Hello, I am Bernice, and I was pathologically camera shy for many years. Here is how that came to be.
My father started taking pictures of me from birth. Back then cameras used flashbulbs. They were extremely bright and left you blind for some seconds at a time (which seemed a lot longer). As I grew to be a toddler I started hiding from my dad whenever he had his camera. I knew what came next, sudden bright flash almost painful to the eyes, and blindness. I hated it! When I could not hide fast enough, I cried. I had become camera shy. From then on, if a camera was anywhere in my vicinity, I made myself as scarce as possible.
My father was a very prolific amateur photographer. Any time he was not at work and around me, he had a camera in his hand. As I grew, he started to show me how the camera and equipment worked. The first thing he showed me was how to dispose of the used flashbulbs. He told me to either wait until they cooled to touch them or use a cloth or some other barrier between my skin and the bulb to handle them while they were hot. I got burned once, but it was because I was not paying proper attention. It never happened again.
Dad also taught me how to not look directly at the flashbulb when my picture was being taken. That took care of the discomfort to my eyes and the flash blindness. His instructions alleviated some of the fear and camera shyness. Knowledge is a slayer of fear.
My father only lived with me until I was six years old. He and my mother divorced then. My father and I kept the shared interest of photography because I was able to visit him often after he moved out. We would sometimes go on trips just to take photos. He even gave me a slide projector, screen, and one of his cameras. Photography was in the film phase then, and dad preferred to keep pictures he had taken in slide form. He said they kept better than prints, and people would not steal slides.
Family would come over to see pictures and he would set up his slide projector and screen and show all the pictures of family he had. But, because they were in slide form, no one ever took one without permission. If someone wanted a particular picture, they would have to ask my dad to have it made into a regular print. That way he kept the original image and could share it perpetually. My dad was somewhat of a genius when it came to anything business, and keeping people from taking his beloved photos was business to him.
When I was eleven years old and became a “woman” (I started my period), dad turned his attentions to making sure I knew a woman’s place. He was extremely old-school when it came to this. He spent more time telling me he wished that I was a son because I had the characteristics of a son when it came to doing business and such. So, he stopped talking to me about photography and we stopped having our little photo trips, a change in our relationship that made me very sad. I kept visiting because I loved my stepmom.
Because photography was something I really liked, and my dad had taught me enough for me to get pretty good, I started studying more on my own. When I was about thirteen, I learned how to develop and get prints from my own film. I honed my skills at this until I was about fifteen. I loved taking pictures and developing the film and printing the photos. By this time, I had a boyfriend who shared the same interests. We pooled our money we had made from odd jobs and paper routes, and I turned a room in my mom’s basement into a dark room. We started making money doing various photos for other people.
My self-esteem had dive bombed somewhere around twelve years old. This was also the time that I became pathologically camera shy. Though I really enjoyed being behind the camera, I never wanted to be the subject of any photos being taken. I went through that awkward stage of growing taller, and body changes. I felt tall and skinny. My clothes did not fit “right”. I did not have as many curves as the other girls my age. I came to not like mirrors either. I thought I looked horrible and avoided having my picture taken like the plague. It did not help that my mom started calling me her giraffe girl, referring to my height, and that I was taller than most of the boys because they got their growth spurts later than most girls. I did not know anything about growth spurts. I felt like this hell would last forever. I had to endure questions from the boys such as “how did you get so tall”, and “how’s the weather up there?” Sigh, a bane to my existence. It also did not help that my boyfriend was shorter than I and my mom teased us saying that we looked like Mutt and Jeff, an old comic strip where the two close friends differed greatly in height. Though our height difference was not as drastic as Mutt and Jeff’s, and they were not a couple, it gave her great delight to refer to us this way. In her day, a guy would never date a girl that was taller than he was (such weird societal conventions).
This pathological camera shyness continued into my adult life. I only allowed myself to be photographed when absolutely necessary for things such as driver’s licenses, work IDs, and school pictures. I hated all of it. If I had to be in photos for other reasons, I always hoped it was with a group so I could hide in the back. Because of this pathological camera shyness, I avoided events. I avoided parties, family gatherings, picnics, and any other events where pictures would likely be taken. It turned into a trigger for mild anxiety attacks.
I stayed pathologically camera shy all through junior high school, through high school, and into college. I even modeled some in college, but I would never look at the pictures. My pathological shyness did not subside when I got married the first and second times, or when I had children. I still saw myself as a non-attractive, physical mess that should not be in pictures. My first two marriages were to men that were not forthcoming with compliments and did nothing to bolster my self-esteem. In fact, the first time I got married was to the first person that asked because I did not think I would get another chance. My mother had always told me that I was damaged goods, and no man would ever want me. Little did I know that she did and said all the derogatory things to me because she was jealous of me. Something she told me before she died.
I should have known I was beautiful because my children were beautiful, and most people said that they looked like me. The comparison did not build a bridge for me because I had constructed a skewed perspective of myself.
It was not until I met and married my third husband, a photographer, that I finally started to see myself as worthy of photographing. He took pictures of me whenever he had the chance, just like my dad did when I was a little girl. At first it was uncomfortable, but he did it so much it became a normal part of life. With the coming of social media, I began to see so many positive comments about pictures of me that he would post that I came to think “everybody could not just be being nice.” I then learned that the boys I had grown up with that had said insulting things to me about my height liked me and did not know how to communicate that to me without being embarrassed.
Now that my self-esteem was being quickly repaired, my anxiety disappeared, and I started to like having my picture taken. I went back to being a photographer myself and currently own a photography company with my wonderful third husband. We have been doing this for twenty years, and I am so happy to no longer be pathologically camera shy.