Join photographer, Danielle Cohen, and me on this week's episode of the Rebel Rising Podcast. We cover how Danielle feels in front of the camera, what it means for her to take photos, Danielle's lasting legacy and what she is currently rebelling against.
Tune Into the Audio:
Michelle: Welcome Danielle to the Rebel Rising Podcast
Danielle: Hi, Michelle. How are you?
Michelle: I'm so good and I am so excited to have you on the show and I was listening to one of my new favorite podcasts this past week, the life coach school with Brooke Castillo and she was talking a little bit about her work with you and describing the experience of getting photos taken. Yes, it's the final product you want to get to. You want these great photos that express you and express your brand, but what really stood out to me is that she said that you create an experience. That it is a journey when you take photos of her and she always learns something about herself.
So my first question for you is how do you feel in front of the camera?
Danielle: Oh Wow. Okay. That's a great question. I'm a little distracted by the thoughts of Brook and the experiences we have together and she's … It's so fun. It's so fun and great to work with people who are able and ready to show up. And so in terms of how I feel in front of the camera, I try to do the same thing when I am in front of the camera and that really just means being present to whatever is. So like for example, one of the things that I'll say to many, many, many of my clients is, especially those who I haven't worked with before and will say to me, “I'm really nervous in front of the camera”, or “Are you going to make me feel comfortable in front of the camera?” And usually, my response, if not always is, what I'm going to tell you is that it's normal to feel uncomfortable in front of the camera and we're going to practice getting okay with feeling uncomfortable.
Danielle: I'm not actually going to go out of my way to make it less uncomfortable because I think there's something in that. And so when I'm in front of the camera, I try to remind myself of that. I'm incredibly uncomfortable in front of the camera.
So my reminder to myself with that discomfort is to take a breath and remember that being uncomfortable isn't going to kill me.
And it's oftentimes a gateway to something else. And so to just try to not resist that and stay in it and be present and let it go at that point and just be myself. Because I have no control over who's holding the camera and how they see me or how they're going to document me, but what I know is that I want to be documented.
I know that my life matters, my work matters, myself matters, and there's something around documenting that kind of puts the punctuation on that sentence for me, in some ways.
Michelle: Yeah, it makes it permanent in some ways, as you document a specific moment in time in your life and in your business. It's this, oh see I was there. I did this thing.
Danielle: Yeah. See, I think that it's interesting because as you said that the image that pops into my head, which probably sounds so silly and maybe is loaded, I don't even know, but kind of the flag in the moon. Right? When we think of the man being, that presence, that's the image, most of us have an image an iconic image that maybe we've seen or maybe we've even made up of this flag in the ground, of I was here.
For me, that's a lot of what photography is about and my own personal tendencies or historical ways of coping and being and going invisible. And I think that there's so many of us that do that in one way or another. Go small, go invisible. And there's something about photography that says, I'm here. Oops. I just put myself in a picture. I guess I can't pretend I'm not here anymore.
Michelle: I'm here. Look at me. I'm doing this thing and that-
So what do you love most about photographing people?
Danielle: I think that that is a multi-layered answer. I have the things that I love in terms of like the act of photography itself, the actual process of having a camera in my hands and the way that it does this really … It creates this really unique experience for me as a very sensitive person who also deeply connects with people.
Having a camera in my hands, depending on the environment, particularly like in events and things like that, it creates a little bit of a buffer between me and the stimuli while also creating like a deeper connection between me and I don't necessarily love the word subject, but it could be because it could be an inanimate object.
It has this beautiful way of creating both space and connection, which are two things that I really love.
So, that's kind of an answer in terms of what I love about it as a practice in just my own world.
Danielle: What I love about it in my work, which is mostly with entrepreneurs, is that I feel like I get to be this small yet important part of them getting their important workout into the world, both literally with the photos, but also with this underlying spoken and sometimes unspoken conversation of how worthwhile you are, how worthy your work is, how important it is for you to take up space.
And then there are lots of other layers to how I feel like that matters. And how photography plays into it. So I'll share one other and that is just that I feel that the digital world, which can be problematic and scary and have all kinds of things. It also puts the pen in our hand.
Danielle: There are so many quotes I think that I've heard over the years in terms of like the victors write history or the one with the pen you tell the story. And all of that has been so true. Like it was either published authors, textbook writers, there were these bigger organizations that were dictating what was true in terms of the ongoings of day to day life. And also in terms of what's beautiful, what's powerful, what's feminine, what's womanly, what's masculine for that matter.
We are now in this kind of new pioneering terrain. We have the power to dictate that narrative or at least have massive influence in a way that we never have.
So when I think of the photos that I get to do with the amazing, unique, different people that I get to work with, I always have this kind of lofty visual that we will just, and we being everyone, will flood the collective spaces with photos of real humans that can kind of can mold that narrative into something that's more authentic and that feeds us in a different way rather than constantly what it's been designed to do in the past is reinforced our inadequacies and create more sense of pain because it was really being designed by big business marketing that wasn't really bringing a lot of consciousness to it.
Danielle: So for me, that always excites me when I work with a client and I hand them over their library of images that I know they're going to be putting up everywhere, in their ads, in their courses, in their stories and all the things. I just feel like it's one more drop in that bucket of telling the story the way it really is.
Michelle: Wow. So there's a few things that I want to unpack in that because that was-
Michelle: That was amazing.
Danielle: My little rant.
Michelle: No, I loved it because I mean there's one part of this of creating images and documenting yourself that it is like, Hey, I've made this thing, this is my contribution to the world and I want to share it. So, that's one part of it.
But then there's this other beautiful part that we're really taking ownership of our story and how it's told and how we're putting it out into the world.
And I think that's amazingly powerful and I don't think people think about photographs like that, having a photo shoot done for their business. But that's really at its essence what we're kind of documenting with our work in our lives.
Danielle: I think it's one of the things that … So, when I bumped up against those … Life is really funny in that we are so small and insignificant and we are so huge and significant all at the same time, right? Like this is just sort of the existential truth of our being. I've certainly had lots of times of, is this work important enough? Am I just more noise? All those different things, right?
That I think most of us bump up against and when we can have kind of those grounding pieces to remember that it's about this bigger thing. It's about us doing the best we can to offer whatever our service and our contribution are right now and to call it ours and to be able to …
So it's kind of this, it's in a relationship with it, we're in a relationship with the collective, and it's important that we own that because otherwise, we're not serving that collective. And so much of what we're going to impact, we're not going to know about until we're looking back on it.
Or our children's children are looking back and going, oh wow, they did this back then. This is what the Internet was like in its early years. And this is what people were doing as they were going rogue and starting their own careers and naming things and all of that. This naming and claiming is a big deal.
Michelle: Yeah. Well, and you've hit on something that I've been thinking a lot about which is significance and how I believe that's really what the people I work with desire is, it's not about, oh, I want to be famous and be known and be on the big stage, but it's like I want to make a contribution and I want to know that I've done my best to put my work out into the world so that it could go and make its contribution.
And for me that has been a significant shift in how I think about and approach my business because yeah, getting the big speaking gig or making a lot of money, that's all well and good, but at the end of the day, I think saying wow, people talk about the contribution I made and not necessarily, I made six figures in six seconds or whatever else.
Michelle: It's more about that lasting legacy, for lack of a better word. It's really about legacy.
Danielle: For sure.
Michelle: Yeah. So I love it. So I'm gonna switch gears a little bit and ask you the three-word rebellion questions.
So tell me, Danielle, what are you rebelling against?
Danielle: What am I rebelling against? Sometimes I wonder what am I not rebelling against? There are a few things out there. So, and not that they're necessarily all the first forward facing type of orientation to my work and my message.
I am definitely wired to question. It's part of how I move through the world and always have
And so as an example, I have for years now I've watched the word empowerment be really utilized and I think oftentimes with very, very, very good intention, but it does cause me to question and it does cause me to concern. Let me back it up maybe just a little bit. I remember as a kid and I use this story from time to time, one of these days, I just need to find a video of it, but I'm 45 so we're probably talking early 80s. I remember there was this perfume commercial.
Michelle: Oh yeah, I remember this.
Danielle: The song. Yeah. Okay. So they're the like, I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man. What I can remember from the commercial is, she's wearing a beautiful suit with a tight skirt and pumps and she's got a frying pan in her hand and she's just gorgeous and it's a perfume commercial and she's thin and blonde and white and all the things that one would want to be. Right?
So this was like this big feminist commercial. The thought was how empowering this was. And I remember at some point maybe in a college essay or something, writing about it from this like question of how often do we, as self-proclaimed feminists or lovers of women, actually really damage ourselves? And in that commercial what I saw was, oh, okay, there's adrenal exhaustion waiting to happen, or already happening. What's empowering about that? What strengthening about that? What really actually is life-affirming about needing to do all of it and look perfect while doing it, etc, etc.
Danielle: Who is that actually winning because I don't see that as being a win for the women. So when I've seen this word, empowerment, empowerment, photography, empowerment, coaching, empowerment, all the things. I oftentimes find myself wondering why we feel like we as a service provider need to empower another and my understanding of the origin of the word empower is to give power and by nature in that statement I'm saying that I've got it. I've got your power. Come hire me and I might give you a piece and that just does not feel right to be at all.
I think that the truth is that when you work with me when we're working together with my camera or in consulting or any of the ways that we might be working, I'm going to reflect back to you what I see just through my lens, my perspective as best as I can.
Danielle: My intention is to see you as purely and clearly and with as much truth as possible and to help you in any way you may need to be able to see that as well, but that power is all in you. I'm not the holder of your power, and so that's my concern around the word and the way the word empowerment is being used.
I think what we're really offering when we say empower is we're offering permission or support, but not, it's this thing of … There's this misguided thing and I think that it happens. I see it with people who are seeking out those services, who feel like they just are so desperate for needing help, and then what happens oftentimes is after they've worked with this empowerment person is that that person becomes their access to their own power and that's missing for me.
Danielle: Like there's got to be that connection of yes, we need each other. No doubt. We need our guides, we need our midwives, we need our supporters, we need our doulas. Whether we're talking about literal birth or figurative, this is needed for sure. It's important though that when we walk away from that experience and birth is a fantastic literal metaphor for it in that, I mean, I remember the first with my first baby and how I thought like I could have never done it without my doula. My doula was everything and some of that was even exaggerated probably by the oxytocin flood that I was having.
And yet, I also knew and she helped make sure that I knew that yes, her support and her presence and her skill and her tools were valuable, incredibly valuable. But I'm the one who gave birth and it was my baby.
And I think that's equally important whether we're talking about business, whether we're talking about something we're personally coaching through, that we might have this incredible person that we're working with that helps us get through, but it is us, it is our power. So yeah, that's my rebellion around empowerment.
Michelle: And I love that rebellion because when you and I first talked about this, it had a huge impact on the work I do because I go into my work and I really believe your message already exists. It's there. I know you have it, it's been with you all along and my job is just to help you kind of excavate it. Right? And not get like, there's some messaging people who are like, oh, here, this is what your message is. And for me it's like, no, let's dig this out together and find it. It's there. And my job is really that reflection and that support. And it's not being like, oh, here I have your message. It's over here in a little box. I'm going to give it to you if you pay me. It feels so transactional when we think about using the word empowerment like I'm going to empower you around your money. You just have to pay me.
Danielle: Right? Yes. It's loaded, it's true. And it's nuanced and layered like so many things, you know. So it's not black and white.
Anybody using the word empowerment is doing something horrible or wrong.
I just am curious and I think it's important that we stay very curious about the way that we're using language and particularly when we're talking about things that are of the helping nature for others.
I think that it's a precarious and critical and very, very valuable role that many of us play, whether it's something like I'm a photographer, but there's all this other stuff happening as well, or I'm a coach, right?
So it can show up in a gazillion different roles, but it's as those people providing that service and having that work as our contribution, trying to stay as awake as we can, as conscious as we can, as intentional as we can.
Danielle: And really staying curious about the language. I mean, we watched the language move through our collective and something will really grab us and it'll get some momentum and then it really … So it's important in those moments to look at what's that about? What is it we're longing for? And are we misusing that longing?
Michelle: Yeah. Because I don't think people actually think like, oh, what does this word mean? It's like, oh, well, yeah, I'm empowering women and isn't that a powerful and good thing that I'm doing? And we don't step back and be like, what does that word mean? What are the implications when I use it?
Danielle: And I think when I hear it, that's what makes me prickle, when I hear it said like that I'm empowering women. That's what makes me go, ooh, tell me about that. Or it actually makes me say like, my initial rebellious reaction is, that's not somewhere I'll go. Now if I hear someone say, I create an empowering space for you to step into or something along those lines where there is sort of a recognition of, this isn't me giving you your power, that sentence doesn't even make sense.
I can't give you what's already yours. I can't. Even if I want to, I can reflect to you what I see. I can share my tools, I can create a container, I can hold you accountable.
I can see you through, but I can't give you what you already have and I think, in all of us, if we can hold onto and remember we have that power, whatever that means and we get to grow that and we get to decide who our team, community, family, sort of, we get to decide the family part, who's going to enhance that in us or allow for more of that, it increases our sense of self responsibility. It increases, and by doing so we are more in our power.
Michelle: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Absolutely. So one final question for you.
What would the world look like if we stopped empowering people and let them know that the power is within them all along?
Danielle: Well, I think my question to that is, what would happen if we stopped looking to be empowered and just knew that we had the power within us? That we are power and how are we going to be responsible with that power? What are we going to do with that power? Who are the service providers that are worthy of us parting with our money and are doing good things in the world once we give them our money?
I think that really the shift is in my mind is there and it's something that I turn on myself. It's not so much about me wanting to go through the world and take the word empowerment off of everybody's tagline, but it's more really, of course, always starting with myself in that, what am I looking for? What am I longing for when I'm wanting to be empowered? Where have I disconnected from my own power and how can I reconnect once I've disconnected because it's like any other relationship.
Danielle: Disconnect happens all the time, right? And it's how quickly and effectively we can come back to connection that we can be in a healthy place and move forward.
So what I'd love to see is a world of that, a world not where we're islands, and we're saying we don't need each other, but where we're in this place of I'm this powerful human, what am I going to do with my power and who are my people to help me move my power forward in a really beautiful healthy way.
Michelle: It also feels, there's a lot of freedom and choice in that as well. As we say, who are the people that I'm choosing? In what ways do I want to use my power? Oh, I'm feeling disconnected. I feel like I'm not in control, or I'm struggling to find my power. Well, why is that? What's going on within me? And it's curiosity and asking the right questions of yourself, but it's also realizing that, yeah, you ultimately have a choice in all of this.
Danielle: I want to be, we each have different choices. Meaning that that choice thing isn't a level playing field.
Danielle: Right? So it's just not depending on the type of body that you're in, depending on your health, depending on your socioeconomic gifts and abilities, there's a lot of variabilities. So this isn't some, I don't mean it in a, like I might look around, for example, I have some messaging and business development changes for myself, right at this moment. I might look around and decide who I want to work with and that may not be someone I have access to, right? For financial reasons or other reasons. So those are things that we…
There's a massive spectrum in terms of what we have to work with that way, but there's always some choice to be made and there's always some power.
Danielle: You know, it's sort of that remembering we are at our core indestructible and therefore even if we're in an oppressed position or health state or whatever our scenario is, seeking for the places where there is power and seeking for the people who can help us tease that out as much as possible.
Even more so when we're in that situation, which in itself is kind of a frustrating thing because it'd be nice too, when you're down or to not have to work so hard, but that's unfortunately not the way it usually is, but the more that we can do it from a place of like, okay, I know that there's power in here and I know that there are people out there that are going to be the ones to work with that can help me accentuate that, without them making it about their power.
Michelle: Yeah. Or even worse, like outsourcing your power to someone else.
Danielle: Right. Yes. Yeah.
Michelle: I see people make decisions in their business where they're like, oh, well I'm going to hire so and so to do sales for me, which is kind of a lame example, but I feel like, well that's like outsourcing some of the power you have in your business as well, because they're like, oh, I suck at sales so I'm just not going to do it. I'm going to hire someone.
Danielle: And I see, that going both ways. I can see that, we don't need to be the woman in the Anjalee commercial.
Michelle: No, not at all.
Danielle: We don't have to be all the things. Right?
I think there's a place for owning, I suck at this part, but here's what I'm not going to do. I'm not going to let the fact that I suck at sales and marketing have me not put my work in the world, so I'm going to find someone who I can trust who I feel is worthy of and I'm not going to disconnect totally from the process. I will sign off on it. I will be the one who still says yes or no. This is okay with how it's messaged.
Michelle: Yes, and I think that's what I'm really getting at is that they're like, oh, I'm just going to give this to someone else to do and I'm never going to think about it again.
Danielle: Which is going to be really problematic.
Michelle: Yes, because that is. That's like saying, oh, here's my power. You take it and do with it what you will and that's a scary place to be, but I see people do that. Like, you are now in charge of me and I'm like, ooh, I did not ask for this responsibility.
Danielle: Right. And the thing too, you've just said the word that keeps playing into my mind, of course, what goes so hand in hand with this power piece is responsibility, right? So sometimes I think the other pieces is that we're tired, we're overwhelmed, we're overworked, we're exhausted. And by getting someone else to empower us, we're also not having to be as responsible and some of us are really, really, really overly responsible. We're over-functioning and we just need a break. Right? And so that can feel like a relief.
Again, I think, you know, as with most things, there's lots of layers and subtleties and nuances and things worthy of exploring, but when we have that tendency to want to grab that person who's going to empower us, just to look at why and what that's about and you may look at it and go, yeah, now I'm clear on what that's about. And I'm ready to part with my money for that person's service because they are the one.
Danielle: You know? But it's just up leveling how much consciousness we bring to it. And then yeah, and on the side of our messaging really thinking when we're saying, “Hey, I'm going to empower you.” What is it that we're feeling the … Why are we feeling that need?
So I'll give you just one last little example for me with my photography work, underneath it all, if I strip it all down, the thing that is there that I can always source a sense of this work is valuable, is that I really believe that you can deepen your self-love through photography.
I really do. Both as a photography practice, but also and really profoundly in seeing yourself. We never ever see our own face. Like we can't take our eyeballs off and look at our own face. We only see ourselves through reflection or photography. I mean, that's literally it. I find that kind of mind-blowing. It so beautifully speaks to how relational we are. We're not actually even designed to be able to see ourselves.
Danielle: So there's something about learning to see photos of ourselves and love what we see and that can be … There's so many ways to approach that and one of them can simply be making a commitment. I am going to love every photo that comes my way from here forward because I'm in that photo, period, the end. Rather than, because it was the right angle, the right lighting, the right makeup, the right blah, blah, blah. And I'm all for those shots too. Those are lots of fun, but there is something, there's so much there, it's such an accessible tool in terms of increasing our love for ourselves.
Michelle: Oh, that's so beautiful. I think we're gonna end it with that.
Michelle: Photography as a tool for self love. I love it.
Can you let us know where you reside online so we can find you?
Danielle: Sure. So you can find me on my website, which is www.danielle-cohen.com, and then Instagram is also a place you can find me, which is Danielle Cohen Photography.
Michelle: Awesome. Well thank you so much Danielle for being on the podcast. This is such a powerful conversation.
Danielle: Oh, thank you for having me. I really loved it.
Michelle: You're welcome.
Danielle: Okay, we'll talk soon.