This is me. A Yorkshire wedding photographer’s campaign to spread love across the county

Yorkshire wedding and portrait photographer Nisha Keaton has created the Learn to Love campaign to boost confidence and spread the word that no one should live in fear of hate. Some brought along their favourite outfits, ones that made them happy. Stephanie Smith reports.

Monia Elert poses for Nisha Keaton's Learn to Love campaign.

Not everyone looks forward to leaving lockdown behind. For some, the thought of stepping away from the sanctuary of home, facing the world, being seen and noticed, is a trial and a challenge, something they would avoid or put off.

Nisha Keaton a Yorkshire portrait and wedding photographer, believes there are many people whose confidence has been knocked during the pandemic. Some may not want to head out into the post-lockdown sunshine because they fear hatred or even violence.

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“While there are always bad things that happen in the world, throughout Covid-19 the level has heightened dramatically,” she says. “Even at a local level, every day I would see something, people afraid to go out because they are being attacked or have the fear of it, losing support mechanisms, and it leaves you feeling a bit helpless.”

Natalia Willmott wears a blue dress she bought on holiday in Crete.

Nisha came up with the idea of a photography project, offering to take free studio pictures of people from a variety of backgrounds across Yorkshire to highlight all forms of diversity and reinforce the fact that everybody deserves to live in a world without fear of hate or violence.

She invited applications through social media from anyone who wanted to sit for her in one of a series of photo-shoots at her studio, Your Choice Photography, in Batley, to create the Learn to Love project, gathering 50 portraits of ordinary people who either feel vulnerable and lacking in confidence, or who simply want to sit for a simple, natural photograph to share to show solidarity with those in fear of hatred from the outside world.

“I wanted to showcase beauty in every form and variation I could, to show that, regardless of what is going on, you are beautiful and deserve love,” Nisha says. “Whether from yourself or other people, nobody deserves to live in fear or have hate. My hope is that these images empower someone to feel better about themselves or to speak up, share a story, start a conversation – identify with someone.

Nisha asked sitters to wear jeans and a white or light top for simplicity. “I wanted the focus to be on the individual as a person, their expression for example, and to make it as relaxing as possible,” she said. But she also asked that, if they wanted, they bring a second favourite outfit, to celebrate their personal style and gain confidence from being photographed in clothes they love.

Monia Elert wears a dress, bought many years ago from AX Paris, that brings back happy memories.

The campaign is live now across social media and can be found and shared using the hashtags #learntolove #mystandard #endhate. See yourchoicephotography.com for details.

These are some who took part.

NATALIA WILLMOTT

Natalia lives in York but is originally from France. She says: “It took me a long time to show myself, in video and social media, and I want to inspire others to do that as well. I live to dance, to laugh and use my hands to make things. “The dress, I bought on holiday in Crete in a lovely shop called Zaman (the designer is Ioanna Kourbella). The earrings are from my shop (nataliawillmott.co.uk, £125).”

Sophie Ruck is a photographer but usually hates to be before the lens herself.

MONIA ALERT

Monia, originally from Poland, lives in York and is a working single mum to a son with autism. She says she is “making the most of everyday life with my amazing seven-year-old”, adding: “I want to show people that you can do it too. I love nature, animals (especially horses, rabbits, cats and all the fluffy ones), travelling and music. I share sensory interests with my son (fairy lights, lava lamps, plasma balls), and an interest in science and space.

“The flower dress is from AX Paris. I bought it years ago and have great memories attached to it. It gives me a confidence boost and brings back those memories. Every time I wear it - I feel happy and pretty.”

SOPHIE RUCK

Aspiring conservationist Jakson Maciel, from Leeds, likes to wear lighter shades to lift his mood.

Sophie is a photographer, originally from North Yorkshire, now living in Nottinghamshire. She told Nisha that seeing herself through someone else’s lens would be fascinating. “I am passionate about making people feel good when I photograph others yet I cannot bring myself to be in front of the camera. Since becoming a mum I have struggled with body image and it has hugely affected my self-confidence and mental health.

“My top is Ted Baker and I love the ruffles, it feels very feminine and flattering. My jeans are F&F (at Tesco) and they are so comfortable, which is important for me as a working mum.”

JAKSON MACIEL

Jakson is a Leeds-based aspiring conservationist, originally from Brazil. “I love nature and natural beauty, aspiring to be a conservationist one day, but along the way I love to fight for good causes, to sing, do photoshoots and travel. Body and self image positivity are extremely important to all of us and if I can help make someone else feel better about themselves, even a little bit, it’s a win.

“The jacket and jeans are Pull&Bear, the top is from ASOS and the shoes are Caterpillar. I like wearing light colours when I’m feeling down sometimes. It really brings my mood up.”

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REBECCA ASQUITH-JEPSON

Rebecca lives in West Yorkshire. She says: “I’m a forearm amputee who has many scars around my body from operations. I am also a mother to three children - two via C-section and one emergency surgery whom we sadly miscarried. I’ve lost just short of seven stone and I think it’s time to stop and embrace and love me. I just want to show others so hopefully they accept themselves better by seeing we are all different and beautiful.

“I don’t usually buy light clothes but I chose those because of the comfort, especially the jeans. They’re very roomy and the mom style suits my legs. The top I chose because I feel it just shows off my shoulder shape - daft, I know, but I like my shoulders.”

DINEO MOTAUNG

Dineo is a Leeds-based musician, originally from South Africa. She says: “I wish the world was kinder, especially in this pandemic. I’ve seen so much bad during this pandemic - it’s like people have forgotten how to be empathetic all together and are hiding behind social media.”

Dineo told Nisha she wanted to take part in the Learn to Love campaign to stand up and be proud. Nisha says: “She said afterwards, ‘You’ve no idea how inspiring these photos make me feel.’”

NISHA KEATON

Nisha, a photographer based in Batley, devised the Learn to Love campaign. “I wasn’t originally supposed to be a part of the campaign and it was an afterthought following a cancellation. Over the years, like most people, I’ve gone through body and self-esteem issues. A huge thing for me is my eye - I’ve a lack of sight in one of them and so it goes out. Even throughout adulthood, other adults laugh and make jokes, point it out in the workplace, so I’ve always had confidence issues in the way that I look on the outside and would often refuse to be in photos. Over the past few years, I’ve taught myself to be a little kinder to me and realise that my previous confidence issues are all built out of preconceived standards of who I should be and how I should look. I photographed myself make-up free. You don’t have to meet someone else’s standards to be a good person or be beautiful. If the mould doesn’t fit, create your own.”

Dineo Motaung, a Leeds-based musician, originally from South Africa, wanted to stand up and be proud as part of the campaign.
Some of those taking part in the Learn to Love campaign, including photographer Nisha herself, bottom row, second from right,
Photographer Nisha Keaton, who devised the campaign and took the photos.