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Photographer Steve Rosenfield Seeks To Confront Insecurities Through ‘What I Be’ Project

It’s not often that a person’s emotional and social insecurities are broadcasted on Facebook. The ‘What I Be’ project created by photographer Steve Rosenfield, however, aims to empower people by doing just that.

This past Monday, Rosenfield came to Boston College and photographed students who wrote their biggest insecurities on their hands and faces, with the intent of helping them confront and reclaim those insecurities through photography and social media.

The pictures were then posted to Rosenfield’s Facebook page, Ganesh Photography. The pictures each have a caption written in the same format: “I am not my ____.” Each of the 73 BC participants ended the sentence with his or her own insecurity.

The project, which consisted of about 80 percent women and 20 percent men, was unveiled Oct. 6 in Devlin 008 with more than 300 students in attendance. After Rosenfield discussed the history of the project, several student participants also reflected on their experiences regarding socially driven points of inadequacy or concern.

In 2002, Rosenfield quit his job at a computer company and started traveling. He picked up photography in 2006 and eventually began photographing different musical acts such as Norah Jones and Macklemore. Although he loved being able to support himself through photography, Rosenfield said, he wanted to do more.

He initially wanted the project to be contained to just 150 people, but once he ran the pictures on Facebook, the project grew faster than anticipated. Rosenfield has since taken photographs at many locations, including other collegiate settings such as Princeton University and Scripps College.

“I really wasn’t doing something that was making a difference,” he said. “So I started brainstorming. I wanted to do something with my photography that was making a difference.”

The name of the project comes from “What I Be,” a song by Michael Franti & The Spearheads—one of the bands Rosenfield photographed early in his career. He admitted that the grammatically incorrect name may be aggravating for English majors, but that all it essentially means is for a person to be happy with who he or she is. In order to accomplish this goal, the project is meant to make people uncomfortable, he said.

“I created the project, and I wanted to make the project as uncomfortable as possible,” he said. “I wanted to create this project and make it really uncomfortable for the viewer and the participant.”

Contrary to a selfie or typically “happy,” self-flattering photo, Rosenfield chose to photograph the participants unsmiling because of how unconventional such an expression is across every-day social media, he noted.

Rosenfield continues to photograph growing numbers of people, far exceeding the 150 portraits he original intended to do, because the project works to spark conversation and show people that they are not alone, he said.

“When you put yourself out there, people feel safe, and they can come to you for things,” he said. “I wanted to keep doing that. People would use their image then they would leave and they would get messages from strangers saying, ‘Thank you for posting that. I struggled with the exact same thing.’”

The portraits allow the participants to reclaim their insecurities. They are not casting them off, but rather reclaiming them, he said.

“It takes the power away from the insecurity and it creates empowerment in the person,” Rosenfield said. “They are owning it, they know they are suffering from it, and they are willing to move on.”

Seven of the BC participants discussed their experiences with the project and why they chose to partake in it. Haley Sullivan, A&S ’15, discussed the impact her experience surrounding sexual assault has had on her life, noting that people often feel like they should not discuss their problems for fear that they are not as bad as someone else’s problem.

“Nobody’s pain should be diminished and nobody’s hurt is inferior,” she said. “As a community, we can grow together to lessen the stigma against feelings.”

Despite it being a complicated process, taking opportunities to open up in order to decrease the stigma against having inferior emotions is important, noted Sarah Romer, A&S ’16, who spoke about her struggle with bulimia.

“No matter what, it’s important to take opportunities to open up,” she said. “If you’re not at that point yet, maybe this can be a bit of inspiration to reach out. Suffering and silence is never something you want to struggle with.”

Toward the end of the event, Chris Marchese, UGBC executive vice president and A&S ’15, made mention of the phone number for University Counseling Services to the audience. He encouraged those watching and participating to call and set an appointment if ever necessary.

“This cannot be the end of this,” said Olivia Hussey, A&S ’16. “This was an incredible evening and I’m speechless, but tomorrow when you’re sitting with your friends … talk about it,” she said. “We’re all in this together, so please do not let this stop here.”

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Staff

October 9, 2014