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Blog

For her.

Halie Johnson

I have been mustering up the confidence to share this for a while now. A long time ago (after trying to live up to everyone else's standards), I realized that most people only share the good times on facebook, instagram, and every other form of social media. Since then, I've made a concerted effort to be real and honest online so that I am not unintentionally making someone else feel like my life is perfect and that theirs should be as well.

When we only post the good parts, we are setting unrealistic expectations for people and setting them up to feel disappointed with their own lives. As bad as it sounds, I feel relieved when someone on my friends list posts something honest and...even sad. It makes me feel like I'm not alone. No one's life is happy go lucky all the time. I'm sure we are all tired and exhausted of seeing our friends on social media only share the "picture perfect" moments of their lives. Naturally, this leaves everyone feeling like everyone else's lives are better than theirs and that no one else has struggles or difficult moments. However, we don't see what is behind the curtains.

We don't see what those people are insecure about, because they only post the photos that highlight what they are proud of.
We don't see the daily struggle in real relationships, because we all choose to only share the cute dates we go on, and the sweet things he/she does for us.
We don't see reflections of real people and real lives. 
We only see what they want us to see. 

This is why I am finally sharing my story - in hopes that someone can relate to my struggles rather than be intimidated by my happiness. In hopes that others can share their struggles and insecurities too. I know it's pushing it, but I am mainly hoping to find others that share the same daily struggle as myself so we can talk openly about it and no longer feel ashamed or alone. 

I'm tired of the taboo of sharing your true self on the internet. 


"Trichotillomania (trik-o-til-o-MAY-nee-uh) is a disorder that involves recurrent, irresistible urges to pull out hair from your scalp, eyebrows or other areas of your body, despite trying to stop. Hair pulling from the scalp often leaves patchy bald spots, which causes significant distress and can interfere with social or work functioning. People with trichotillomania may go to great lengths to disguise the loss of hair."


When I was 14 or so, I constantly felt an overwhelming amount of sadness and anxiety, for no particular reason. I would constantly blame it on my small town, Perry, for "limiting my creativity". I felt that no one that occupied the same small town had anything in common with me. In a sea of faces, in every crowded room, at every party, at every concert and gathering, I felt alone

I felt trapped and wanted to explore, but it was something much deeper than that. Honestly it's still something that is unsolved. I've come to accept the fact that my anxiety will always be there, no matter the circumstances, so the best thing to do is to learn to cope and minimize the symptoms of it. I remember my mother crying, thinking it was her fault that I was so sad. That she must have done something to make me feel this way. That since she couldn't make it go away, that it was her fault.

She was so wrong.

She is the best mother in the entire world and did a damn good job at raising me.

In 9th grade, I went to her and told her that I couldn't stop pulling my hair out and that I didn't understand why. That I had this unnatural compulsion to pick and pull incessantly at my hair. That, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't keep from doing it.  I remember seeing piles of hair on my desk at the end of class in high school and I would just look around to make sure no one was looking and sweep it off, feeling so embarrassed. 

Until last year (unless they found out accidentally), no one except for my parents and my best girl friend knew about my trich. I felt like my main goal in life was to hide the fact that I pulled out my hair. I remember the day I told my fiance', Alec, very vividly. I was stuttering and shaking, stumbling over the lump caught in my throat to tell him what surely would be the reason he left. 

Relief washed over me when he held me tight and said "shhhh, I already know."

Apparently, he put things together and had already done his research on the condition. He wanted to wait until I opened up to him, but he had known all along, carefully following the advice he read in articles on "what and what not to do or say when dating someone with trichotillomania". It was the very first time that I had told someone and they (whether it was on purpose on not) didn't make me feel like I was insane. He inspired me to open up to my family and friends more about my condition. I am never surprised when I receive an unwanted or inappropriate reaction because I know that if I had never heard of it or experienced it myself, I would think trich sufferers were crazy too.

That is the most difficult part, not being able to understand it. I hear all the time "why don't you just quit?"...."if it makes you unhappy, stop". "IT'S JUST NOT LIKE THAT!" I want to scream. "IT'S THE THING I HATE MOST ABOUT MYSELF! CAN'T YOU SEE?"

I would give up all of the money in my bank account to end it. I would do anything to be able to quit. I have exhausted almost every avenue. 

I have tried:

  • Counseling
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Psychedelic Therapy
  • Meditation/Yoga
  • Band-Aids on my Fingers
  • Wearing a Beanie while I am home and some sort of hat the majority of time when I am out
  • Wearing Gloves
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Self-medication
     

Now that you all know my backstory, I would like to try to describe how Trich makes me feel. Even if you do not suffer from this disease, I hope that you can see that we have similar effects from the things that we do not like and are self conscious about. 

I can't even begin to describe it accurately, but I will try my best. When I am anxious, sad, mad, bored, and lots of other negative feelings, I have the strongest urge to pull out my hair. I feel incredibly anxious and out of my control until I pull my hair. It's almost like when you have a hangnail, and you are obsessed over removing it and your thoughts cannot move elsewhere until you do. When I pull, I feel about 2-3 seconds of immense relaxation; immediately followed by guilt, shame, sadness, and a vicious cocktail of other negative and self-depricating emotions.

You'd think since I realized that the ultimate feeling is a negative one, that I would stop. I simply cannot.

I hate washing my hair because of all the showers I've spent touching my scalp while crying at how ugly I feel.
I hate going places because it requires me to look in the mirror to fix my hair, therefore, seeing the damage I have done to myself.
I hate that this leads to days and days where I don't leave the house.
I hate that I spend so much time obsessing over this. 

Trich has stemmed into so many other problems; the worst of which being social anxiety. I used to be so very outgoing and today, I would never use that word to describe myself. When I am in a conversation, it's difficult for me to pay close attention to the other person because I can't stop thinking "can they see my bald spots?" I find myself envying other girls' hair when I am out in public.

I'd say that 85% of my daily thoughts are trich related. 

I don't want this to come off as a pity party. I do not want your attention. I only want to start a discussion on the things we feel as though we cannot discuss. If people shared more about a wide variety of issues, such as bulimia, anorexia, domestic abuse, rape, depression, gender issues, etc., then we would have a much more effective dialogue and a much deeper understanding of how those people feel and how much we can all relate and help each other. 

Before I let you move on to the visual portion of this post, I want to get one point across to you:

Things wouldn't be this way if social media, and moreover SOCIETY AS A WHOLE didn't portray such an unrealistic, utopian and unachievable image of how life is and how women should look. 

It was so difficult for me to refrain from editing my flaws in these photos - my scars, my blemishes, the hairs that had fallen on my face from shaving my head, and mostly the damage I had done to my hair follicles from years and years of pulling. All because society has made us feel as if we need a clear complexion, a skinny waist, and a head full of beautiful hair. 

This is, ultimately, our fault. I don't know how exactly to fix my issue, but I do know that I don't want my daughter growing up in a world where someone else determines her beauty and worth. I want to do my part. 

I urge you all, please think about the repercussions of your actions and words. How, if we all just tried a little harder to discuss the things we have been taught are taboo, we could make this world better for the next generation. If we could strive to be more inclusive we could help so much more. If we could strive to love others even if we cannot relate to the things that alienate them from the rest of us. If we could simply be more accepting of the abnormal and stop trying to fit everyone into the preconceived notions that we have of what people should be or look like. We should strive to celebrate what makes us different. Find beauty in the uncommon. At times I feel as if I should just give up, that I should just let this disease take over and become a hermit and never leave my house. 

But I cannot. I must try. I must do everything in my power to help. 



 

For you. 
For me. 
For her. 

 


Photos are a combination of self portraits and portraits by Alec Stanley - a collaboration if you will. Jewelry by Rhys May.


Why I "Dropped Out of College"

Halie Johnson

Lately, I have had a lot of people asking me what I am studying in school or where I study photography. Until today, I kept saying "I currently study art with a concentration in photography at the University of Georgia's Lamar Dod School of Art" in my About Me on my website. It's even still on my Facebook. I thought it mattered. I thought clients would judge me for "dropping out of college". The truth is, I haven't taken any classes in three semesters. I am now proud to admit that. I am also proud to say that I quit my job waiting tables in December of 2013 and have been making a living from only photography since. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that accomplishment when I am feeling embarrassed after someone asks "How many semesters do you have left at UGA?". I have pages in my journal filled with the pros and cons of ME continuing college. I capitalize ME because college is honestly the best route for some careers and a great benefit for some people..but not for me, my career, and my situation. I once (nervously) presented these pages to my parents, and today I decided to share a few words from them with you. I know that a lot of my friends (especially my photographer friends) have struggled with this decision. It has been about two years of me going back and forth...enrolling in school and then taking breaks. I wish someone would have pointed these things out to me a while ago. Here is my personal list. If you're struggling with the idea of continuing college or going back, I suggest you make your own.

Pros:
- a degree / accomplishment
- education  
- use of equipment / darkroom
- projects that will push me 
- parents will be happy and proud
- connections and opportunities 

Cons:
- taking bullshit classes that involve things I am uninterested in
- a lot of debt
- not enough time to focus on my business
- cannot travel as much
- being stuck in the same place for a while

I closely evaluated these things and quickly realized that if I was to continue school, I would be sacrificing the things that mean the most to me: my business, traveling, and not limiting myself to living in Georgia. Business: I found myself turning away clients to do school work. Or sometimes I would accidentally overbook and spend my time editing instead of doing school projects. My grades weren't suffering (yet) but I was severely stressed and unhappy. Travel: Some people say "you can travel when you're retired". I want to travel now. Retirement isn't a guarantee. Tomorrow isn't a guarantee. Living in Georgia: While I love GA, I don't necessarily see myself settling down here. One day, I may change my mind...especially when I have kids and grandma isn't there to save the day. I just know that I would be heartbroken if I was offered an opportunity that required moving and I was not able to take it due to college. I want to be free and able to take any job or opportunity that is thrown at me. It was easy for me to see that the cons of college outweighed the pros, but I also thought it was important to provide myself the benefits of college without actually going. Here's what I came up with:

- degree / accomplishment: That's easy. In the world of wedding photography, who cares. I've had one client ask me where I studied photography. I decided not to book that person because if they needed to see a degree to gain my trust and could not see my talent through my work, they needed to be working with another photographer. In the world of fine art photography, who really cares! If you're good, you're good. It's more about who you know and how you market yourself. That being said, I do plan to take an online marketing class. 
- education: The only class I found beneficial in school was my black and white photography class, where we learned how to work in the darkroom. I look up to my teacher so much, still. However, I could have done research online or asked one of my peers for help and avoided spending $1300 on that ONE class. Last month, I attended a photography workshop in California called Field Trip. I will be blogging more details about it later, but long story short - I took 12 classes over the span of 4 days and learned more than I had learned in my two years of college. The workshop was about $800, about half of the price of a single college course. 

- use of equipment / darkroom: Putting more time into my business will result in having more money for my own darkroom one day. 
- projects and people that will push me to stay creative - The deadlines kept me working hard at all times. However, sometimes I found the projects to be...silly. We often had to find meaning in things that didn't need an explanation. I remember my teacher once asking me for the meaning behind my project. I told her "I thought it was pretty". She looked at me like I was insane. Some projects and photos come with meaning and some don't. Me not having a story or meaning behind my project wasn't stopping other people from finding meaning in it. I didn't enjoy feeling like I was faking it. I was forced to make up silly background stories for photos that were beautiful enough on their own. When I decided to quit school, I was afraid to leave my classmates. I had never been surrounded by so many creatives. BUT THEY ARE OUT THERE. Attending the Field Trip workshop showed me that. I also have made internet friends all over the world that inspire me every single day. I am involved in a group called The Heavy Hearted Photographers. I watch this group of people interact and share their work with each other daily. I am constantly inspired by them and pushing myself because of that. 
- parents will be happy and proud: Let's be real y'all...my parents love me no matter what. I know that they are just as proud, if not more proud, since I have made my decision.
- connections and opportunities: There are people in college that neglect to make connections and find opportunities, just like there are people not in college that do make those connections and find those opportunities. It's about being motivated.  

To sum everything up, I feel so relieved and free because I only owe $12,000 in student loans instead of almost $100,000. I feel so free because I am able to do what I love, make a living, and still make time for the people I love. I feel so free because I don't have grad students and teachers telling me how to shoot. I feel so free because I don't have to prove myself to anyone except myself. I FEEL SO FREE AND I WANT YOU TO FEEL THAT WAY, TOO.

Here is a link to my updated About Me page!

Here is a link to my personal work. More to come soon. 



Misconceptions on Boudoir Photography

Halie Johnson

I have so many ladies that are interested in boudoir, but are so so hesitant and nervous. So let's clear the air! A lot of women say "I would but I'm single!". Surprisingly, almost half of my boudoir clients are single. They choose to do these sessions for themselves. Whether you're single or not, this should be something you're doing for yourself and not just for your other half. Many women come to the session thinking that it will just be something nice for their significant other, but then leave feeling refreshed and confident. That feeling seems to double when they receive their gallery of photos. My clients have ranged from age 18 to 58 (all different shapes and sizes) and I have never had a negative response or reaction. Most times it's actually "wow, I can't believe that's me!" or "you made me look so beautiful!". I then have to go on to explain that they are beautiful and that I make a point to use zero photoshop to prove that. Another excuse I get a lot is "well I am going to start exercising and dieting soon so maybe in a few months or next year". I mean, come on. I believe in you and all, but naturally the chances of your body decreasing in sexiness are greater than the chance of you losing weight anytime soon. How many times have we all told ourselves "I'll be thinner next month", etc? A LOT. And how often does it actually happen? For me personally, never. Another issue is that most people are nervous in front of the camera in general, much less being almost naked. Before I ever shot a boudoir session, I let someone take boudoir photos of me so that I could see how it felt to be vulnerably on the other side of the camera. This helped me figure out the best way to make my clients feel comfortable during their session. I learned what to do and what not to do. For those who don't know me personally, I consider myself a pretty shy person. I make funny faces almost every time a camera is pointed in my direction. I still can't even look directly into the lens when my own fiance' is taking a photo of me. This being said, I loved every second of my boudoir session. I felt free and feminine. I believe that there is a lot of misconceptions about boudoir sessions. A lot of people think that all boudoir photos are inappropriate, sleazy, maybe even tacky. It all depends on your photographer. I don't like to photograph women in an unrealistic way. I don't like to make women act or dress a certain way that they're not. Wear what you feel beautiful in. Wear what your other half finds you sexy in. Don't go buy lingerie that you can never ever see yourself wearing in real life. And last but not least, please don't ask me to photoshop you. You're beautiful the way you are; lemme show you.

Words from my lovely clients:

"These are amazing! I have never felt so beautiful and desirable. I will definitely be buying a full set of prints. You are really talented, and it was so great to work with you. You made me feel completely comfortable and I can't wait to show these to ****!"
When asked if I could use a few photos from her session: "No that's fine! Thank you for thinking they are good enough! And I hope you know what I mean by that. You take beautiful pictures. I still love those pictures. You made me feel beautiful.
"I am 49-year-old chubby girl. My body is not what one would think of when the word "beautiful" is tossed around. I have scars and flabby places and I'm too this and not enough that. I was excited for the photo shoot with Halie, but I was a little nervous. I think those voices in our heads sometimes psych us out so much we practically treat ourselves like we don't deserve to do all the fun things "perfect" girls get to do. And it was weird to think about getting practically naked in front of a photographer I didn't know. I wouldn't even do that for a photographer I DID know, so it was intimidating to think about meeting Halie for the first time and stuffing myself into some lingerie and hoping she could make something nice out of it. I can say, not in a conceited or self-absorbed way, that Halie made me feel beautiful, and it shows. I AM BEAUTIFUL. I was no more skinny in the pictures than I am in real life. But there in my red babydoll, and my red corset, and yes...even fully nude (eek...who would have thought it!) all my sexy cool sexy fun sexy happy sexy flabby sexy scarred sexy courageous self comes out. Everyone else wanted to see their pictures on the digital camera as' the shoot went along, but I didn't really look at mine. I wanted to totally enjoy how I was feeling as they were being taken, and was afraid if I saw a bunch of the pictures as we went along, I'd get self conscious and it would change how I was feeling. So when I did see them, it was such an awesome experience! It was like "Wow...that's me?!" And you know what? That is me. I am daring and I look great in red and I am sexy and cool and happy. And every time I look at one of those pictures, I am reminded of that. This experience is one that every girl should have. Because it's not about gifting pictures to someone else. It's about gifting that feeling to yourself."

This year's boudoir marathon will be held at a private residence in Athens, Georgia. Each session will last 45 minutes. Please arrive an hour early to sip on mimosas and get your hair and makeup professionally done by Margaret Snider. She is responsible for most of the hair and makeup in the photos below. She is magical!

Brittany + Drew // A Birth Story

Halie Johnson

I've been sitting here for a while trying to come up with the best thing to say, but words cannot describe how I feel. I am so so honored to have photographed Brittany + Drew's story. You may recognize them from their engagement session or their beautiful backyard wedding. It was so exciting knowing before anyone else that Brittany was pregnant and having to keep the great news to myself. On September 15th right at midnight, Brittany texted me saying she was heading to the hospital but to hang tight. Well, I actually didn't see her text so she texted my fiance' Alec and we both danced around the living room for a minute screaming "BRITTANY'S HAVING HER BABY!". She told me to get some rest and head there in the morning, but to keep my phone nearby just in case. Like I'm supposed to be able to sleep after that?! I laid awake in bed most of the night, so afraid I would miss her phone call if I fell asleep. Morning came and Brittany unexpectedly dilated from 5cm to 10cm very very quickly! The hospital was 2.5 hours away from my house, so I'm sure you can imagine my stress level when I got caught in Atlanta traffic on the way. For the last 30 minutes of my drive, her mom was telling me that she was waiting on me to push. No pressure haha. But seriously, I was already crying at the thought of me possibly missing it. I finally whipped my car into the hospital parking lot and continued to run like a maniac through the halls. When I walked into the room, everyone sighed with relief and Brittany began to push right away. Baby Jaxton was delivered only 20 minutes after my arrival. And it was one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Drew immediately let out this loud cry and then we were all in tears. The entire time, they acknowledged that I was there but acted as if my camera wasn't. I was treated like a friend, not a photographer. 

Annie + Noordin // An Atlanta Indian Wedding

Halie Johnson

I shot Annie + Noordin's engagement party almost two years ago and never imagined that I would have the honor of shooting their wedding. I have always been so drawn to the energy and vibrance of Indian weddings, so I was on cloud nine when Annie asked me to document their five day long Ismaili wedding. I was also SO nervous! As a wedding photographer, there are certain traditions that I cannot miss. Aside from this, we just document the day as it unfolds naturally. Most of the time this only consists of the first kiss, the cake cutting, the garter toss, and bouquet toss.  But imagine having probably hundreds of those important traditions to keep your eyes peeled for. There was never any down time or just hanging out, which I loved. There was ALWAYS something interesting to watch, from very emotional and tear filled traditions to choreographed dance routines full of energy. My favorite thing about this wedding was that I could see and feel how happy every single guest was for Annie + Noordin. Even with 300 guests at one point, you could see that they didn't invite anyone because they felt like they had to - which resulted in such an emotion filled week. Even though this is only about 10% of the photos and you're only getting a small glimpse of each day, I hope you still get a sense of the story and the emotions that came along with it.

I want to brag on Annie for a second. She designed the yellow saree and the floral embroidered outfit that she wore on Day 2 and everything she wore on Day 4. She hand sewed the white gown that she wore at her Civil Ceremony and her mom hand beaded the crop top. For the dress she wore on Day 4 for her exit, she used pieces of her mom's Nikkah saree. Annie is a super talented fashion and graphic designer. Check out her blog and Instagram.

Thank you to the rest of the crew responsible for these photos. My fiance' Alec was shooting with me and my dear friend Kiyah Crittendon of Kiyah C. Photography stepped in on Sunday when Alec had a family emergency. They both ROCK. Our best friends and videographers, Stephen + Sofy Payne created this killer video.


DAY ONE - MEHNDI

Mehndi is the art of painting elaborate patterns on the skin with henna. 


DAY TWO - PITHI & SANGEET

Pithi refers to a cleansing ceremony, in which the bride and groom are rubbed with turmeric paste in a beautification process. It is believed that turmeric softens and whitens the skin, so the purpose of this ceremony is to help the bride and groom be radiant for their wedding.

The traditions continue with the men in the family showering the groom with eggs, flour, ketchup, mustard, maple syrup and anything else they can get their hands on.

After cleaning up a little, Annie + Noordin entered for Sangeet. During the Sangeet, the bride and groom's family and friends sang and performed dances as a tribute to the couple. Then everyone KILLED it on the dance floor. Seriously, I even asked her mom for dance lessons.


DAY THREE - NIKKAH & KHOBA KHOBI

In Arabic, marriage is called Nikkah. The religious ceremony consists of the recitation of Nikkah Nama (The Marriage Contract) in Arabic. After the ceremony, the family tied the ends of a scarf on Annie + Noordin in a sacred knot, symbolizing everlasting togetherness.

During Khoba Khobi, Annie + Noordin sat in front of each other with a bowl of rice between them. A coin is dropped inside and they have to race to see who finds the coin first. The winner is considered the head of the household. Noordin cheated by hiding a coin in his lap. However, he didn't get away with it. They had a rematch and Annie was named head of household! After the rituals, we took them outside and let their friends throw rice on them for a few portraits.


DAY FOUR - CIVIL CEREMONY

This day was very similar to an American wedding, but with a lot more color and dancing!

After the ceremony, Annie took a short break from everyone. She changed into yet another amazing outfit and then joined Noordin for a few quiet moments before entering the reception.

I probably teared up 5-6 different times during the reception. Not only were there multiple heartfelt speeches from family members, but her mother surprised her with a song on the piano. Since Annie was little, she always told her mom she wanted this song played at her wedding and her mom always said no. Little did Annie know,  the entire weekend her mom was making sure that the DJ never played this song because she was learning it herself. I think Annie thought all of the crying was over, but then Noordin surprised her by singing her a song in front of all of their guests.

The ultimate grand exit. Bubbles. Another perfect dress. An antique Rolls Royce. 


DAY FIVE - SATADA (SEE OFF SUPPER) 

This day focused on the intimate tradition of Annie's family giving her away to Noordin. As Annie walked out of the house for the final time, she threw back rice for her mother to catch symbolizing blessings for her previous household.