Respecting Boundaries: Trauma-Informed Photography

Hey there, wonderful people! I’m excited to talk to you about photography, a passion and art form that captures the beauty and authenticity of life. Today, let’s explore the essential concept of trauma-informed photography.

During my time as a doula, I specialized in working with trauma survivors. It’s what I was known for and best at, and it meant the world to me to be able to support someone in having a positive experience in their body. I was an educator in trauma-informed care for other birthworkers, medical professionals, and students. It is so dear to my heart, and I was surprised at the beginning of my photography journey about how much trauma-informed care was also a necessary part of an ethical photography practice.

What Is Trauma-Informed Photography?

Trauma-informed photography, at its core, is an approach that acknowledges the impact of past trauma on individuals and communities, and aims to create a safe, respectful, and empowering environment during photography sessions. It’s about recognizing the significance of personal boundaries and ensuring that every aspect of the photography experience is driven by empathy and respect.

To better understand the principles of trauma-informed care, let’s walk through it’s six key principles. These principles are not only vital in healthcare settings but are also invaluable in the photography realm:

1. Safety: The fundamental element in trauma-informed care is creating a safe environment, physically and emotionally. In photography, this means ensuring that you, your family, and your personal boundaries are respected at all times. This can involve choosing a location where you feel secure, setting the tone with open communication, and establishing an atmosphere where you can relax and be yourself. It also means communicating about potential illness, taking COVID precautions, and discussing what will help you feel most safe and comfortable before I come to our session. I also ask you about mobility needs and other disability accommodations that will be supportive during our time together.

2. Trustworthiness and Transparency: Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of trauma-informed photography. I’m committed to being transparent about the process, expectations, and the choices you have in the session. I want to gain your trust that I will respect your boundaries and support your comfort, and that can only be done through action. I do not require clients to allow me to share any or all of their photos – your privacy is important to me. I also don’t share identifying information about you if I do post about our session – I won’t use your names, your address, your kids’ schools, specifics about things we discussed, personal moments, etc.

3. Peer Support: Getting your photos taken is vulnerable, and there is sometimes a hierarchy created. That hierarchy can go either way – I am the one with the camera directing people, so they may view me as a person bringing a lot of power to the space. Alternatively, they may view me as a service worker of lower status than them. Either way, we are not peers when their is hierarchy. I work hard to establish a peer relationship with you rather than a hierarchical relationship through involving you in the process before, during, and after the session. I view each session as a co-creation of art, not just something I am doing by myself. That means I create an atmosphere where you feel supported and empowered, and your voice matters. It’s not a one-sided endeavor; we’re partners in making sure your photos reflect your true self.

4. Collaboration and Mutuality: Collaboration is at the heart of a trauma-informed approach. You are a key part of the process, and your insights and preferences are integral to creating beautiful photos. We work together to make the photography experience a collaborative and enjoyable journey. From styling, to prepping your home, to getting to know each other, to being available for your questions, my goal is to create a partnership of mutual respect.

5. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice: One of the core principles of trauma-informed care is ensuring that individuals have a say in their own well-being. Your voice and choices are the drivers of our photography sessions. You have the power to set the boundaries and make decisions, knowing that they will be respected. This includes saying “no” to a pose or direction. It also includes consenting to touch – most photographers will go ahead and touch you, move your hair, pick up your kiddo, etc. That may be totally fine with you, but I always ask before touching. It can be startling to be touched without consent, and I will always respect your “no.”

6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues: I’m committed to running an equitable photography practice that centers the most marginalized voices, making sure that our sessions are inclusive and honoring. This includes using the name and pronouns you share with me and celebrating your family structure. It includes acknowledging the ways white photographers have historically exoticized and marginalized people of color, and how cameras and editing software are made for white people. I take extra care with clients of color to get the lighting conditions right and edit in a way that honors melanated skin tones. (I also offer free re-editing if clients don’t like how their skin looks in their photos, though no one has taken me up on that.) It means honoring traditions, regalia, or other cultural or familial practices clients want documented, and it is such a gift to be welcomed into witnessing these special moments.

There is so much more I can say about why and how cultural, historical, and gender issues are central to my photography practice, and you can always DM or email me if you have follow up questions. My goal is that every person who comes in front of my camera feels seen and held for the fullness of who they are.

I could talk about trauma-informed photography for hours, so I’ll leave this blog here for now. I’d love to chat with you about ways I can thoughtfully build a supportive and honoring environment for you and your family, and how you envision us co-creating work that represents who you are. Even if you don’t ask about it, I hope this blog shares a bit of insight into the practices I provide to every client I work with to ensure safety, respect, collaboration, and support.

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