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Many years ago, a couple happily walked into my studio.  Soon to be married, they loved my wedding photography, and were very excited to learn more about my work. 

Then, they saw the nude portraits on the wall.

They started looking tense.  Laughter turned into nervous silence.  

Suddenly, everything turned cold.

They left the studio.  I would never hear from them again.

I felt sad.  So very, very sad.  Were my photos offensive?  There were no nipples, no butt cracks, no suggestive poses, just the beauty of a woman you may admire from a distance.  At least, that was how I felt.  What was wrong with my photos?

It’s ok, I told myself.  It was just the beginning.  People would understand.

I was so happy when the chance came soon after – an opportunity for a public exhibition.  My first!  I chose the same portraits from the wall.  Everything was going well, good crowd, great opening, nervous first-ever speech.  The very next day, however, I was told to “bring these pictures to the back so they can’t be seen”.

No problem.  I’ll hold my own show, and people will understand. The audience trickled in, and among them was a group of men in business suits.  They took a clean, sweeping glance at the exhibits, sneered, and told me, “I thought you have something more explicit?”

I was so angry that I took down every piece and stopped the exhibition immediately.

It only got worse.

I was insulted, shamed, and called a pervert.  My portraits were banned, while others’ pictures of skimpily-clad women with gyrating hips were deemed safe.  I had publicity, but they weren’t interested in beauty – all they wanted was sex.

Why?  Why do people feel this way?  Is beauty wrong?  Is empathy wrong?  Am I taking sex pictures, just because I’m a guy?  Am I not worthy of being sensitive, just because I’m a guy?

I knew my work would be misunderstood, and I was prepared to be judged.  I just didn’t know facing rejection would be so tough.  There are people who kept me going, clients who love my work, friends who pushed me on.  But the rejections never stopped.  For every embrace, I received a thousand slaps.

I began to harbour a bitterness for the horde, a hatred for the masses.  Those dumb people who can’t feel!  I blamed them, and grew jealous of those who were loved by everyone.  Anger turned into sadness, and sadness into despair and desperation.  I wanted to give up, but why should I?  Why should I admit defeat to my enemies?  I didn’t do anything wrong! I would fight, and I would prove them wrong!

Until that day, when she walked into the studio with her husband, her family, and a life support machine.  “We don’t know how much longer”, her sister told us ernestly.

I can hear her wheezing now.  Her breathlessness.  The urgency around her.  But I also remember her strength, for she was determined like no other.  It was her wish, her only chance to finally have beautiful, intimate portraits with her husband.

A few weeks later, she passed on.

I can feel the pain even now.  But I cannot forget how bright and beautiful her smile when she saw her portraits.

That was when I realised that my work meant something.  I wasn’t born to proof something to the world, I wasn’t born to inspire others with my beliefs.  I was simply blessed with an ability to express beauty within people.  Being able to bring joy to so many is the essence to a life well-lived.

I’d be lying if I say I’m no longer affected by rejections.  I stand by my work, no matter what others may think.  But I was wrong, and never again will I blame the world for my troubles.  Instead, I remind myself – every single moment – never to judge others the way I’ve been labelled.  We will never be the perfect beauties everybody wants to see.  We are ugly and beautiful,  selfish and loving, dying and living, angry, sad, and joyous, all rolled into a complex anomaly we call human.