EXPOSED FOR GROWTH:
A PHOTO SHOOT WITH WALEED AND THE GIRL WITH NO HAIR
By Heather Mcdougall
So, I shaved my head. Well, I buzzed it really short. It was such a monumental moment for me that I wrote about it in a Medium post – something I do less than once a year. It’s funny how personal expression works, because as soon as I opened myself to sharing that story with friends and social media world, something cool happened. Waleed Shah, a creative photographer and entrepreneur here in Abu Dhabi, reached out to me with the chance for a photo shoot of the girl with no hair.
I have quite a bit of experience as a performing artist, but almost no experience with photo shoots and modelling – save the one time my friend needed a model on short notice so I stood on a frozen lake in a swimsuit. 🙂 Regardless, I rarely turn down opportunities for personal exploration – especially harmless things like a photo shoot and shaving my head – so I said yes.
PREPARING A VISION
From the moment I agreed, this photo shoot was a crash course in creative collaboration. Immediately, I was asking Waleed what I needed to do and he was equally eager to share his vision.
I would be wrapped in white, wearing a mask. Slowly revealing a feminine form, then face, and contrasted by a stereotypically non-feminine haircut. The shoot may include me wearing men’s clothes and then wearing women’s clothing. No makeup and Bold makeup. Hours before the shoot, Waleed had a creative spark and thought I might even participate in a rap video. The juices were certainly flowing, and I was just trying to absorb it all so I could turn it out through my own performance lens.
Waleed arrived for the shoot, and immediately his vision was changing. Things were not as he had imagined – the lighting, my wardrobe, the space. His ideas were evolving on the fly, and I did my best to roll with it and follow his lead.
The shoot itself was fun and, at times, gigglingly nerve-wracking. Waleed gave me direction for moving my head, arms, working with the fabric, and the mask. I learned things as I went – to know how big the frame of the shot is to keep my movement inside the frame, to explore expression just with my eyes behind the mask, to release hesitation of moving my body, and to ask for guidance when I felt unsure.
After a couple hours, we wrapped it up and I was alone with my thoughts.
REFLECTING ON “ART”
I had a whirl of mixed-feelings. On one hand I was thinking, “Waleed is talented and I think the photos will look great.” I even looked back on moments with a spark of “Yeah, alright, I can get the hang of this camera stuff.” But on the other hand, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was restrained during the shoot, and I was unsure if I met Waleed’s expectations. Did I let down the vision?
Eager to find a sense of peace, I started to view the concept of a photo shoot as a collaborative relationship between the photographer and model rather than a one-way street. It’s a symbiotic expression of vision. The stronger the relationship, the stronger the result.
For Waleed and me, this was only the first time we’d worked together. We were both working to understand each other, to relate and create together. I realized that it was natural for me to feel doubt. Rather than wondering if I let down the vision, I started considering how the uncertainty actually impacted the art.
To me, art is most powerful when it happens at the edge of a comfort zone, at a point of vulnerability. When art exposes a vulnerability, I’m challenged to experience tension. Over time, that experience helps my comfort zone evolve and causes the art to reach new and greater depths.
At the beginning of the photo shoot with Waleed, I interpreted the mask as a shield behind which a confident woman would emerge. It was a shield against society’s judgment toward a shaved head, and it was a prop for the shocking femininity it revealed. However, after the shoot my relationship with the mask had evolved. It now represented me exposing my vulnerability and emerging as a stronger collaborator, an emoter, and an artist.
Thanks, Waleed for sharing this experience with me. I am honored to let go of expectations, immerse in vulnerability, and grow a relationship to reach new depths.