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 hopes to open up the lines of communication, and to help everyone accept diversity with an open mind & heart and empower those who feel they suffer for something they may see as a flaw.
A little background on how “What I Be” became “What I Be”
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 so 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 because I was open to them. I quit my 9 to 5 in 2002 and started traveling all over the world until eventually planting my feet in California February of 2006. With a new mindset and fresh start, I quickly began making secure bonds and establishing strong connections with new friends. I tried to have no judgements towards the people I was meeting and saw no “flaws” because I had made myself aware of the fact that we all struggle, we all have our ‘flaws,’ and we all have our insecurities. I saw everyone as normal people on this road together called life.
I got into photography from my dear friend Boz, who I met while rock climbing in France. He was photographing the crew rock climbing and I was immediately inspired by everything that he was capturing. I later 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 all of the band. I then asked if I could take photos at some of their shows. This began my photography work around concerts of various bands. Thanks to the opportunity Michael gave me of shooting his band, I have since shot countless other bands including, Trevor Hall, Norah Jones, Ben Howard, Joss Stone, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Atmosphere and many others.
Although being able to photograph people and make a living off it was so amazing, I wanted to do something with my passion that had more meaning. Something that would touch peoples souls.
While, for years, I tried to formulate a plan, the project physically started in 2010 when I was talking with a friend of mine about an idea on sharing peoples insecurities without literally showing them and 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 and fearlessly stare into the lens for a powerful headshot. I wrote “thunder thighs” on Amanda’s hand, alongside the photograph she came up with the statement, “I am not my body image.” And thus, the “What I Be” project was made.
Many ask where 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 and 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 the song was completely fitting for what my project is all about and this is where the name of my project came from.
Since it’s inception, there’s been a great response to the stories of every individual. Each person that takes part in the What I Be project is extremely courageous. The What I Be experience is cathartic and universally empowering, and each portrait is immortalized for the entire world to see. Participants range from high school students, Ivy League masses, and to some well known names in the entertainment industry such as Michael Franti, Andrew Keegan, Seane Corn, Kathryn Budig, Garrett Dutton, Paula Van Oppen, Chad Stokes, Trevor Hall, Crystal Bowersox, Naia Kete and Eric Rachmany.
Subjects are putting their insecurities out in the open, and 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. They are not denying their insecurity, they are owning it. It is not aimed for people to say “You’re not fat,” or “You don’t have love handles.” It is 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.
I encourage every viewer to look at each image and put yourself in the individuals 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 word 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.
I would like to thank you for showing interest in my project, and for taking the time to read what it’s all about.
- Steve Rosenfield