Be Yourself

It's a bonus to my work, the opportunity to develop personal working relationships with people of all career paths, belief systems and personalities. Since my portrait style is to capture genuine expressions, it's always been my policy to avoid canned phrases in the camera room, that prompt a canned expression, especially with kids. (who very masterfully just show us their teeth while looking strained...)

Simplified Formula: Canned words = canned expressions = loss of essence in an image.

This means, that I get to do what I love to do most. Meet, greet, listen, study and ultimately say just the right thing while the shutter releases at the perfect reaction. The result? - Cheese-free portraits, and in many cases - great new relationships, as I get to show people their most stunning self.

During my first seven years in business, I felt like I kept clients at arms length. 20 years of retail interactions, had my communication distilled down to short, superficial, often repetitive conversation at best. It took a while before I realized that these things were not only an inversion of my own personality, but prevented me from "showing up" as what my clients truly needed.

We can all look our best when we stand in front of a mirror, tweaking our lips, eyes and head tilts to just how we want to be seen. When you enter a camera room, your background is, of course, behind you, only allowing you to see lights, gadgets and a talking camera - with a puzzled look of wonder, regarding how you and your setting will look.

The "talking mirror" that I've educated myself into, has allowed me to extract the best results from my subjects. It took me many years to allow my interactions to evolve from a reclusive outdoor photographer, to a fluent, compassionate, sometimes witty personality director/extractor.

Though I have always been a quick study of people and personality types, it has taken me decades to transfer this skill into the domain of other business relationships in my life. Today, I think it's safe to say that I boldly took that step with a very skillful orthopedic surgeon.

Tuesday 9/21, we met to review my MRI. He spouted off a slew of technical terms that were being typed by an intern (I assume) who likely crafted them into the holographic view of what he needed to do for the repair. I was impressed, but probably put even more at ease by the wit that he incorporated into his empathic awareness of my painful experience.

He asked me what I did for work, and I simply stated "Photographer". We stayed on business, and scheduled my meniscectomy for two days out. Since my medial meniscus was completely torn free, fixing was less probable than removal, but offered the needed, quicker recovery to allow me to work.

The best course of action would not be decided until I was sedated and unable to weigh in. As I left, my confidence in him did not wane, though it occurred to me that he didn't know enough about how this knee was used as a photographer to make this decision for me.

Odd as it might sound to many, my wife included, I typed him a short letter that was basically to say what my knee meant to me as a photographer. Crawling on the floor to photograph babies, running squats to dart from one side of the stage (or alter) to the other on weddings/events, and leaping on rocks at rivers for high school seniors or my own backpacking photo excursions. "This knee has seen 10's of thousands of miles cycling, and wants to do more..."

I signed my letter, "The Knee of Brian Geraths" and tucked it into one of my favorite scenic cards. My wife stood there with me watching his expression as he read and I awaited sedation. She was half cringing at her odd-ball husbands way of being, unsure that he would accept my odd sense of humor.

As he read it, he smiled, called me a poet, laughed at a few bits, and in the end thanked me for my kindness. "In 30 years of doing this, I've never gotten a card..."

Yes, even I had questions about following through with it, but I figured, if someone that doesn't truly know me or my needs has to make a choice about my physical fate, I was going to help him make the right choice. The talking mirror was about to get fogged up...

And just to make sure that the decision was made for the correct knee, I wrote some instructions on both of my knees.

He laughed and pulled out his own black sharpie to put a bigger "X" on the exact spot, and again thanked me, as he showed off his card and letter to another Doctor.

In my camera room, I'm in my domain, free to be me in my fullest manner. To step out of this comfort zone, into the unknown, perhaps too-serious realm of a surgical center filled with a likely left-brain population, I was not as easy.

While there may be a few of my friends that could imagine me doing something this bold, I felt like it has taken me the full 45 years to trust my instincts this much. To truly be, as my license plate affirms "B-YRSLF". I work up the urge, and dismiss my gut, in worry of judgment or being misunderstood. In this case I could not have felt more certain that I needed to step out of my fear of just being myself. I may never know the surgeon's thoughts while he was working on me, but I felt far more relaxed that my bold humor, exercised in my work, has somehow helped someone else while they were doing their work on me.