Photo Critique

When an adult negatively critiques the portrait of a child in their care, it is never about the child, or what the child looks like in the photograph.

It is always about the adult.

As I write this, I am not thinking of what my mother said to me. Unfortunately, I am thinking of what I said to Trent’s daughter, Jenna.

Jenna was probably eleven years old at the time. We hadn’t yet moved to Newaygo—I was still in Chicago and Trent was there most of the time. Jenna was there on alternate weekends.

Jenna pulled her class photo from the belongings she had brought for the weekend. She showed it to her father, who praised it and her. Then she showed it to me.

I said, “What’d you wear that for?”

It didn’t matter what Jenna was wearing in the photo. It didn’t matter at all. What mattered was the heart of the little girl I had wounded with those words.

Jenna went to her room and Trent turned to me.

“You hurt her feelings,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“She’s the one who needs to know you’re sorry,” he said and walked away.

I went to Jenna’s room and knocked on her door. I apologized to her but the hurt was still fresh and raw. I left.

A few years later, when we were in Newaygo, Jenna was looking through some photos with me. When she got to that class photo she said, “You didn’t like this one very much.”

“I was wrong,” I said. It’s beautiful. You’re beautiful.”

She raised an eyebrow (she’s been able to do that since she was ten) but said nothing.

“Really,” I said. “Look how your eyes are shining so brightly, how happy and strong you look.”

She smiled a little.

I hope when Jenna sees that photo, she remembers our second conversation, not my first blurt. If she does remember the blurt, I hope she knows that it was never about her, it was always about me.

These were my rapid-fire thoughts at the moment I looked at her photo: “Why did she wear that? Is that how her friends dressed? In the class photo, what will her friends think? What will their parents think about Jenna? About Trent? About me?”

The lack of self-worth in the adult causes them to seek validation and social acceptance from others. This causes the adult to value the opinion of others over the self-opinion of the child in their care.

My mother told me, several times, that I was an ugly baby, the ugliest baby she had ever seen. Now I realize that opinion says more about her than it does about me.

It says nothing about me.

“…love has nothing to do with what you’re looking at, and everything to do with who’s looking.”

Ruth, in ‘Small Great Things‘ by Jodi Picoult


Most of you get these weekly posts by email, which means you wouldn’t see any comments made on the site. Last week, in response to the Headshots post, Anna Suomi made a comment that I found interesting, surprising and true.

I bought two photoshoots 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 supermodel of their life, to have photos taken by a photographer who can capture the beauty that we don’t see in ourselves.

Anna Suomi

Now that my new headshot is up and in use, I’m having a similar experience. Seeing myself in a photo that I label “pretty” is changing how I see myself. It is a virtuous cycle.

Here is one of Anna’s lovely new photos:

Anna Suomi, namaste

If you’d like to see more beautiful photos of Anna, her website is here.

Chewing the Cud of Good

Thankful for the pleasure of anticipating new places to go, new things to do, new people to meet.

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