Collateral Beauty

In the movie Collateral Beauty Helen Miron, “Brigette” tells Naomie Harris, “Madeline” in the face of loosing her 6 yr old daughter to cancer to, “Watch out for the Collateral Beauty”, a seemingly thoughtless comment when a mother is about to loose their child, I was reminded of how I knew this experience in the face of deep pain, this idea of collateral beauty.

When my mom passed almost 4 years ago friends asked about my experience that the first year. I shared that it was equally devastatingly heart wrenching and stunningly beautiful all at once. I think its fare to assume we all know why this would be the former experience but what exactly was the latter? The latter it would turn out was the collateral beauty of it all.

As I began to deal with the anguishing pain of loosing my mom without any warning I was acutely aware I needed to dig into our combined bag of not so pretty dynamics. I sifted through what belonged to each of us, what was true, what was a story and all the emotions around it. It was an amazing, expansive time in my life.  I retold all the stories I held onto for 45 yrs. All the hurts and pains I carried from my dynamic with my mom and along the way I found myself.

I became vulnerable and open in a way that stripped any facade from my being, it was exhausting and unmatched in the rewards and gifts it gave me. As I went into the deep hurt of my past experiences and stories with my mom I allowed myself to think, feel and declare whatever came up.  Even if some part of me knew it was MY story based in fear I allowed myself to go deep into it. It didn’t have to be based in someone else’s truth or experience, it was my truth and that was where the answers would be.  Allowing myself to feel say whatever I believed to be real around my experience with my mother ultimately allowed me to reach the core of it.  At the core was the unearthed parts, what I refer to as the muck of it all, those parts we may or may not know about but when they are revealed we can choose to them put to rest and let go. Through this process I also saw falsehoods that I created out of protection. Again digging into why I was protecting myself and how that showed up ultimately allowed its release.

Along this almost 4 year journey I have come to a place of understanding for myself, compassion for myself and a deep compassion for my mom and her experience. I’ve cried it out so many times and each time I release the stuck pain of the experiences we had together and move closer to the love.

There is still some hurt and pain and overtime I know if I am brave enough to dive into it there is the gateway to expansion and love. This is my collateral beauty of loosing my mother, seeing me and loving myself for where we I am and who I am.

As I move through the transition of a romantic relationship into whatever it will be next  I am again aware of the collateral beauty. Through the grieving of it, of this relationship not being what I thought it might I also get to see into myself via the pain. How? I let myself tell the story in my head and I get a chance to debunk it. I get a chance, if I stick with the hurt and let it out to see the underlying thread, where it originated from and let it free.

In honor of moms everywhere I am sharing some of my favorites of these amazing humans with their children including this first one of Lieselotte Anke and her beautiful mother who passed shortly after our photoshoot. During our shoot the beauty and depth of their love was so apparent. As in every shoot I look for this depth and create from there.

 

 

 

 

Trigger Happy

Last week I participated in a woman led, all women attended capital raising workshop. It was terrifying! So much so that in the days leading up I sent multiple emails to my business coach and inundated my friend with a should I or shouldn’t I conversation at least 5 -10 times in a 7 day period. I don’t normally have this much trouble making decisions but this was brutal. I would soon find out why.

In the days to follow, 3 to be exact, a cornucopia of emotions ranging from straight up pissed off, to fight or flight, hulk strength resistance, and finally resolution and joy flooded my mind and body. I had no idea the emotions and thoughts that would be triggered by this one workshop.

Lucky I was in a room of women who got it  including Jenny Kassen, my client and the female empowering, financially savvy entrepreneur who created and led her workshop #FundandFuelYourDreams.  As I slowly met the impressive women entrepreneurs who filled the room I began sharing my top question I had, “Why me?” Why would someone invest in MY business? I didn’t think it or I was ready. I could see the brilliance of the other women in the room and their value but I couldn’t see mine.  After 20 years creating my business and hundreds of happy clients I still struggled with my own value.

This wasn’t my only issue. Every time Jenny began speaking about finances and using phrases like, 50c3, debt, VC, and equity I did a hard check out. Yup, Jennifer had left the building. By the end of day two it all came to a head. Following the afternoon session I decided I couldn’t take it any more. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of insecurity and being in over my head. This is when my fight or flight response kicked in. I told women I met I wouldn’t be coming back the next day, that  it wasn’t for me. “I wont use this information”, I claimed. “No one is going to invest in my business and what I am creating”, I declared. Oh yeah, I was pissed…but why?

I was pretty quickly aware I was triggered and new that saying my goodbyes was a cry for help. I wanted someone to stop me. My more expansive self  knew I could do this. I knew this was the next big step in my business as I just had my two most profitable months to date. The paradigm was changing and I could change with it and float with ease down stream or fight like hell and stay stuck where I was.

As the other women began talking me off the ledge they reminded me of some very important facts.  We are the first generation of women entrepreneurs and we are learning as we go.  Even now this thought fills me with so much pride and relief!  They also reminded me that as women of my generation and others we are raised in an economic and entreprenural  boys club where we have had to fight to take our place at the table.  Along with many other women we grew up taking-in the story that finances were to confusing and over our heads. Some of us grew up with our value in being a nice girl, being accommodating which was unlike a lot of our male counterparts whose value was in what they offered and were encouraged that what they wanted was theirs for the taking.

This awareness was exactly what I needed to acknowledge my fears.  I thought I had to know it all, I thought I wasn’t intelligent if I didn’t and I thought if I couldn’t do it all on my own I had failed.  Knowing I was not alone, that many of these women struggled with the same stories, I relaxed into being comfortable with what I didn’t know, that I can rely on others and that I don’t have to do it all on my own.

Tara Mohr, author of “Playing Big” has created her book and a leadership program around women learning how to show up and put their dreams and goals into action. I highly recommend you checking out her book. It is eyeopening and a revelation!

I’d love to hear your stories of what has come up for you as a female entrepreneur or woman in business. Happy #EqualPayDay ladies! #WeAreStrongerTogether

BOOK a Complimentary Phone Consultation &  find out how a phenomenal Business Portrait can take your business to the next level.

One Simple Tip For Living Our Best Selves On and Off Camera

I always ask my clients how they feel about being photographed just before we begin the session. It’s very common to have the response be anything from, “I’m not photogenic.” to “it feels uncomfortable” and even “I hate it” and I completely understand!

I begin with this question so we can start unfolding what the real fear is for so many of my clients…being seen. On some level we fear we wont be accepted for who we are and someone might see those things we feel are flaws.

One of my last clients bravely shared that when she looks in the mirror she doesn’t see who she thinks she is. In this very raw honest moment we both began to welled up with tears and emotion. We want to look in the mirror or at photographs of ourselves and love who we see. The true us. The beauty of of who we are that radiates from the inside.

 Midway through our session, as she began to trust me and the process and allowed me to see the real her fearlessly and with ease.  I showed her the back of my camera and the photograph I captured in that moment of openness.  Her eyes filled with tears as she exclaimed,

“THAT is who I feel like!”

This women, who is one of the most gentle, loving and support women I have ever met, and a long time client has been someone whose beauty has always stayed with me. Her confidence and generous nature have always been at the forefront of how I see her.

Being able to see ourselves for WHO we know we are is an empowering experience. Being able to live in this place can also be empowering to the people around us, in our personal lives and our careers. It also brings a great level of  joy and ease into our lives that is unmatched.

So I started wondering, why can’t we see ourselves in the same way others see us and is there a way we can?

I’d love to share a technique I use with my clients which enables them to embody this authentic place with greater ease. You can try this anytime, anywhere.

Let’s take a moment to try it together….

I ask my clients to give me 3 adjectives describing how they want to be seen. How they would like the world to perceive them. These words can change from day to day depending on what aspect of ourselves we need to call forward. Today let’s choose the one I hear most often, CONFIDENT.

 I ask my clients how the word CONFIDENT feels in their bodies. I ask them to repeat it a few times, live into the word a bit. I ask them to imagine what possessing this attribute might look like in their body, how they might stand, walk or sit, and even how their facial expression might change. We use the word or words as an intention for the photographs we create that day. Soon I see them begin to shift. They grow taller, their gaze is more direct, and their smile more genuine.

Try this next time your not feeling you.  I believe with a little effort and some practice we can live into the best version of who we know we are.

Finally, to all my incredible clients who are willing to be seen for the extraordinarily people you are, who have taught me so much about the beautiful and powerful vulnerability of being seen, I THANK YOU.

 

20161109bp_pandahershey-697-2

My beautiful fearless client, Panda. Thank you for letting me share your experience.

 

One day left to receive your complimentary business mentoring session with my own amazing Intuitive Business Mentor, Kelly Tadlock when you book at my 2106 prices!

Your Italia Photo Shoot!

First I feel its  important to tell you why I do what I do…. creating portraits. I deeply feel my service in life is to create a safe space for people to been seen.  When we allow the veil to drop, the mask to come off, and we show up in our truth the result is to be seen as our most powerful and beautiful self. I see this time after time in my photography sessions whether I am photographing a venture capitalist for a magazine cover, a yoga teacher for her amazing business *wink wink* or a personal portrait.  I am moved and honored to be a part of this experience every time.

Imagine the incredible beauty we could create in the quant town of Cortina, within the stunning landscape of the Dolomites, or if we are in Venice at the same time, even there! I am swooning just imagining the beauty & memories you would walk away with.

I would like to extend the offer of an Italian photo shoot to 3 people or 3 couples while we share in the incredible and nourishing experience of Laura’s Dolomite retreat.

Your Italia photo session (OMG CAN YOU IMAGINE!?) is an investment of $695 for this, I have to say it, once in a lifetime experience.  Book by May 1st & receive $50 early booking discount. Please schedule a complementary consultation with me here to find out all the details.

Following are a few samples of portraits I’ve created with clients from around the country and around the world. You may recognize 1 or 2 people. 😉

View more of my work @ jennifergrahamphotography.com

Laura in Careyes

Laura in Careyes, Mexico

20160404PP_DianaLong-697-2

Diana, Studio Session

Read More…

New Year’s Day 220ft Up

I woke up New Years day wondering what I would do with my first day of the new year. I had no plans so I procrastinated getting out of bed and stayed cozy under my covers. During a morning scroll online I came across a Facebook post by journalist, Frank Somerville about Bridgewatch Angels, a community organization of volunteers who come together on the Golden Gate Bridge to engage in suicide prevention throughout the year.

As I read about their work in supporting distressed and vulnerable souls on some of the hardest days of the year I was moved to tears. I can’t tell you exactly why I cried, perhaps it reminded me of my teenage years when I struggled with my own thoughts around self worth and loneliness that seemed so insurmountable at the time that ending my life actually felt like it would bring relief. Maybe it was the heart ache of knowing how deeply other people suffer everyday to the point of wanting to end their lives, or maybe it was seeing there are people out there who have the capacity to care so deeply that moved me that morning. I imagine it was a combination of all three that encouraged me to sign up that New Years Day. If I could be there for another person in anyway, to just show up, I would.

I certainly had my reservations. I wondered if I was up for what could potentially be a very intense experience. I thought, “Who am I too do this for someone I don’t know.”  “I have ZERO mental health training!” “Is this even safe?”  Then I paused and I asked, “What type of year do I want to have?” and “Who do I want to be?” That was all it took. So I got in my car and went.

Around 30 amazing people showed up to be a part of the second shift on the bridge that day. I remember thinking I was surrounded by some incredibly compassionate people who all had their own reasons for coming. We gathered at the visitor center just near the bridge while Mia Munayer, the creator of Bridgewatch Angels and police officer with crisis intervention training along with Mika Celli, a mental health specialist and one of the leaders walked us through what to expect, safety procedures and how to engage.  My heart was heavy around the realization of why we were there.  There was potentially someone going there that day to end their life. We were instructed on what to look for and what to say, which ranged from everything from a polite hello to a very direct, “Do yo want to kill yourself?” The latter used in the most heightened situations and as a tactic to bring the person into the present moment.  As they spoke I was struck by what we were actually doing. It was something so simple yet so seldomly done anymore, we were letting people know,

 “I see you.” I see your worth.” 

There is nothing more powerful and so simple. I see it everyday in my own work as a, photographer.  All we had to do was say Happy New Year, make a connection and gauge the responses. If the person seemed withdrawn or despondent we where to try and gently engage them further. Most people went from a solemn look to a bright cheery smile as they returned the greeting.  It was incredible to see how something so small could make such a huge impact and ultimately lead to helping save a persons life. In fact New Years Eve they prevented two people from jumping.

I left my time with Bridgewatch Angels Mika and  Mia, my Bridgewatch partner, Satish and all the angel voluniteers with gratitude for these loving and caring souls, and compassion for those who struggle everyday with pain and  loneliness. If there is nothing else I do each day I realize I can at the very least be present and kind to those around me. Here is to a more compassionate and engaged 2016.

Bridgewatch Angels New Years Day

The New Years Day Bridgewatch Angels

Thank You From the Bottom of My Heart!

I am one lucky women and it’s all thanks to you, MY CLIENTS!!

There is honestly no way I could continue to due what I do without you, and I am so grateful I have had chance to create with each and every one of you.

I am always struck by your willingness to be seen for the beauties you all are.  It is a gift to be in that space with you.

Below are some of my favorite photographs we created in 2015!

Kenya to Mexico, Business Portraits to Family, it was an amazing year of creating!

Mombasa-101

Girls On Fire in Mombasa. The girls were over the moon about their first camel ride. Daisy and Cheryl screamed with a mixture of fear and joy….we all did that day. 

Eileen Flannigan-3-Edit

Eileen Flannigan, creator of Girls on Fire Leadership Camp getting ready to enjoy some down time in Zanzibar.

20151206F_Cole_Frieman-505

The Cole-Frieman family in gorgeous downtown Oakland during our Family Portrait Session. That gorgeous women and I also play soccer together. Yup, she does it all! 

20151112BP_ChristinaGraham-394-2

Christina Graham, my gorgeous sister, just being her beautiful stunning self.

20151029FP_ShahidiFamily-371

Shahid family love. This family session at Lafayette Reservoir was the perfect location for this sweet family of four.

20150925BP_IsisWegner-913

Isis Wenger, speaker, activist, engineer and #ilooklikeanengineer creator embracing all sides of being a women in the studio.

20150911BP_MelissaKoh-444

Chef and yoga instructor, Melissa Koh whipping up a little bruschetta for our lifestyle shoot at her home. Don’t you just want to live in that kitchen? 

20150806DP_SamanthaDentroux-272

Stunning ballerina, Samantha on location in New Jersey. There is nothing this lovely young lady cant do, even balancing on a rickety table for me.

20150629BP_JennfierWinfry-381

Stunner, Jennifer Winfrey, birth photographer, on location at Willow Heights in Morgan Hill.

20150623AP_CarolynPhilips-646-Edit

Author Carolyn Philips was ease and grace personified during our studio shoot as her loving husband waited with support.

20141218BP_JacintaKioko-284

Jacinta Kioko, looking gorgeous in Kenya. This little spot was up the street from her house just off the side of the road. Making images anywhere is part of the fun!

Miss Cheesemonger herself, Veronique Kherian, on location just off highway 1 in northern CA. The poison ivy I took how was well worth the shot.

You all make this dream possible, thank you and Happy New Year!

Who Tells Your Story?

I grew up watching infomercials in the 90’s of Sally Struthers “Save the Children Campaign”.  The visual was of small malnourished children with flies on their faces, surrounded by garbage. I didn’t think much beyond the story I was given about those children or of Africa. I believed what I saw.  I walked away beleiveing Africa was a scary place where people where dying. The sad part of this, I was not alone.

I never thought to ask, “Is this true?” or “What else DON’T I know about these children. The answer, EVERYTHING.

As I grew up I began to think more critically and listened to the scholars, intellectuals and people around me. I realized we were all fed one story and it was damaging not only to the children Sally asked us to save but to anyone who believed there was only one story to be told. It’s not that it was untrue, but was it complete?

Like anyone of you reading this you know one photo of you, one Facebook post cannot tell the entire story of who you are. If its a photo of you at your most vulnerable then there is a very real chance people can walk away with a narrative about you that does not honor you as whole and boxes you into that one difficult challenging moment. That doesn’t seem fair does it?

For the people of Africa in particular this one story has been on a loop for decades. A loop creating the story that all of Africa is starving, dying and in struggle.

My goal in creating portraits for my VOICES project which I started during a long time dream trip to kenya was to let the subject take control of the narrative. We each know who we are beyond our circumstances and it is so much greater than most people can tell from a photograph. The women  I photographed represent life from, the slums of Kibera to the beaches of Mombasa. Small business owners, caretakers and scholars. Rather than go to a continent and country I have never been and impose a visual story upon it & it’s people with my camera, I chose to leave the story telling in the hands of the women I met.

I asked women from all over Kenya to choose 3 words to describe themselves. I asked, “How would you like to be seen?” This is a question I ask all my clients before a photoshoot because the one truth I know is, the beauty of WHO you are is WHAT I see.

These women shared how they see themselves at the core, how someone who loves them might describe them.  The results are the following images.

Voices Kenya

Pamela(far right), a small business owner and Kiva zip loan provider seen here with her friends and business owners Jane (left), and Benta (middle) from Kibera, Kenya.

Girls on Fire Leaders

Girls on Fire Leaders: Deborah Odenyi, Head Mistress at SHOFCO School for Girls. Mama Rose, life and love giver at Kibera Safe House for Girls. Rubie Ruth, leader at Ubuntu Brand Nonprofit.

Women from Tuele Orphanage in Ambaseli, Kibera, Kenya, and Mombasa, Kenya.

Women from Tuele Orphanage in Ambaseli, Kibera, Kenya, and Mombasa, Kenya.