she does the therapy with. And she’s like ‘I brought this basket because you told me to bring it. What do you want?’ I’m like, ‘I just want you to show me what you would do in session’. And my assistant was here and she was basically walking us through what a session would look like. I photographed her as she was explaining what she does. Those photos were amazing because she was in the zone. She wasn’t posing at all, because we were just asking her questions and I was taking photos. And then we went to the beach and I had her being introspective, being in her emotions, because she is a counsellor.

Beth
Mm-hmm. Facilitation is the same. I mean, I’m sitting here thinking, ‘well, facilitator, we’re not always have the life of the party, right?’ [laughs a bit]. Like in facilitation, you can be in some really tough situations, even learning or meetings situations. So how do we show that we’re a good listener, that we’re empathetic, that we can hold the space for people. There’s so much there that wouldn’t cause a smile to be on our face, but it’s that trust piece, ‘hey, we’ve got you, group!’ How do we show that? Yeah.

Michele
Yeah. And I think sometimes like with certain industries, it can be a little bit easier to show and the other industries are a bit more esoteric. So that’s just becomes – the connection between myself and my client is what allows them to open up. It doesn’t mean that they have to be doing cartwheels, although she did cartwheels across the beach. It was really fun. I was like, ‘wow, those are really good cartwheels. I could never do them even when I was young’, But you don’t have to be doing anything monumental. You can just be yourself, but in order to relax your shoulders, ease into who you are, maybe let out that laugh or a big snort happens and your face is all crunched up – I have to be able to create that comfort that people can be that person, or at least that’s the way I see it, so that I’m not creating those cookie cutter images over and over and over again. Maybe it is different people on the same set of stairs. I could photograph like 50 people on that same set of stairs and every single person will look different. But I need to know them to do that.

Beth
I love the photos where you’ve caught someone in a big laugh or, yeah, the snort or that there’s just something, a personality coming through that you can see that. They’re captivating. Absolutely.

Michele
Well, you know what, Beth too, what about play? We don’t play enough as adults, right? And so I think we talk a lot about play and I suspect you do in facilitation. There’s this element of fun and play that we don’t have enough and how do we work that in. So when I’m photographing mostly adults, I work with adults – adults have lost that feeling of play when there’s no children around or just for themselves. It can be hard when you’re like, ‘hey why don’t we try and do this?’ And they’re like – you feel stupid. (Yes.) There’s this like – because we are always worried about being judged or what are people going to perceive to be professional, and I don’t know what does professional even mean?

Beth
I’ve talked before that – I’ve probably said it a couple times on this podcast before – that we need to redefine what professional is.

Michele
Yeah I’ve heard you say that. I think that when we step in front of the camera and we want to tell our story, especially I think as facilitators, you’re now helping people – bringing people together, organizing conversation, all of that. What makes you good at that? What makes you – other than your credentials and that you know how to use these tools – but how am I going to feel like I’m actually going to pick up what you’re putting down.

Beth
It’s something about what we’re like to work with as well (Yeah). Like the photos I like of myself are the ones where I’ve got like a big laugh. Because I think, well, it is fun to work with me. To plan a session. To be in a session too. I’m a smiley person. The things where I can see that it looks like my personality are my favourites.

Michele
Yeah, I think we’re so indoctrined too of what we see out there. I love when people know what they don’t like. I’m like, ‘perfect’. I love knowing that, you know, because it’s like, now I have a better starting point, because a lot of people don’t know what they’re going to like. And often what people like is just what they’re seeing. It’s back to that laptop photo. Again, I’ve taken those photos, but what does that really say about you? That you’re on a laptop? I don’t know. To me – that’s – we know, we’re all on computers all the time. It’s not that interesting. But I do think there’s a lot of fear around sharing who we truly are. We’ve grown up with judgment. I’ve seen it even with my child being so young and his friends and already the judgment that starts happening at a young age. You’re like, ‘I don’t remember this all starting this young’, but it does. And so we – it’s compounded over time and I think we just focus on what we’re good at, or what we create, and we don’t want that attention on ourselves because we’ve never been socialized to welcome attention on ourselves. I used to shoot weddings and I will tell you a lot of wedding couples, they don’t even want to sit at a head table because they don’t like the attention being on themselves. So they’ll do round tables and that they’re just kind of sitting wherever. Yeah, it’s a big thing. Even when I shot weddings, it’s like, OK people don’t want attention on themselves. So why is that? And I think there’s so much wrapped up in that whole body image, limiting beliefs, about: ‘well, no one really wants to know me. I’m not that important, but my thing I make is really doing well’. And why do we have those limiting beliefs? So I think as a photographer I try and get curious and listen, and sometimes challenge people to try something new.

Beth
Yeah. And you’re not saying either that the way this other person is in photos is the way that you have to be in photos. You know, you’re trying to uncover this person that’s in front of you and what’s unique to them and what feels comfortable to them. Maybe you’re pushing them a little bit, but you’re not saying ‘everyone has to do cartwheels because that’s going to make a great photo’ [laughs a bit] because that can be a stress in itself. I assume that someone’s like, ‘oh I don’t want to do a cartwheel’ and you’re not going to make them do a cartwheel. (Totally). Yeah. So what does it do for the person – and I know you work a lot with women – you probably work with men too – so I’m just going to say that people who identify as women is a lot of your client group. What does it do for the person when she looks at the photo and you’ve been able to capture this thing? Is there something it does for her, for her business? Like what’s the impact of the way you work?

Michele
Sometimes people cry when they see their photos because they can’t believe that’s them, and they put it off for so long and they are so grateful to see something I think that they were scared to see. They weren’t sure what they would see and so they were nervous. They did it because their web designer told them they needed new photos or somebody told them [laughs] – quite frankly I often compare myself to being like a dentist where I – because I hate dentists – I don’t like going to the dentist – but I was still so good after, you know, my teeth feel so clean. But it’s like ‘eeugh’. Sometimes it’s the same thing. It’s like, OK someone has told them that they have to go and do this, and there can be a big release.

I just got an email this week in fact from a realtor I just worked with who was like, ‘that was way easier and I’m so impressed and I never have liked photos of myself like I have of those ones’. Because we’ve built up so much worry and dislike for ourselves and we focus it – as we’re aging our bodies are changing shapes and all of these kinds of things, but our hair colours are changing, our wrinkles are showing up, all of that – and we’re fighting aging and we’re fighting our bodies just growing with us as we age – there’s a lot of fear wrapped up in that. There’s a lot of body image stuff. So when they see something, often they’re relieved. I always think like, ‘well what did you think you were going to see?’ I often joke with people, ‘I was planning on taking some really crappy photos of you but actually this is what happened’ [laughs]. I like to make people laugh. I like to use humour a lot because, yeah, I get it. I get that we are so hard on ourselves and we move through the world very worried about our bodies and our image. The reality is we’re not for everybody. We don’t need to be for everybody. That can be a hard place when you’re a business owner too, right? You’re like, ‘OK I’ve got to make this website. I’ve got to do this thing. I’ve got to have clients. I’ve got to whatever – whatever – all the things. I gotta …’ And I’m like ‘OK but who do you want to work with?’ Like, I’m super OK to repel people. I’m not for everybody. That’s the hard thing. It’s hard to own that. It’s hard to be in that energy. But once you are and you see that reflected back at you, you’re like, ‘yes, that is who I am’. And you know what? Actually, a sentence I’ve heard a lot from a lot of my clients has been like, ‘I’m still in there’. Like, they’re surprised.

Beth
Mmmm. Oh there are so many thoughts going through my head right now. One is that I think you have a really excellent example of a website that – because I just looked at it again before we met and – just to see that I think that you as a person are coming across in that website, and maybe more of us need to have that, right? Putting up barriers with the text and the photos in many ways. I’m sure. But I think if people went to look at your website they’d see a really good example of who you are as a person. (Oh yeah. Thank you.) The other thing I’m thinking about is I guess that’s why a lot of people don’t like to see themselves in photos is because what they think a good photo is doesn’t feel right, or they’ve been told that a photo should look a certain way and that doesn’t work for them. Or they’ve been told their body needs to look a certain way and then they don’t feel like they match up to that. Or there’s a lot of ‘shoulds’ in … (Oh yeah, all the shoulds.) Is that why people don’t like their photos?

Michele
Yeah. I’m like ‘no shouding all over yourself’ [laughter]. I recently did a little white lie with a client. Often what happens with a lot of people is like [they say] ‘you can Photoshop that, right?’ And I always say yeah sure. I’m very, very, very transparent right from the beginning that my Photoshop policy is really rooted in my values. I don’t believe it is my job to change your body. I am doing you such a disservice if for in order for you to like your photo I have had to alter you. Now I would consider myself as being a body image activist. I am all about body neutrality. Body Positivity, which came out, um, I believe in the late 1960s, like – over time – it’s not a good term. I don’t recommend it because we’re not always all positive, but being just more neutral, like, ‘hey we are more accepting’ or ‘hey we are what we are’. But people ask me all the time to Photoshop things. All. The. Time. I recently had a client who asked me throughout the photo shoot to – ‘you’re going to Photoshop that, right?’ I was like, ‘yeah’ even though I’ve said what I do not do and I do not change people’s bodies. After [they said] ‘thank you so much for Photoshopping…’ I did not touch those images in Photoshop. (Wow!) Not once. And I told her ‘you know what? I didn’t Photoshop any of those images’. So I do Photoshop things like removing dust or sometimes an eyelash drops, but no I’m not altering anybody’s body. During the time, I was answering her how she needed to hear it so she felt a bit more relaxed, and I was like ‘oh yeah’ and I even showed them ‘you know my policy, you don’t even need – OK, we’ll talk about it. It’s no problem’. I just was like let’s just keep going. Yeah, she said that when she saw her photos, like ‘wow you did such a good job with…’ ‘I didn’t actually even touch Photoshop’. It’s really sad to me also that people think that that’s what they need. It’s kind of like we need – and this is not a diss on anyone who gets Botox or whatever, but it’s almost like we need these things so that we can remain beautiful, relevant, intelligent looking, whatever it is. That’s really not my jam. I’m really like, ‘hey why don’t we embrace who you are right now? And I know that can be hard to do, but hopefully I can show you something that you haven’t seen in a while’.

Beth
Oh that’s not my jam either. I’m sort of aging, hopefully gracefully, in terms of my mentality maybe most of all and just embracing the greys that come along. I don’t buy into all the things that we think we have to do to get older.

Michele
I think that’s why people don’t want to get in front of a camera. (Um-hmm.) Because there’s even that notion of like, ‘oh I’ve let myself go. I’ve been so busy. I’ve had kids. I’ve done this. I’ve done that. I’ve been so focussed on my business. I dress like a slob’. Whatever it is. And it’s like, ‘OK well if you dress like a slob that’s cool. Why don’t you just dress like a slob during the photos? I don’t know. Maybe someone’s going to connect to that. Maybe that’s more real. Maybe that’s what your audience needs to see because they’re in that same space too’. It’s back to like what is professional?

Beth
Yeah actually clothes can put people off. Like if you wear a suit for a photo and you don’t wear a suit to work, you’re going to absolutely get people that want you to wear a suit at work. Maybe those aren’t the people that you actually want to work with. Like why would we put that on ourselves and not get the right people in the door for our businesses?

Michele
Yeah, I think it’s because we have been, again, socialized to always dress to impress. What does that even mean? Impress who? I photographed this realtor a couple of years ago. She was awesome. And we did do some really fun – now she was – I think she was 63 and she’d been out of the market for a while. So now there’s an ageist thing happening, right? She’s really worried about her age. And she was like a really fun, quirky, high energy, totally high vibe. Her outfits were so fun and it’s all stuff she owned. This is just who she is. So we tapped into that. She’s like, ‘I’m really not a suit kind of person, but I also don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard’. I’m like, ’well, is this what you normally wear?’ She’s like, ‘yeah’. I’m like, ‘well then you’re not trying too hard. That’s who you are’.

Beth
Yeah. Just wear what you normally wear.

Michele
Yeah. But there’s a lot of judgment around, ‘oh well people are going to think I am trying to be young’. I’m like, ‘let them think that. That is what you wear. This is what you had. You didn’t go shopping for this photo shoot. And even if you did, let them think that’. Like I think again, it’s this real – we have such a fear of how are we going be perceived versus just owning who we are.

Beth
There’s an abundance mindset there too. I just talked about some of the mindsets I hold as a business person. And one of them is that there’s enough work for all of us and people will choose to work with us, or we would refer them to a colleague because they’re better off with someone else. It’s all kind of wrapped up in that. Isn’t it? It’s like we don’t have to appeal to every single person that comes our way. And we won’t, and we shouldn’t. Because there are a lot of us doing this work. So yeah, wear what would you normally – I always wear jeans in my photos because I’m sitting here right now in jeans and a blouse, right? [laughs] It’s like pretty much my uniform at work. And I’m not going to put on dress pants in my photos when I normally show up in jeans.

Michele
It’s interesting too, because I think photos are about energy and creating that story. And for me, I’ve always been seen as like that social butterfly, bubbly kind of person. But I do a lot of self portrait work and when I do self portraits, I do it for two reasons: to get in front of the camera and practice what I preach, and also to show another side of me that a lot of people don’t really get the opportunity to see or connect with. I am a really deep thinker. I am like this silent academic, you know. I am a total badass. Like I say what I think and I do not hold back even if it’s with a smile on my face. So when I step in front of the camera I actually like to show that side because it’s not usually what people see either. There are so many different ways you can approach it. I think that we are multifaceted, we’re like gems. We’re rough around the edges sometimes and people don’t always see that. And this might make people think, ‘well I don’t want people to see that side of me’. I would question why [not]? Because if you ever read Brené Brown, you know, it’s like talking about: What is this authentic self? How are we connecting to people? That’s what I always bring up with my clients. It’s like how are we connecting to people? When I actually show my self-portraits, especially on my intimate portrait Instagram over there – people – I get the most connection out of any of that versus my client images. I think because I am being really raw and vulnerable. One of the things I’m trying to also do with my photos is create an invitation that you can do that too. So in your work or thinking about how am I creating that invitation, how am I showing people what it would be like to be in my energy – and that they can also then take the baton and do the same for themselves.

Beth
Well I’m thinking about how I can draw a parallel to our work with groups. I think there’s a real evolution now of our work as facilitators and designers of learning that we’re trying to design and facilitate so that all people are welcome in the room. And what does that mean for our work? And we accept you – all of you – to come into the room and be yourselves and learn in the way you need to learn and want to learn, and there’s this expansion of inclusivity there. Then we have to turn that onto ourselves as well, don’t we? And who are we as the facilitator coming in? We’re not just that person that knows about X topic. We’re this whole human being coming into the room and how can we keep showing that – like we allow ourselves in all of our intricacies and wonderfulness to come in. If we’re going to do it for our participants, actually in the Art of Hosting, they call it ‘hosting self’. And some of it is self-care, but it’s like this is a way to self-care, isn’t it, to just allow ourselves to be ourselves?

Michele
Yeah. And that’s so hard to do because a lot of people haven’t been given that opportunity. I think that’s the thing is like going for a photo shoot can be so performative. I do think it’s always a performance in the sense of this isn’t natural, you don’t always have a camera in front of you. But it can be a performance where it’s a collaboration, and you’re working together, and we’ll see it like a dance. We’re just we’re in this dance together. Or it can be like you’re putting on your mask. I’m being this persona. You’re over there. I’m over here. Take my picture. Thank you very much. And there are walls that go up. So for me, part of my job is to [think of] how to bring those walls down. And I would assume the same with [being a] facilitator. Like I can’t imagine that it would be very effective to have walls up and be seen and have this – I don’t know – I’m really not into the whole hierarchical kind of – and I don’t think you are either…

Beth
No I always call it dropping the curtain. It’s like I’ll drop the curtain and tell you why I failed and made a mistake just then and talk about it. And yeah absolutely, I like to break down walls for sure.

Michele
So I think that that’s what your photos should be doing. I think they should be breaking down those walls, creating that invitation. It was on Instagram last week and I can’t remember who said this but they were talking about how – a lot of people talk about creating safe spaces. And even I have but actually after I listened to this I went on my website and got rid of the word ‘safe’ everywhere because we don’t know what’s safe for people. We never know what’s safe for them. And so while you want – I’m changing that myself to be like ‘comfortable, ‘more inviting, fun’, because even though a lot of my photos do have a moodiness or seriousness about them, we’re usually dying of laughter in the background between the shot and having so much fun. But I think it’s the same thing for facilitators. Like, yes, you want to create this comfortable environment, right, where people can be feel welcome. And the rest is up to them on how to define their experience. You can’t really clearly say what the experience will be like, they get to share that impact that you have. And I would say most of my clients are like ‘it felt really good to be seen’, even though they were like ‘I’m terrified’ [laughter] – ‘I’m terrified of this experience’. But when they see the photos they’re like, ‘oh wow this feels really good’.

Beth
Yeah and as they come back to you again and the next time and the next time then it probably gets easier. Like you’re changing the culture of this, being seen, the difficulty of being seen. I’ve talked about this as well. I talked about it in my book actually: being seen. It’s something that I’ve always wrestled with as well in facilitation. It’s probably why I like to be a facilitator and not a trainer, because I like to turn things back to the group and have the group look at each other and so on. Because maybe there’s – maybe it’s a skill, in a way – but it’s probably also like a shyness or something. So this facilitation thing about being seen is very relatable to – we’re in the same business in some ways.

Michele
Yeah we were talking about that. I think too knowing how to be a real curious human, I think, is so important in both of our roles. I always lead with curiosity. And again, because I allow myself to be seen a lot, it does open up that invitation and build that little bit of trust. But yeah I think that whole idea of being seen and what do we want to show – and I get it, like a lot of people are like, ‘you have to gain my trust to know me deeply’. I’m not saying you have to put it all out there, but I do think that we have to go beyond sitting at a computer to help people see a little bit more about ‘hmm, is this somebody I want to interact with, be around? Do I feel like I might feel comfortable in their space and their energy?’ Otherwise, I don’t know people bounce off. Sometimes you want that but it is really, really hard to open up ourselves. Again because I think a lot of us lose touch – again if you are someone who – let’s say as a mother and you’ve got your children and you’re running your business and you’re doing all the things, sometimes you lose touch of who you are, what makes you tick. I don’t think this is just something that mothers experience, but it gets talked a lot about in those types of circles. They’re so focussed on everyone else and all the things that they do that when you’re like, ‘OK, so what about you?’ I have actually had people cry when I’ve asked them ‘so what about you? Like what do you love to do?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know’.

Beth
Yeah, I can see that. Yeah. (Um-hmm.) I’m thinking about the modelling that you do as a photographer, a coach, you know, the modelling that I hope I do as a facilitator. Like it’s not – we’re not just talking about taking business photos here [laughs] are we? It’s so much deeper than that. I hope people are realizing that through this conversation. We’re showing up for our colleagues in fields. We’re showing up for participants in our sessions. I know you teach workshops too. It’s like being seen ourselves – I don’t know, how do I say that? It’s like, we’re modelling the way we want others to be in the world too, right? It sort of starts with us sometimes.

Michele
I always think of myself as a catalyst – a catalyst that will – a bit of that domino effect – and hopefully shift someone’s relationship to themselves. Shift their relationship to their body. Shift their confidence. I one time had a client call me after a photo shoot who said she got this promotion she was going after or had been wanting to go after for a very long time and never went and was just filled with confidence. So there are these other little impact things that happen and they’re really not little. But they’re not something that I say, ‘hey you’re going to get this’ – because I can’t measure that. But there’s this thing that happens internally when we allow ourselves to be seen that boosts our confidence, that makes us feel like we can just take on the world, because we have – maybe we’ve been playing small, or maybe we’ve been hiding, or maybe we just haven’t tapped into that energy in a long time. And yeah, she wrote me to say, ‘you know, I just – I got the promotion and it’s all because of the photos!’ [animated]. I was like, ‘No. Thank you. I appreciate that. But it’s because of you. It’s because you allowed yourself to believe that you could go for that’. Because she saw something in herself through those photos that reminded her that she’s a total badass. And then, you know, I sometimes I think people can be like, ‘oh why was I playing small?’ It’s like ‘no, no, no, let’s not sit in that energy for very long. Let’s just move forward with this new found self respect, self discovery even’. And I think that’s really – as a photographer – I don’t know – taking photos for someone’s website, that’s fine, I can do that all day, every day. But it doesn’t excite me. Helping someone build that connection with themselves or discover something new within them? And it’s possible through having your photos taken. I see it all the time.

Beth
Yeah it’s no small thing. It’s actually so transformational to – not just their work – but their whole being in the world basically. Yeah. (Totally.) Oh, so wonderful. We should close [laughs], but I want to keep talking to you about this, but oh man we’ve covered so many wonderful pieces around – these deep pieces underneath the name of photographer that you have. It doesn’t really tell anywhere near the full story of how you work. It’s been so fascinating to dive in there and think about how meaningful it is. So thank you for sharing.

Michele
Oh yeah, you’re welcome. I think when photography first came on the scene, photographers wanted it to be called an art, right? And artists at the time were like ‘no’ because it was the first – it was mechanical, it wasn’t painting and drawing. And so there’s always been this tension in photography with the arts. And then you fast forward to digital. And I always say, it’s like video killed the radio star. It’s like digital killed the photographer because now it became even more mechanical and even more accessible. The art sometimes of photography and that storytelling and getting to know people can get lost in because it is so accessible. This is something that I tell everybody that is curious about working with me. Like I’m not just going to show up and take your photo. I want to know you. And that might not be for everybody because I really do approach it with that artist’s mindset versus I’m doing a service, I’m taking your picture. I might as well be taking passport photos. I don’t want to do that. I think for me, there’s that insatiable curiosity about humanity and that’s what I love to use my camera for is to help tell those stories and create that depth for people. And, you know there is no right or wrong way. There are a lot of photographers who – they have their systems and they take their photos and they don’t do all of that in-depth stuff on the front and that’s OK too. There’s something for everybody. But I think for myself, just really connecting to the art form of it and that storytelling piece is really, really important. And from the impact and the transformations I’ve seen, I think something’s working [laughs a bit].

Beth
It is. Absolutely. Oh thank you so much for being here. It’s been a pleasure.

Michele
Yay! Thanks for having me. It’s been so nice and yeah – I’ve been listening to your podcast, Beth, and I think the topics that you’re bringing up are so important for other people to hear in business. Things that people aren’t always thinking about so I’m really grateful to have been given a space to share my thoughts on that too.

Beth
Thank you. I’m going to keep watching and everyone else, you’ve got to go watch Michele on social media because she will make you think differently. Absolutely. Because you do all the time for me as I sit back and watch you from afar. So glad to see you close up this time and have this conversation. Thank you.

Michele
Ah you’re welcome. Thank you so much.

[Episode outro]
Beth
I really enjoyed catching up with Michele. So many things that we talked about are still resonating with me. Michele really helped me realize that so many of us are falling into the trap of taking these business photos that just look like something that we think we need to have. A really cookie cutter approach where we don’t even know where it’s coming from, something with a suit, for example, that we don’t even wear when we go to do our work or you know, insert other things here that might be happening for you. So question yourself and what it is that you think you want and why you think you want it. And is it really the thing that you want to show to your clients, to the world, about who you are in your work or in your business?

So question everything is what Michele has helped me think about and to kind of think about my relationship to myself through my photos as well. And how am I using my photos to both get to know myself better but also to be able to really be more transparent with the world about who I am? I think I actually do a fairly good job of this on social media, occasionally posting photos of me behind the mic or, you know, just doing something around my home office, which is where I spend a lot of my time. But the business photos are a different thing, aren’t they? And sometimes we really think we need to be adhering to some standard and where is that standard coming from? So Michele has really helped me and maybe you think more critically about that kind of decision. Just like in facilitation, we might say intention is so important when we’re designing and facilitating learning. And so it is for our business photos or our website photos as well. So keep coming back to intention and I give myself that advice as well as you.

On the next episode of the podcast I talk with Alexandra Suchman. Alex and I met when we both were thrown together happily on an episode of the Women Talking About Learning podcast. Alex and I had a great conversation there on that podcast so I asked her to be on mine. Alex is the co founder and CEO of Barometer XP. This is a company that drives behaviour and culture change through games and play. Alex and I are going to be talking about their work in game based experiential learning for teams as an effective tool. I’m really looking forward to sharing this conversation with you. We’ll see you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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