What I Be Project
Text JF. Pierets Photos Steve Rosenfield
The ‘What I Be’ project by photographer Steve Rosenfield almost sounds like the Et Alors? Magazine mission statement. It’s a global movement about honesty and empowerment. People pose with text written all over their face and arms. Starting with ‘I am not my…’ they courageously reveal their deepest non-‘standard’ state of mind, uncertainties and fears. Rosenfield started this project in the hope to open up the lines of communication. To help everyone accept diversity with an open mind and heart. Needless to say we like every image of it.
The What I Be – project rose out of personal experience, or can we call it necessity?
About 12 years ago, I was working as a network administrator at a big computer company in Boston, MA. I was a very opinionated and materialistic person with a huge ego and I thought being successful meant having a 9 to 5 and making a ton of money. I never shared my feelings or insecurities because I was scared of how I would look to others. I never opened up and that created a lack in my relationships where people were scared to open up to me because they saw me as ‘blunt’. I eventually started to realize how unhappy I truly was. I started reading and journaling and further understanding that, in order to be happy, I needed to be more open and honest with people. I needed to be more compassionate which, in turn, made people feel safe around me. I quit my 9 to 5 in 2002 and started traveling and rock climbing until eventually planting my feet in California in February 2006.
You make it sound very easy. Wasn’t it weird to go from a 9 to 5 to a state of absolute freedom?
Oh of course, but it was a breath of fresh air. I mean, I was scared to just drop everything but I’m a firm believer that everything will work itself out the way it needs to.
How did you start photographing?
I got into photography through my dear friend Boz, whom I met while rock climbing in France. He was photographing the crew and I was immediately inspired by everything he was capturing. I bought my first camera in 2006 and started taking photos of everything. Shortly after, I saw Michael Franti and Spearhead live in concert in Canada. I loved the vibe and quickly became friends with the entire band. I asked if I could take photos at some of their shows and so began my photography work around concerts of various bands. Thanks to the opportunity Michael gave me, I have shot countless other bands since.
When did you set up the What I Be – project?
The project physically started in 2010 when I was talking with a friend about an idea on sharing people’s insecurities without literally showing them, on how I could possibly turn it into an empowering photography project. I decided that night that I wanted to photograph my friend with her insecurity written somewhere on her face or hands. As a way to boldly displaying her greatest insecurity on her skin, combined with a fearless stare into the lens. I wrote ‘thunder thighs’ on Amanda’s hand. Alongside the photograph she came up with the statement, ‘I am not my body image’. The What I Be – project was born.
What where the main reasons to fancy such a project?
Being able to photograph people and make a living off it was so amazing that I wanted to do something that had more meaning. Something that would touch peoples souls.
I guess you can’t have any judgment when you start a project like this.
I tried to have no judgments towards the people I was meeting. Tried to see no ‘flaws’ because I had made myself aware of the fact that we all struggle, we all have our insecurities.
You called it a social experiment. Can you elaborate?
The What I Be – project is a social experiment turned into, what is now, a global movement about honesty and empowerment. In today’s society, we are often told to look or act a certain way. If we differ from these ‘standards’, we are often judged, ridiculed, bullied and sometimes even killed over them. I started this project in the hope to open up the lines of communication. To help everyone accept diversity with an open mind and heart.
‘I encourage every viewer to look at each image and put themselves in the individual’s shoes. Allowing yourself to feel what they feel.’
Do you have the feeling there are still many taboos?
There will always be things to find out. There are so many things I don’t even know exist. I learn a lot through the project as well. People teach me so much.
Where does the name ‘What I Be’ came from?
The project was pulled from non other than my friend Michael Franti. I was always inspired by the lyrics of Franti. His depth and meaning behind each song. He is the epitome of a powerful musician, activist and poet. Michael’s song, ‘What I Be’ is basically all about being who you are and being the best you that you can be. I loved the song and decided that the meaning behind it completely fitted the project.
Who is collaborating on such a project?
Participants range from high school students and Ivy League masses to some well-known names in the entertainment industry. Subjects are putting their insecurities out in the open, exposing a side of themselves that nobody has seen before. By stating, ‘I am not my_____,’ they are claiming that they do in fact struggle with these issues, but it does not define who they are as a person. It is used to spread awareness on what people go through due to society’s paved roads. These are serious issues that some of us can live with, but most battle on a day-to-day basis. Each person that takes part in the What I Be – Project is extremely courageous. The What I Be experience is cathartic and universally empowering. Each portrait is immortalized for the entire world to see.
What’s the most intriguing story you have heard during this project?
They’re all intriguing. They all have the same importance to me. I have sat down with each and every person and they trust me with their story. That’s the most intriguing part.
What do you expect your viewers to feel, to see?
I encourage every viewer to look at each image and put themselves in the individual’s shoes. By allowing yourself to feel what they feel, you might realize something you’ve never noticed before. If you don’t understand someone’s message, stay tuned. To eliminate any confusion, each participant will be writing a 500 words or less statement explaining how their insecurity has affected their life. Some of the faces you may recognize, some you may not. Take the time to connect with each one. You may see yourself within one of the photos.
What would you write on your self-portrait?
You’ll have to wait until the book to see that!
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