What Photography taught me about Rejection

Old man with runny nose.

Through photography, I explore many facets of my personality. I have seen my creativity and ingenuity blossom, along with my patience and perseverance. This artistic outlet has grown to be a core part of my personality.

One unexpected skill I learned through photography was how to deal with rejection. These seemingly unrelated phenomena came together for me in the most surreal way, shaping my outlook on the world.

I enjoy people photography, both street and portraiture. Something about people’s faces and mannerisms draws me in. For portraiture, I get up close with my subject, hoping to capture each facial detail. Male or female, old or young, happy or sad—the human face can captivate beyond words.

Old man with mask. Shot in Allapuzha, Kerala, India.
Check out my Portraiture.

Now when taking portraits, I always ask for the person’s consent. I’d find it intrusive if some stranger approached me and began poking a lens at my face. So I walk up to them and ask if they mind being photographed.

I get a variety of responses to this. The most often asked question is why I would want to do that. What on earth do I gain from photographing a person I have never met before? Do I have any hidden (possibly ulterior) motives?

To the best of my abilities, I explain that photography is an art and that I merely want to photograph them for the sake of it. I try to convey my good intentions, saying that I am a photographer and I wouldn’t use their images for nefarious purposes. I try to portray my passion for photography as patient and comfortingly as possible.

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While this dialogue comforts most people, many suspect foul play and reject me. They see it as a risk they’d rather not take and thus tell me to stop wasting my time and get lost. They eye me suspiciously as I walk off and only relax once I am a safe distance away.

Man with glazed eyes and cigarette in his mouth.
Glazed Eyes

This outright rejection stings. I never come from a space of bad intentions; thus, it hurts being suspected of it. I’d wonder why I was getting this reaction. Did I come across as untrustworthy? Did my appearance, my mannerisms, or my accent paint me in a bad light? What was it that ticked these people off?

After much introspection, I concluded that we all have different life experiences shaping our perception of the world. Just because I’m okay with certain things does not mean others will be. The expansive realm of personalities implies that people will always think and act differently.

Old woman looking up.
Gazing into the Sun

It is in such moments of embarrassment and awkwardness I must swallow my ego, smile and thank them for their time. That is all I can control—my reaction.

There is a beautiful depth to vulnerability, something we can’t expect of everyone. My pain at their denial spoke to my social illiteracy. We must be cognizant of people’s different outlooks on life.

Perhaps it is my ability to forget that keeps me pursuing this craft. Or maybe it is my newfound strength? While I can’t land on what fuels my spirit, I know that the next time someone rejects me, I thank them for hearing me out and walk away, looking for the next photographic opportunity.

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Published by Ishan Shanavas

I am a young adult, interested in nature, photography, art and culture. An aspiring polymath, I share my learnings through my blog. I also include insights from my favourite books.

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