As a person who is innately shy, I rarely feel comfortable meeting new people. A psychoanalyst might say that because my biological family was incredibly picky and constantly looking for my faults, I came to believe that everybody I meet is trying to do the same. My parents, my mother specifically, had a very narrow definition of what was acceptable to her, down to what facial expressions she tolerated. I never met the criteria, and neither did many in her life. Naturally, this was merely an expression of her unhappiness in life, but to a child, it felt quite different. To this day, I reflexively clench when I meet people and have to consciously remind myself that they are not there to pick me apart or trick me into saying something they can attack - that they have their own stuff to deal with. Not everybody grew up the way I did, but everybody has something. Still, meeting new people is sometimes a mental exercise for me.
Every once in a while though, I meet somebody I feel instantly comfortable with. With this person, one can drop pretensions, can open up, and relax. It is rare for me; it may be more common for you. But these special people are ones we all encounter from time to time and are universally understood to be instant friends. What quality do they have that causes everybody around them to feel accepted?
In Anastusia Kuba's case, I think it is a willingness to be open, understanding, non-judgmental, something that you sense right away upon meeting her. It is also her ability to smile easily, to discuss the difficult subjects while believing you will be interested too. She takes you on her ride, and you are happy to be taken. You can relax and let go.
Which leads right into her career: she is an artist, specifically, a photographer. She makes her living taking boudoir portraits (and pretty fantastic ones) in San Francisco, but she also has done photos for magazines and she somehow ended up taking sensitive pictures of cancer patients. She also just finished a series of people riding trains across Russia, which is undeniably compelling. As she said, she likes taking pictures of people at a crossroads in their lives, exploring that richness and their new reality with her camera. I believe part of her artistry is the part she may not know about - the part that makes those who encounter her feel comfortable and let her in. Because she is who she is, she may get the shot nobody else can.
I met her because she contacted me and asked to take my picture. My inclination, as always, was to say no. But I had long ago decided that if any opportunities for an "experience" came my way because of this blog, I would take it. Unfortunately, for much of the past four years, I've been sick, and while a few experiences have been offered to me, I have had to decline. Anastasia contacted me at the right time - during a period of health and energy. So I said .....no. I didn't want a boudoir photo, as there isn't much "boo" in my "doir" these days, if you get my drift. I made all the excuses most would. I'm too ugly, I'm not a model, my house is a mess. But then, I googled her. I saw that she is not a picture taker, she doesn't do Lifetouch portraits - she's a real artist. I remembered that long ago promise to myself and I changed my mind. I took a leap of faith and invited her to come; I wanted to see myself through her eyes.
The photo of me with my dog, above, captures me in a reflective state, an unusual photo. When I see a camera, I grin. It is my mask, my defense. Anastasia caught me petting my dog as I was thinking about what she had to say. Anastasia does not talk frivolously and she gives you a lot to think about, while at the same time, she seems completely charming and even bubbly, a rare combination of fun introspection.
Below are the photos she took of me, and of my family. As you can see, they are beautiful and ones I will cherish for a lifetime. She gave me a gift but more than that, she gave my family a gift. When I'm long gone, they will have these photos to look back upon.
|My husband and I have been married 19 years|
|He's in this with me|
|My family, none who thought they'd have their photo taken and yes, I was cold!|
|The one on the left is the college bound child we have been raising money for|
Anastasia wrote an artist statement which I've included below. And it is deep, but oddly enough, it it is what I was thinking when I refused her offer, and it is where I am when I become afraid to meet new people, and it is where I am trying to get now that I have little time left. So she does understand, which also is why she takes such true pictures. Artist meets subject in a beautiful way.
Anastasia told me that my photos are mine to do what I want with, and I could write about her or not, it was up to me, so this was not a trade. It was a gift from her, and now I hope to give back. After seeing the pictures, I wanted to and I suggest you contact her. You can book Anastasia for photos still. And, if you have cancer, especially metastatic cancer, this is a cost you can justify and a gift you can give to yourself and your family. This is not a $10.00 photo with a grey mottled background where you plaster a fake smile on. Not that there is anything wrong with those, but with Anastasia, you will get something ephemeral and wonderful as in the photo with my dog - she might capture you in a way you aren't used to seeing. Please check her website and see the full range of her photos, you will be awed at what she sees through her lens.
If you are a woman post-mastectomy, then I can recommend that maybe you consider a boudoir shot, nude or not, something that will be symbolic of your effort to recapture what surgery did (not) take away from you. A photo is a way reclaim your new body as your own. And, of course, for we metastatic women - we should leave something like this behind for our family.
I recommend you do it before she becomes like Annie Liebowitcz and too well-known for us regular souls. Because, I suspect that will be her trajectory in life - if that's what she wants, of course.
Anastasia says she will travel anywhere, in fact, she likes to travel. You can reach her at anastasia.kuba AT gmail DOT com, or phone: 415 535 4960.
There was a moment in my life when I was done mourning the person I thought I was, that I thought I should have been, the changes I was hoping I would not have to go through. I was ready to accept the woman I am, the body I have and the changes I went through.
And then I had a duel mixed feeling - so if I accept, does it mean I give up? Does it mean I settle? At the same time I felt a great relief from feeling that I've been consistently failing. If settling meant I had to stop beating myself up for the things I could and could not control, I was ready to settle. Acknowledging the present situation as-is and without judgmental labels only meant that I stopped denying certain parts of my life story and acknowledged the whole me. The whole entire me.
This is the opposite of settling, this is gaining. Gaining the whole me, taking back the parts I am used to denying, learning not to care and recognizing all the options that are available to the real me, not a cardboard cut-out me.
I want to be seen. I want to be heard.
But I am still afraid sometimes that if I will truly see myself, I will find a person who does not deserve to be loved. And I am so convinced that all the people who love me only love the image of me I have been crafting and presenting. They don't really know who I am or they would stop loving me.
This constant search for balance led me to my present work. I am seeking and finding people who are on the same path as me. And I believe that to get to the point of truly seeing, loving and accepting myself unconditionally, to TRUST there is beauty in me, I must believe and trust there is beauty in all people. To see the true value of this moment, I must trust there is a true value in every moment.
And it is not easy.
The moment I tell myself that I love and accept myself; that I am ready to see and embrace who I really am is also a moment of a great vulnerability.;I am afraid that once I see, all my fears will materialize. And my new, self-loving, self-accepting person will disappear in a face of the harsh "reality".
So what does it all have to do with photography?
I believe that compassionate photography, just like any compassionate acknowledgement is a powerful tool. I think about portraiture as one more way to be real, to be true, to be you, to be honest and to see.. I imagine it as a mark of a point in life, as evidence, as a witness, as an adventure.
I am convinced that beauty is a property of all people. Not only young and healthy. I think the conventional idea of beauty is not only deeply limiting to the point of ignorance, it is harmful. It causes us to question if we are good enough to even exist.
In the course of past 3 years I photographed a lot of people with cancer. Not because they have cancer. But because this is a moment of a huge transition that brings all these questions of acceptance and love to the surface.
When I am taking photos, I am not looking to photograph cancer. Or body. Or sensuality. You are not an object, you are a person. Unique, sexual, sensual, special, loving, adventurous, free-spirited and worthy. My intention is to step back and to allow myself to see the whole person. And in my experience, the whole person is always, always larger then cancer. I don't ignore cancer, but simply focus on the person. And then cancer becomes what it is - a part of the story.