April 12, 2021 | 7 min read
Facing Forward partner, Meka Hemmons promotes the message of natural beauty through portrait photography. As seen in the radiant photos throughout our website, her ability to showcase the strength of families and individuals through portraiture aligns perfectly with her philosophy of vulnerability, acceptance and truth.
We recently caught up with Meka about how her creative vision has become intertwined with Facing Forward’s mission and are proud to present a few excerpts from our inspirational connection.
We heard your first connection with Facing Forward was very serendipitous, can you tell us how it happened?
I connected with FF in my very first year of business as a freelancer. It was 2016, and a new business connection I had made was standing in line at a coffee shop and overheard someone talking about an organization that needed a photographer who could really connect and spread their message. She just casually turned around and said, “You need a photographer? I have someone.” And that someone was me!
I took a look at the website and it really hit. Homelessness and the universal nature of it - the things people go through to find themselves in that situation. There was an instant connection for me.
I spent an hour on the phone with your Board Member, Harish, we talked about life, work, and Facing Forward’s mission. Then I met the marvelous Rev. Bradshaw who was really interested in my creativity as an artist and invited me for a tour of FF’s housing site and office space, Sanctuary Place. It was impressive to see all of the things that were going on!
How would you describe your approach to photography and your business?
My approach is very artistic even though I’m running a business. The reason I’m doing what I’m doing is because before I started my business, I was working for Miss Oprah Winfrey at Harpo Studios. I was working in the design department with very talented individuals as a retoucher.
It was a job I had a lot of pride in, but it didn’t escape me that a lot of what I was asked to do was to make people a bit too perfect for reality. It was heartbreaking because I thought - these people are already gorgeous in their skin and to get rid of features that gave them personality and character, it just didn’t fit with me. I started having some ethical concerns about that.
So I decided that it was time for me to hold the camera, break the rules and be the tool that could shift and change that conversation. Portrait photography became the answer for me.
In my studio, we talk about [the concept of] beauty and what it means to be YOU and everything that you are. It’s unrealistic that there’s a cookie cutter definition of what beauty means. We’re meant to be different - there’s beauty and glory and fantastic things in that. It’s not me taking a picture of you. It’s you showing up for yourself and the people you serve and owning who you are instead of being put off by what you see in the mirror. That is my mission.
I’m really invested in people, and who they are. I need to know who you are before we even talk about how we want the photos to look. My job is to help you celebrate who you are, to make you happy, to make you in love with yourself. Because the alternative is to not like who you are, and who wants that?
My job is to help you celebrate who you are, to make you happy, to make you in love with yourself.
How does having a partnership with an organization like Facing Forward help you achieve your artistic vision?
There was a point in my career where I began to struggle thinking I had to choose between being an artist and being a businessperson. And then something happened, and I think Facing Forward played a really big role in that. I learned that I don’t have to choose, I can do both at the same time. I’m photographing people in the way they want to be photographed - without them even knowing that that’s how they want to be photographed (laughs).
So, Facing Forward, in that way, feels very creative and very artsy because, like I said, Rev. Doug Bradshaw has given me a lot of freedom. And in the photos I’ve taken, I’m glad people’s strength comes through. That’s important.
What resonates with you about Facing Forward’s mission?
When I grew up, there were six girls and two parents. It was instilled in us that, “You should be grateful for everything that you have.” And as you grow up, you begin to actually see what they were talking about. You begin to see that things can be taken from you at any moment.
We would visit Chicago as children and look at the buildings, the lake, and all of these beautiful things walking along the gorgeous magnificent miles and then we’d see the things that you don’t anticipate. You go near a bridge and there’s a tent city. Walking along gigantic big name stores and seeing a person with a sign. You can’t ignore it, you just can’t.
There are a plethora of reasons that people do not have a home. And it hits home one day when people who are close to you are unable to take care of themselves. It makes you grateful for what you have.
The main thing that resonates with me about homelessness is its universality. It’s literally about survival. It’s about safety. Am I able to eat? Am I able to sleep? In safety? Do I have a space to call my own?
It was not hard to connect with what FF is doing. I’m happy to have connected to this organization so early in my career. Who doesn’t want to continue giving? I think that FF is doing a lot of hard work and a phenomenal job of getting those struggling out of homelessness.
Keep an eye out for our future collaborations with Meka Hemmons and don’t forget to check out her website at: https://www.spidermeka.com/.