Vanity: Guest Post from Rachel Bellinsky

In Guest, Inspiration, Portraiture

Today we Welcome Rachel Belinsky, a fellow Stocksy United photographer and graphic designer from Las Vegas, whose evocative work dances between deep fantasy and the dreamiest state of truthfulness. I’ve been drawn to Rachel’s thought-provoking work for years, each image begging me to uncover it’s captivating story…and I must confess, that I can’t help but feel a personal sense of kinship with the images featuring her beloved terrier, Cooper. I have a hunch, that you’ll be as intrigued with her photography as I am.

Not to state the obvious, but we live in a world that makes it hard to accept the reality of our bodies.

You know the drill. You’ve been asked to take somebody’s portrait, so you do. You do your best to shoot in flattering light, from flattering angles. You carefully select the best of the bunch, and then take the time to make sure each image is tastefully edited. When the work is complete, you pick your favorite and prepare to text it to your portrait subject, confident that this is the best possible representation of that person. You hit send, and wait breathlessly for their delighted reply.

And it doesn’t come, because they hate it.

The image that you’ve so thoughtfully created has unintentionally confirmed their worst fears about themselves: their thighs are too round, their foreheads too large, their complexions too splotchy, etc.

And as a person who hates photos of myself, I totally get it. There isn’t a photographer on earth who could present me with a photo of myself that I would feel good about.

As a result of this, I am wary of accepting people’s request for portraits. I don’t feel up for the task. I accept these jobs/favors with the uncomfortable sense that their self-esteem, however temporarily, is in my hands. And I don’t like it. Even worse, what if they are offended by my edits, after noticing that I’ve removed a mole, or shrunk a bit of underarm flesh? Things I wouldn’t have done in the first place had I not been worried they’d hate it.

After every portrait shoot, I decide to forever stick to flowers and animals. And I do, for a while. The flowers don’t care if they’re wilting. My dog doesn’t complain that her hair is out of place.

As an aside, I am sick to death of images of pretty people. I’m as drawn to physical beauty as anyone, but as a photographer, the young and the good-gened are low hanging fruit. Furthermore, in no small way do I want to play a role in contributing to the very narrow parameters of what we consider physical beauty in our culture.

There is an absurd variety of ‘beauty’ all around us, and it’s so much more far-reaching than what the current content-generating machine is producing. Wouldn’t it be lovely if the images we consume by the hundreds every day actually lead us to feel at ease about our physical realities?

I have hundreds of photos of people I’ve photographed who hate their necks, bellies and jowls. Not surprisingly, it’s the women who would most not appreciate the photos being shared. Here are the ones I thought I could get away with.

This is Paul, who I invited to goof off and test some lights out with me. He thought having professional photos of himself was audacious and felt these didn’t represent him. (Yes, his eyes are really that blue.)

This is Bryan, who thinks he looks old and keeps stealing my under eye cream.

This is my sister, Justine, who hated this photo even after an extensive “vanity edit.”

This is my dad, Sam, who hates getting old more than you do. He can’t believe I’ve sold pictures of him on Stocksy, asking me, “Who would want them?”

This is Gina, whom I’ve photographed more than just about anyone, and who hates her photos pretty much unanimously every single time.

This is Derryl, who has no clue whatsoever that he is handsome and hated this series.

This is my husband, Jason, who hides behind theatrics and begged me to never share these.

In the far corners of social media, I have seen hints of blooming subjects that aren’t yet widely explored: raw childbirth, imperfect bodies, and elderly folks in their gravity-worn splendor, to name a few. Maybe if we saw enough of those kinds of images, we could begin to appreciate the beauty and tenderness of being ‘imperfect’ in this world, instead of recoiling at the sight of our crow’s feet.

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Rachel Bellinsky is a photographer and graphic designer living in Las Vegas with a husband and a very beloved dog. She is currently dabbling in nihilism, feeding the hummingbirds, and spilling blue wax on the carpet that will never come out. But we are all going to die so it doesn’t matter. You can see more of her work at https://www.instagram.com/rachelbellinsky/

6 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful images and words. So, so, so true. It’s time to start accepting the imperfect.

  2. I love every one of these portraits! They are real and engaging, drawing you in to want to learn more about each one of these people. Instead of just being pretty portraits, they are stories waiting to be told. Thank you for joining us today!

  3. I can so relate to this Rachel! Your words are incredibly true! It’s impossible to live up to the perfection that surrounds us on a daily basis; I, too, hope that one day soon, we’ll all be able to embrace the perceived imperfections of reality, or all least accept them more kindly. Thank you so much for being my guest!

  4. I love this, Rach! You capture character in an amazing way.

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