The award-winning photographer discusses 'The Secret Keepers' series, the human need to unload, what brings her joy, and more.
On 'The Secret Keepers' Series and Our Need to Unload Baggage
Ms. Anita is part of a series called 'The Secret Keepers'. What she's doing is intensely listening to you and as part of that series, I also have a priest, a barmaid, a hairstylist, and a cab driver. The idea came from the Post Secret Project. I'm obsessed with this idea that people in the normal course of doing their jobs would subconsciously invite complete and total strangers to tell their deepest, darkest secrets. So I thought about who in the course of doing their job would come into contact with strangers in an intimate way who might just unload these secrets that they can't share with their friends and family.
There's that profound need to unload that psychic baggage. Think about the Post Secret Project! It was a similar thing. People were invited to write on a postcard the secret that plagued them. And then what's the effect of that? You look at this collection of postcards that people have written in thinking that their secret is just so horrible and, "No one could ever love me if they knew this about me." Then you read them and you go, "Oh my gosh! I've had that thought." You realize that you're not alone and that you're not the freak that you think you are.
Why are we wired that way? To feel a relief when we can just unload that psychic burden and get it out. It's because we're all connected and that thing that we're keeping to ourselves is a wedge between us connecting with humanity. That can become our relating point! That could be a bridge to a deeper connection if we would be more honest.
On What Photographing Others Has Taught Her About Herself
When I'm photographing someone, my goal is to connect with every single person. I feel like everybody is fascinating if you just take a minute to get to know who they really are. I try not to prejudge anybody.
In a global sense, I guess it plays into this whole arc of my personal work. The fundamental connectedness beneath the surface - no matter whether it's a celebrity or a homeless person - we are so fundamentally alike. We're all vulnerable and we're all seeking love and validation. I think that's why I don't really get starstruck. Even if I'm photographing a celebrity, I realize that they're just like me and I think that's kind of refreshing for them too. I try not to worship them. I try to connect on a human level as equals.
On Giving Ourselves Permission to Follow Our Passions
I get into this conversation a lot with people about being able to make an occupation out of your passion and being able to make that work. There are people that aren't doing that, but many of them are seeking it. The saddest thing to me are the ones who don't know what their passion is. I think that's a product of not giving themselves permission to hear that from themselves. Their expectation has been imposed on them that the internal voice has atrophied so much that they can't even hear it anymore. It's like it's just withered. It was always in them, but it wasn't tapped into or they weren't given permission to as a child. So it's a question of how to resuscitate that.
On What Brings Her Joy
I love that whole experience of meeting a stranger and connecting with them. There's something that really accelerates the intimacy of a relationship when you're photographing them. Because they feel so vulnerable, their guard is dropped and they let me in because they are really trusting me. People's images of themselves is a big deal to them. That's going to be out there in the public. That's how they're going to be judged and that carries a lot of weight for most people. I try to respect that and use that as a vehicle to do an accelerated deep dive with them. It's amazing how they come in. They feel nervous, vulnerable, fragile, insecure - all of these things and then we really bond over that. I always feel joy in my heart when it goes well, we do the hug, and they go on their way.
It honestly feels kind of like a ministry. I'm not really a religious person, although I would say that I'm a deeply spiritual person. I feel like fundamentally photography is just a tool, but when I'm in the right place in my head and heart, I feel like I'm just trying to foster love and connections across humanity. Whether I'm making art for others to view or making somebody's portrait, I'm really just trying to bridge the gap.
Visit Liesa Cole's website to view more of her work.
Listen to the full conversation with Liesa Cole on the Undiscovered Worth podcast.