I did something rather unprecedented this week: a remote portrait session through Zoom! I would not have ever thought such a thing could exist, but it does now! And it provided some surprising and delightful insights into the nature of leading and following and creative collaboration.
I think I asked for this session primarily because it just sounded FUN. And because collaboration makes me feel alive and powerful and fuels all of my other work. And because it can be easy to forget that letting my beauty, whimsy, imagination, and delight be expressed is really important. My talented photographer friend, Linda, knows this and is very good at drawing out those qualities.
To be clear, this was not a selfie project. It wasn’t me taking the pictures. It was Linda seeing through the lens of my web cam, directing me verbally as she would if we were together in person, and taking screen shots from her own laptop while sitting in her own apartment across town. This seemingly impossible arrangement actually made the creative process wonderfully fresh and exhilarating in some fascinating ways.
What was the same was Linda’s precise direction to position a chair or angle a knee just so in front of a door or a curtain. Facing toward or away from the light, looking up or down. She was always totally clear on the evolving vision as she asked me to pause, play, explore, shift, change, or hold positions, like a skillful theater director. She fully embodied the energy of creative leadership in this way, and I felt very free because I didn’t have to make any decisions – I could just follow her instructions and enjoy being in the moment.
Key Leadership Traits
-Developing a Vision
Different, though, was that I was more involved in this shoot than I have been in the past, like a production assistant might be. I found myself being a very engaged follower. I would propose an object or a table or a window for her to consider, and then it was me moving the webcam up or down or building a stack of books to get it at the right height, opening and closing blinds, moving plants. I held the camera. She pressed the button. I influenced the shot in ways I wouldn’t normally.
Once I was in a spot, I would try moving a leg or maybe shifting in my seat, experimenting. She would see a shape or a light effect that she loved and squeal excitedly and tell me to pause and hold. It felt like we were creating a world together, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was at least in part because of the stronger role the follower (me) was playing in the relationship.
Key Followership Traits
-Responding to Requests
And sometimes I just said, “no,” which was also a very empowering statement to make as a follower, something that’s often hard to practice in other contexts. At one point, Linda asked me to setup my phone as an additional camera, but it was feeling stressful for me, so I said I didn’t want to use it anymore and we both embraced the soft, blurry effect of the webcam instead. Linda suggested I try wearing a dress, but I didn’t feel like wearing a dress, so I just said, “No dress.”
A fearless leader, Linda was completely unfazed by, and in fact welcomed, my “no’s.” She understands that creativity flows best when both people feel 100% safe, happy, and free, and she prioritizes this in all of her client relationships. So, when she later asked me to bare my legs, something I’m usually skittish about, I actually said, “yes.” Her commitment to us as a creative team made it possible for me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. Our navigation of these no’s and yes’s is another great example of how leadership and followership can strengthen one another and elevate creative potential.
Bonus Leadership Traits
Bonus Followership Traits
-Trying Something New
About the blurry images. I kind of love them. Ironically, they have a kind of nostalgic, analog flavor to them that feels so appropriate right now. Nothing’s very clear in our world, and neither are these images. Where am I? These photos don’t tell you exactly, though they give you some vague hints. I’m at home, but I also live online and in books right now. Who am I? Well, the personal and professional and the sacred and mundane have never been more blurred than they are right now. I can’t think of a more accurate aesthetic for this moment.
I hope you enjoy these portraits. I had a blast making them with Linda and they left me energized for days. To see more quarantine portraits and schedule your own remote session, visit Linda’s IG @birdsflyback