Seeing Yourself Differently

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We become used to seeing ourselves in a certain way– in a certain role or profession or capacity. I particularly tend to identify myself as what I primarily do, as a writer, but on a muggy day in July, I was lucky enough to experience having a completely different kind of occupation.

I arranged for Hannah, who I met through a friend at birthday party, to meet me at Dark Horse Coffee one early evening as she was coming from work, the Goethe-Institute, a German hub for culture in Toronto. I was impressed by her photography skills when she came to visit me at The Encampment, and she generously sent me the photos of the installations as a wonderful record of the event at Fort York. I was even more affected by Hannah’s incredibly warm and giving personality, and her ability to connect people. I was stunned at my good fortune when she agreed to photograph my first collection of jewellery and scarves. I then shamelessly asked a good friend, Nicole, who is by day an editor and administrative assistant in a nonprofit health organization, to model. With her delicate looks and dry sense of humour, I had a hunch she wouldn’t feel intimidated by a photo lens in her face.

So there we were, a writer-turned-stylist, an editor-turned-model, and a program assistant-turned-photographer. Each of us were find capacities in ourselves that we didn’t always have the opportunity to showcase.

Before Nicole arrived, Hannah and I set up with cold iced teas at one of Dark Horse’s long tables, and played around with my jewellery and the props I’d brought– a beautiful feather I’d picked up at Niagara-on-the-Lake, shells and a bit of sawed off tree-bole, chosen to enhance the feeling of rustic beauty I wanted in the shoot. The location was the front lobby of the CSI building on Spadina, but being neither a tenant there nor an official visitor, I was afraid we’d be kicked out. The front door of the building was locked after 7pm, the same time that Dark Horse closed. But at that time, the door from the cafe still opened out to the lobby, and with careful timing, Hannah and I moved our bags out to the gorgeous, late-summer-lit space, and we were able to let in Nicole when she arrived. Feeling surreptitious, I draped necklaces over benches, but no one exiting elevators batted a socially-conscious eyelash, so fixed on their smartphones were they. After all, we weren’t there to steal, damage anything, or to cause disturbances in the emptying-out offices…

We were only there to make use of the tropical, luxuriant living wall as a backdrop. The very space seemed to inspire us– Hannah and I sparked laughter as we hung earrings in the little slots on a unique, twisted wood bench, then on the plants themselves, where they looked like jeweled-toned birds just alight. I duct-taped necklaces to wood pillars, enjoying the industrial-meets-natural effect. Hannah regretted not bringing her tripod, but I ended up appreciating that slight tremble, that assymetry which was so essential to my design process.

When Nicole arrived, she regretted not bringing more makeup, as all I’d brought for her was a little rose lipbalm and some translucent powder, because of the heat. But again, I preferred Nicole to look more like someone’s sister, girlfriend or coworker than an airbrushed, overly-made up model. The fun really began as Hannah and I layered various necklaces and chose colour combinations. As I’d hoped, Nikki was completely unselfconscious in front of the camera, as Hannah exclaimed again and again over the shots she was getting.

Wanting to take advantage of the natural light, Nikki and Hannah stepped outside while I stayed inside basking in the air-conditioning and handing them different combinations of jewellery and scarves to make sure I’d have enough images for marketing purposes. When the shoot and our energy seemed to wind down, I gave them each a piece to thank them for their time. Hannah chose a pair of agate and crystal earrings, and surprisingly, Nikki picked one of my hemp cord necklaces with the wood and brass beads, which gave her a nautical air. We went for drinks and fried things at Queen Mother’s Café on Queen street, with its hidden, hard-to-reach patio, and enjoyed each other’s company and the last of the evening light.

I didn’t see the results until about a week later, after Hannah had given more of her time to crop and slightly enhance the images. Nicole leaning against a brick wall, next to a Banksy-like graffiti rat; standing next to a locked bicycle, and in front of Dark Horse’s window with a linen scarf draped over her. Not only did I have dozens of images to choose from, the results were both professional and unpretentious, with Nicole’s simple white t-shirt highlighting how versatile and simple the pieces could look. The images I included above are not the ones I usually email or use on Etsy, but they give a range of the various possibilities I’ve learned to see around me.

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About Phoebe Wang

Apollo's sister. A moon off Saturn, a small, sparrow-like bird, once a Titan.

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