During the summer of 2009 I gave birth to an idea that would enhance the lives of sixteen women and offer hope to thousands more. A fresh new approach to women in the world of photography: intimate portraits of everyday women embracing nature, exploring vulnerability and challenging society's view of the modern woman in the present environment.
This project pushed boundaries both for me and my subjects with some astonishing results. I titled this collection “The Goddess Within” and proudly exhibited thirteen portraits to the public during October as part of Photomonth ‘09, the UK’s largest photography festival.
I began this particular journey with hopes of serving the Goddess in many ways. My eyes and heart educated by six years’ travelling and working globally, I sensed a great displacement of feminine energy on returning to London, the city that raised me; a displacement leaving both women and men confused by their roles in society, by their relationship to each other and to our beautiful planet. In the aftermath of the industrial age I feel a tremendous energy is now available to us serving the Goddess. Mother Nature is calling for our attention, asking humankind to tap into their feminine nurturing depths and offer her the love and respect she so rightfully deserves. I wanted to help in some way to re-balance the scales and being a woman myself this seemed the obvious place to start. I looked for a way to channel my creativity so that it might benefit others. I wished to encourage women to rediscover and appreciate their connection with Mother Nature, to realise their unique beauty and how this comes from within by capturing their true light on camera. I hoped to dispel insecurities created by the media, that we women should dress and act a certain way, strive to be objects of men’s desire. I hoped to challenge women’s insecurities to make way for healing, self-acceptance and personal growth. I wanted women to see themselves in a positive light, to experience the power of the feminine, strong yet vulnerable in the same breath.
High hopes for an unknown photographer perhaps, but I’ve always believed that dreams can come true if we align ourselves with our true passion. I set to work planning for my exhibition in Brick Lane, scheduled for October 3rd. I had just 10 weeks to produce a body of work from dust and to try and raise the necessary funds, which I estimated at around £1,000. This is a sum of money I simply didn’t have and I set about writing sponsorship letters immediately. I approached around ten companies that I thought might have an interest in supporting my project, including my equipment manufacturers, organic and natural product suppliers and any publications relating to the Goddess. Sadly, with the economic crisis in full swing, I was unable to obtain any funding. At this point I had already put so much energy into the project I decided I needed to have faith in my venture and to get a loan to cover the costs. I’m a free spirit and this decision meant breaking a promise to myself: never to create a financial debt. I justified it by telling myself this debt wasn’t for me, it was for women everywhere and that the exhibition would be a success and the outlay returned, generated by sales of the images or new clients.
Money aside, my focus on the creative began by sending out an email and posting a message on my social network that I was looking for women to volunteer for a portrait project. I also talked about it to everyone I met and very quickly I had a list of women wanting to participate, some whom I knew, some I didn’t. Most had never posed for a photographer before, the ages ranged from 18 to 44 with occupations of all kinds: from students to professionals, shop assistants to graphic designers, social workers to porn stars! I decided to shoot all sixteen applicants, making an agreement with each that there was no guarantee of an image being entered in the final exhibit. There were so many factors to consider in this final selection and until we had completed shooting there was no way of telling exactly what would work.
I set about scheduling dates for shooting and researching possible locations. Each of the women was asked to complete a short questionnaire including information about their interests and unique qualities: in which environments did they feel most connected to nature; what kind of weather did they most/least enjoy; did they have any ideas or locations in mind; how comfortable were they with the idea of posing nude? I encouraged nudity because I wanted my subjects to feel as connected as possible to the land; after all we are brought into this world naked. Although sometimes stripping off just wasn’t possible due to the location and of course not every woman was agreeable to the nudity and I respected the fact. However I know from personal experience that we humans feel very liberated when we are brave enough to get bare skinned in the great outdoors. I believe it tunes us into that primeval instinct and frees us of our social status.
The feedback received from the models provided me with the foundation on which to begin the creative process. Many of the images that appear in “The Goddess Within” were conceived during self-guided meditation; focussing on the individual’s energetic connection with her preferred environment in mind, vivid images would soon appear to me. These sessions were often closely followed by a conscious dash to find a new location or the necessary clothing needed to execute the image.
As the first photo sessions commenced a mutual friend introduced me to Reykha. I was first struck by her powerful energy, the light that simply poured from Reykha’s stunning deep amber eyes was so blinding at times, just as the morning sun blinds waking eyes. This was a beautiful woman, humble and kind, fully aware of her ability to heal others but seemingly unaware of her physical beauty and the magic that danced around her.
Reykha had lived a life of service from an early age, using intuition and soul guidance to take care of her family and nursing both her parents through terminal illness. Mystical experiences throughout childhood and beyond set her awareness apart from others and she found she was often misunderstood. Although many found Reykha’s energy intriguing and recognised it without fear, there were those who felt intimidated by the power in her eyes, often saying that they feared their secrets were being laid bare under her gaze.
Reykha was honoured that I welcomed her energy with such appreciation, humbled that I was open and vulnerable right from the start. She accepted my invitation to create a Goddess portrait based on the fact we had an instant affinity with each other. Reykha unconditionally offered me her wisdom, love and support throughout the exhausting ten-week journey creating the project. I trusted her completely, allowing her to assist me with my journey, also helping me to select crystals and stones to balance and empower my energy.
I will always remember the instant I captured the magical image of Reykha, which I later titled ‘Supernova’. As she lay on a bed of golden leaves at twilight, I encouraged her to look past the camera, through me and into the Universe. In that moment of true Goddess worship, the wave of light from her eyes flooded into the lens and set me off dancing around her like a Sprite, while she remained grounded, laughing with her inner child.
For her birthday I gave Reykha her framed Goddess portrait to inspire and remind her of her incredible beauty and light. “Everything I believed I was inside, was reflected back to me in this image. The utter simplicity and profundity of my truth and beauty staring back at me, I finally saw myself. I felt that beauty had graced me in another way, in physical form."
As the weeks went by I observed the individual women blooming through my lens and I knew I was not alone in my endeavour; the universe was listening, a deep sense of divine guidance and protection embraced me. People came into my life with necessary information, stunning locations became known to me, weather patterns seemingly changed course for me! Though sometimes we had some surprises, like the time we got caught unexpectedly in a violent thunderstorm at Avebury. Soaked to the skin just a half-mile from the town, we three women emerged from under a tree to see the most magnificent double rainbow end to end across a field in true Goddess country. What a blessing!
The excitement and delight the women radiated when viewing their images was so very enriching. When I heard them say, “I can’t believe that’s me” I knew I’d done a great job. Often when we look in the mirror we are scrutinising ourselves, searching for imperfections to correct, looking to minimise or exaggerate certain features. Generally speaking, most people feel uncomfortable when someone points a camera at them, I certainly do! I have learned to recognise I have a talent for painting with light, an eye for shape and form. My Goddess portrait sessions differ from a conventional studio shoot in that we have time to get acquainted in a natural and open environment, which automatically creates a relaxed atmosphere. Once we begin shooting the sitter is given time to get use to the sound of the shutter and to looking down the barrel of the lens. We work together and spontaneously as I encourage them to relax, be present and enjoy the surroundings. “Feel the sand between your toes, hear the waves on the shore, absorb the warmth of the sun on your skin, breathe in the sweet smell of the apples.” My intuition plays a big part in saying or doing whatever is necessary for the individual to open up and I’m proud to say the success rate is high. Encouraging women to explore their true nature and capturing the magic that unfolds truly sets my spirit alight. The images I present invite the participant to experience feelings of self-appreciation and love. I feel this is crucial to our existence but sadly lacking in our society today where we are bombarded with false statements and images of what defines beauty. At the end of a successful photo session, I would take great delight in seeing the women depart looking and feeling like Goddesses.
Following six weeks of intensive shooting, the sessions came to a close and I began the task of selecting the final collection for exhibition. Suddenly the project had shifted from an outward-directed energy of helping the individuals, to an inner one of promoting myself. For the first time in my life I had an exhibition of my own, I was excited to be showing my art to the world. I had over a thousand images that I narrowed down to a manageable number and then began the difficult process of elimination. This part of the project I believe was the most challenging of all.
My exhibition space had room for up to sixteen framed images, but I was unsure about the total number I should display. Of the images from the sessions, some clearly fitted in with the style and theme, however others looked out of place and that meant informing some of the women they would not be part of the exhibit. Not an easy task! For days I looked at the images now posted on my wall and asked the question, “How many portraits?” The answer was given to me one morning when I woke with the number thirteen firmly repeating in my mind. It made sense that thirteen Goddess Portraits should feature in this collection, one portrait for each Moon Cycle in the calendar year. Lunar energy is ultimately feminine, so this decision continued to serve the Goddess and resonated with my initial intentions.
My fears of informing the two women who didn’t make to the collection were dispelled when they agreed that their images didn’t fit so well with the group and they expressed no negative feelings about the exclusion. This came as a great relief to me as I am sure some of the other women would have been hugely disappointed and this would go against my intention to raise self-esteem.
Whilst reviewing my final selection for exhibition, I asked myself “Have I succeeded with my original goals?” I’m positive that all the women photographed have benefitted from their Goddess experience with me, though some more than others. If I have played just a small part in their steps towards increased self-confidence or perhaps shown them a new and attractive aspect of themselves then yes, I believe I have. A new mother reminded of her beauty and how much fun it can be to climb trees. A boyish woman in her late 20s rediscovers her femininity and learns to love her body since I requested she wear a silk dress for the photo session.
Julie struggled and juggled her career as a performer with an eating disorder throughout the 80s and 90s. Her state of the art unique solo stage act of contortion and dance appeared in London’s most outrageous nightclubs and punk theatre. Her success on the stage was forced into the limelight as the eating disorder dominated her lifestyle and she lost touch with reality.
Despite her 33-year struggle with Bulimia, Julie remains in good spirits and devotes her precious energy to a charitable cause. I met Julie whilst purchasing a dress from the store where she works:
“Great dress” Julie commented, “Looks fabulous on you, where are you going to wear it?”
“Oh to the opening night of my exhibition” I smiled.
“Oooo an artist are you? What’s your medium?” As I told Julie all about the project I was working on she lit up like a firework.
“Oh I’d love to be a Goddess, I don’t think I’ll be here (alive) for much longer! Look what I can do, I’m a contortionist, they called me Skinderella in my day!”
Before I could find the words to respond she had raised one leg flat against her body with her foot dangling over her head whilst still standing on the other! I was quite literally lost for words. Julie filled the silence with her excitement, she told me how she always wore black and how she could be a spider in a tree. “Can you make me look spooky?.”
“Of course we can, Skinderella.” I had a location already in mind before I left the store; some fantastic storm-damaged trees in Richmond Park would be just perfect. When Julie agreed to the location, I had no idea this would be her first time in a rural setting since before her illness.
“My dad used to bring me here as a child.” Julie told me her story as we sat on a bench warming ourselves in the sun with a cup of tea in between shootings. Julie was Daddy’s little girl, she adored her father until one day mental illness took hold of him and he turned against her. While continuing to live in the family home the daily traumatic events surrounding her father’s rejection triggered Julie’s eating disorder. Julie continued to live alone for many years with her illness and despite receiving the best therapy in the country, nothing relieved her symptoms. I can see how simple things like listening and spending time with Julie have brought some light into her life. Seeing her energy lift when we looked upon a sunny field of deer in a clearing and her child-like excitement as a stag walked close by is a memory that will stay with me forever.
I stopped by Julie’s shop recently to find her preparing for a night out with the girls to celebrate her birthday. “ I could never have done this if it wasn’t for you.” Julie explained, “The opening night of your exhibition was the first time I’d been out socially for 15 years. You’re a life saver, you are!” I discovered later, this night was a significant turning point in Julie’s healing. Drinks that night progressed to dinner and Julie enjoyed a meal amongst her friends. No binging or purging occurred. Julie retired to bed that night for the first time in her adult life feeling content and fully satisfied. The empty space of her constant hunger had been filled with the love and attention of her friends and she slept soundly. After many years of refusal, Julie is now receiving visits in her home from a psychiatrist specialising in this field. Julie feels that her Goddess portrait experience has put the spark back into her life and reminded her of what it feels like to be back in the ‘real world’. It has given her the confidence and strength to be alive and begin the long journey on the road to recovery.
Julie’s statement bought tears to my eyes. I never imagined this project would have such a profound effect. Revisiting the exhibition’s opening night in my mind, I could see a delighted Julie the centre of attention amongst her friends. Proud to be part of the exhibition, running around playing the guessing game of who’s who with the Goddesses and their portraits.
The opening night of the exhibition was a great opportunity for the women to exchange stories and come together in a celebration of the Goddess. I launched the night the moon was 99% full on the 3rd October, (3+10=13) in honour of the Mother Goddess. Later, some other synchronised dates and figures were made known to me. I had selected 29 (days of the moon cycle) additional images from the sessions to be displayed as a miniature gallery as part of the exhibition. I also held a special evening to a group of photographers on 13 October, where to my surprise I held a captive audience, talking about the project. This was the first night I began to appreciate the magnitude of my creation, I was so overwhelmed with the response that I lost my purse on the train home!
It is my intention to continue raising the self-esteem of individuals with Goddess Portraiture, for I believe this energy enriches us all and provides hope for a harmonious future within the natural world. I hope that when you view my Goddess portraits, you feel an appreciation of nature and a connection with the divine feminine. If you do, perhaps what you are experiencing is the three-way connection between the photographer, subject and Mother Earth. Whilst feeling this connection, you too are connecting to your place in the web of life and all creation. This I believe, is what makes these images so endearing. These are moments in time when the women are connecting with their innate wisdom, with the Goddess Within. I am simply a catalyst, there to stimulate and capture this state of blissful harmony between nature’s great creations. I believe in this moment as we emit light, there is something we all experience but barely acknowledge and see for ourselves. Although others do and our loved ones can repeatedly tell us how beautiful we are, only rarely we will believe it until we experience it for ourselves and often in our modern world, seeing is believing!
Text and all images © Samjhana Moon
If you would like to discuss the opportunity of a Goddess Portrait session with Samjhana Moon please contact her directly: email@example.com, 07749 543 469
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