Even though I said this post would be about a library, there is something more on my mind: photographs. In particular: portraits, otherwise known as headshots.

For most of my life, I have not liked to have my picture taken. This aversion might have started in second grade, when for the class picture I put on my best outfit—a red sweater under a gray, green and red plaid jumper.

I liked that outfit and was excited to wear it to school. I felt fancy. I presented myself to my mother for a pre-picture inspection.

Mom scowled, then slicked down my unruly hair with some sort of gel and pressed it to my forehead. She reviewed her attempt and scowled again, then said something like, “I guess there’s not much we can do.”

I didn’t feel so fancy anymore.

My senior year of high school was a turning point for senior year portraits—they would no longer be taken in a graduation gown. Boys were told to wear a suit and tie, girls were to wear a modest black top with simple jewelry.

I wore a black sweater, and because it was a special occasion and I didn’t own any necklaces, my grandmother’s pearl choker.

Students waited in a dark studio, in a line, in alphabetical order. They must have taken the boys’ pictures on another day because only girls were in line. I found my place and waited my turn.

The photographer was thoughtful. He took his time and took about ten photos of each girl. I was hopeful that I would have a nice picture for my senior year.

As we waited, we shifted on our feet. We didn’t talk much because too much was at stake. Then, the girl to my left stepped forward. I would be next. I waited to hear the photographer call my name.

The girl on the stool was finished. She stood. It was my turn.

I was ready.

But then, instead of calling my name, the photographer called out, “Kim Kulper.” I said, “I’m Jule Kucera. I’m next.” He said, “No, I’m going to do her first.”

Kim stepped forward. She had straight hair the color of corn silk that landed in a straight line at her shoulder blades, and bangs that landed at soft gray eyes.

The photographer took twenty or more pictures of Kim, then called me forward.

I sat on his stool. He was brusque. After four or five pictures he dismissed me. “Already?” I asked. “We’re done,” he said.

That experience was probably less than thirty minutes out of the thirty-three million-plus minutes of my life. I let it define me, like mud on a flower.

About a month ago, I had my portrait taken, mainly because the photo I’ve been using as my headshot is the corporate photo from my former employer and it felt like it didn’t fit anymore.

I have a new philosophy about portrait photography, because of something I read and because of something I remembered.

Something I read:

“There is energy to beauty, a frequency, and it’s inherent in your human birthright to behold it, live it, and embody it. This is the energy of your life force. As much as you are alive, you will, just by the nature of your human design, radiate a frequency of beauty.”

Guru Jagat, Invincible Living

Something I remember:

My high school photo from my junior year. I like it. It was taken the day after I had come home from a week-long conference. I learned a lot at that conference and felt happily filled with new ideas. You can see my joy in the photo.

Jule Kucera portrait, junior year of high school

I now believe our portraits capture what we look like, with an overlay of how we feel about ourselves. When we feel good, the portrait looks good. When we don’t, it doesn’t.

This time, when I met with the photographer, I took a risk. I was vulnerable. I told him that sometimes it’s hard for me to have my picture taken. I told him I have been told I am plain.

The photographer said exactly what I would have wanted him to say, that everyone is beautiful and it is the photographer’s job to capture it.

All through the photoshoot the photographer kept saying that I was beautiful (and sounding like he meant it). I was saying the same thing silently to myself and started saying it first, while I waited for him in the lobby.

It’s true, you know.

Everybody is beautiful.

We just have to see it.

We just have to let it be seen.

Jule Kucera, portrait, 2019

Credit: Ross Van Pelt, RVP Photography.

PS: As I searched for the old photo from my junior year I found other photos that showed I have let negative experiences override positive experiences.

First grade: Miss Ploughman was my kindergarten teacher. I loved her and I sometimes made the embarrassing mistake of calling her ‘mommy.’ For our class photo, I either took or was directed to the back row. Just as the photographer positioned himself behind his camera, Miss Ploughman stopped him. She made a switch: she pulled me out of the back row and put me front and center; she moved the girl who had been front and center to the back. Miss Ploughman is at the top left, the girl who was moved is three students to the right of her, the one wringing her hands. Maybe this memory is a negative memory for her.

Kindergarten class portrait, Jule Kucera at center front

Dental hygiene school: Another nice picture, and I have no memory of the experience of having it taken.

Jule Kucera, portrait, dental hygiene school graduation

Chewing the Cud of Good

Close up of white flower

Thankful for people who treated me well, even when I wasn’t paying attention.

4 thoughts on “Headshots”

  1. Love your new portrait! (And the old ones as well) This is so common. I bought two photo shoots last year as I needed photos for my website. Both among the best investments of the year. I found completely new sides of me and felt a change in my identity. Everyone deserves to be the super model of their life, to have photos taken by a photographer who can capture the beauty that we don’t see in ourselves. It’s a skill to help people relax in front of the camera.

    1. Anna, I love how you put this! The photos didn’t just capture you, they helped to shift and expand the vision of you–to yourself! Your new photos on your site are fabulous!! My favorites are the ones of you in the tulle skirt by the water–so lovely and so evocative of You.

  2. The cap! The polyester uniform!
    Your junior year photo shows a beaming beauty who looks comfortable and you still are that person, just with adult experiences.
    And my Kim Kulper moment was at my wedding. The photographer took my sister aside and spent so much time photographing her that he missed my “first dance” with my husband. My sister is beautiful, I will admit.

  3. Chris—and the white bobby pins (with demerits for brown ones)! I saved those two little pieces of velvet ribbon from the cap for the longest time.

    At your wedding! Oh, I am so sorry. What a lousy time to have that happen. Sure your sister is beautiful and so are you, your photographer just couldn’t see it.

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