A few weeks ago I had the chance to photograph the very incredible Elena Laurenti. After our shoot she wanted to write about her experience and thoughts from it. Here are her words:
I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed having my picture taken. In fact, I absolutely fucking hate it. Unlike models and Instagram “models”, I don’t want to be photographed and get paid for it; in fact, I would pay people to never photograph me. But for whatever reason, my mom continues to subject our family to her camera, and photographers continue to ask to shoot me. To be perfectly honest, I’d rather shoot myself than say yes to them, but sometimes, I put the mental gun down and do say, “Yes.” Have I ever enjoyed it? No. Is the experience ever rewarding? No, unless my tears are worth money, and you could bottle and sell them. Do the photos ever come out great? Fuck no, and then some.
But then, a few weeks ago, I agreed to appear in front of an extraordinary artist’s camera. And everything changed.
Okay, to be real, this was certainly not the first time I’ve ever been photographed naked. It wasn't even the first time I’ve been naked in front of Senen’s camera. It had me briefly ponder the question, “How many people have seen me naked?” Well, to put it nicely, a LOT of people have seen my ass. The number certainly almost made a psychiatrist nearly pass out in our one (and only) session. I believe her exact words, delivered with a slight British accent and a hugely judgmental gaze over her half-moon spectacles, were, “Don’t you thinkthat number is…kind of a lot?” (To which I couldn’t answer, because I was too busy thinking, “Oh boy, that wasn’t even my REAL number.”) But it was funny thing, reflecting on my sex life, and comparing my mindset and actions during those moments, versus in photo shoots. How could I have been, and be, so happy and comfortable and free while naked in front of someone in a most intimate way, yet in front of a camera, clothed or not, be so completely awkward and miserable?
It made me think of singing, performing, and life as a whole, really, and how it’s so easy for us to be awkward or uncomfortable in any or all of those situations. When I was still pursuing a professional opera career, I would watch tape of my performances or listen to recordings, and I would always cringe. Even when arias were executed perfectly, technically speaking, I would still hate it, because there was no soul, no depth, no heart to anything I was doing. In all those moments, sure, I may have been committed vocally, but I was utterly and entirely consumed with me.
My inner voice, even if I didn’t consciously realize it, was laden with: doubt; Did I nail that high note? Was that vocal run shaky? Did my legs look too thick? Was my face asymmetrical? And truth be told, that mental reel wasn’t confined to when I was on the stage or in the studio. I feel that way 9 times out of 10 in real life, too.
For years, I was so consumed by that egotistical way of thinking, so completely distracted by me and only caring about the fact that, “I want to sound / look good” that there was no way I ever could have created art. Worse still, there was no way I could have ever fully lived and enjoyed most moments of my real life, either. The only place I ever felt capable of fully being myself, being in the moment, and creating something real, was when I would write.
And then, I did this photo shoot with Senen.
This shoot was one of the most incredible and rewarding experiences of my life, outside of writing. For the first time I felt comfortable, free, happy, and confident on a whole new level. I wasn’t trying, I wasn’t posing; I was simply being. And every single picture - every single one, you guys - came out fucking stunning. No, not perfect, because I am not perfect. But, stunning. Every picture radiated, had life, drew you in, made you want to look again. I could, and wanted to, gaze on those pictures, not because I was physically beautiful, but because there was a depth and soul in all of them. And I couldn’t believe it. I had never achieved that outside of my written words before. I was in shock. But why now? What happened that I could achieve this ability to be so fully in the moment, and so out of my head?
My 20’s had been a decade filled with evolving and inner growth for me. I had a lot of shit to resolve, and luckily, my path crossed with some incredible people, and I kept getting put in the right situations to get the ball rolling, rolling, and rolling again.
At 24, I was asked to be the main subject of a documentary about love and dating in NYC. Though it was more like one long therapy session, the things I learned about myself, like my immense fear of real intimacy, got brought to the surface and resolved. After being filmed and figuring my shit out for 4 years on this project, I didn’t think I was done and had won at life per se, but I thought I was doing, ya know, pretty good
At 28, I did a big writing project / social experiment in which I swore off men and sex entirely, because inwardly I knew I still wasn’t happy, but didn’t know why. That, even more so than the documentary, dug out shit I had buried decades earlier and never thought I would have the courage to face, let alone accept and embrace. It was in that project I came to terms with who I was, and who I am, on every fucking level. More importantly, I did so without a man or some other crutch (for me, that's sex) to lean on. And again, I thought, “Okay, feeling pretty good!” Yet I still suffered from some social anxiety and issues with myself.
A month after I turned 30, I went on a trip to Croatia. The journey there proved extremely stressful. I was traveling alone, and from flights leaving early without notice, a nearly-lost cellphone, and lost baggage, I had to deal with 6 flights to 6 countries and 36 hours in airports. The trip itself, however, was a week on a boat with no boundaries, no rules, and presumably, no stress.
There would be no time for makeup, no electricity to do my hair, and constantly interacting with new people every day. For a girl who, well, cares about looking as perfect as I can, and a person with slight social anxiety, it was a little scary to think of. But once I was in it, it was one of the most liberating experiences I ever had. So you see, all these things lined up at points in time that I needed them, and gave me pushes that I needed in order to get to where I needed to be. And whether this was so I can look amazing in naked photos, or be happy in myself, I was finally open and able to be fully in the moment.
I know most, if not all performers, understand the importance of this "being in the moment” thing, and “letting go”, in order to achieve the greatest possible level of performance. And sure, I went to music school, so I knew that too. But I certainly wasn’t always able to do it, and part of me thinks it’s because I didn’t exactly know what I was letting go OF. This shoot with Senen made me finally realize, on a conscious level, where I could put it into actual words, what that “it” is. “Letting go” means letting go of one’s ego. When we TRY to create, TRY to be perceived a certain way, TRY to look sexy, TRY to sound beautiful, all we do is throw roadblocks in our own way of actually achieving our end goal. I’m sure, even outside of performers, we all kinda know this, right? So, why do we all still do it? Whether it’s naked in front of a camera or out with friends at a bar or during the workday, we are all constantly engulfed in our own egos, yet we don’t really stop it, nor do we leave it at the door.
I believe the problem, as it almost always is, is fear. Why do we let ourselves be consumed by ego? Because we’re afraid of being in the moment, we’re afraid of how others will view us. And why are we afraid of those things? Because most of us, truly, are terrified of knowing who we really are, and are too scared to own and live our truth. It’s honestly one of the scariest waters to dive into, but, once you take that journey into figuring out yourself and your shit, the rewards you will reap, in all aspects of your life, are incredible. I don’t know what your catalyst might be. It could be a great loss, it could be a relationship, it could be any kind of life-changing event. It could even simply be because one night you come home and know that something has to change and you feel this indescribable urge to attack it and figure it out. Many of us won’t ever be brave enough to take the leap and understand who we are. But whether you want to look amazing in naked photos, or to live the fullest moments you can live, leaving your ego to the side while embracing who you really are is the only way to go.
Written by Elena Laurenti
Photos by Senén Llanos