I worked in an office for a decade. Except the term “office” is outdated, because no one except C-suite executives have offices anymore — workers sit elbow-to-elbow in open plan spaces. Zoo animals on display, dressed business casual. Even our conference rooms were fully enclosed in glass, like fish tanks.
Working in an office — at least the kind of office I worked in — means to be constantly, uncomfortably on display at all times. Especially if you are a young woman.
Often, I’d be seated such that visitors to the office instantly caught sight of me as they stepped into the space. They’d burst out of the elevator and look at me expectantly. (To be clear, I was not a receptionist.) Other times, clients — not mine — would stop by my desk to ask where the bathroom was, or where they could find coffee, or to drop something in my wastebasket. Privacy was non-existent. I’d escape to the cold, concrete steps of the stairway between floors to take private phone calls. Even then, the walls had ears.
What does it mean to be on display? It can be deeply unsettling — as in open-plan offices where, ostensibly, you’re there to work rather than being visible, head to toe, at all times, even while squinting at your computer as you debug an Excel formula. Or when you are speed-walking to the gym, and a stranger deigns to comment, loudly, on your body, or your clothes, or your facial expression (“Smile, beautiful!”).
Or it can be delicious — as in an artful photo you have lovingly crafted, carefully calibrated to attract some and repel others. There can be power in being on display. The best models, actresses and — yes — companions — understand that.
It’s something I wish to understand more.
And so, I take pictures.
I write this in December 2018. About a year ago, I bought a basic Nikon DSLR camera, a tripod and remote. Palming the remote in my left hand, I tentatively pointed the camera toward myself. It was partly a question of resourcefulness — I often find myself with a spare hour or two, or with access to a lovely hotel suite. Why not take advantage of that? I figured I’d be lousy, especially at first, but if I snapped a hundred photos, at least a few would be usable.
Being a successful companion requires one to be seen. Photographed. On display. I want clients (the right kinds of clients) to book me. To be booked, I must be seen. Seen on my website. Seen on ad sites. Seen on social media. Social media is a beast that must be fed; photos get stale after a day or two. As a companion, you can either resent this, or you can lean into it. I’m leaning into it. So I grab my camera and get to work.
“I am not this hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within.” - Rumi
“I yam who I yam.” - Popeye
Seeing myself. Seeing myself reflected through my clients’ and colleagues’ eyes.
I see myself — a version of myself, anyway — reflected back at me when clients explain why they chose to book me, or when they write thank-you notes. I listen and read intently, like a philologist studying ancient texts, teasing meaning from every remark and pause and sigh.
“What do they see in me?”
Seeing myself and being seen.
The core service I offer — my promise to clients — is simple:
I see you. You’re not alone.
First, I must see myself.
Self-invention — sometimes out of whole cloth. It’s not uniquely American, but it is quintessentially so.
Companions have the freedom to untether ourselves from the facts of our birth, biography, education, nationality, ethnicity, history, sexual orientation, even race. We are creators and created both. I think of Freddie Mercury, Madonna, Lady GaGa — all entertainers who create names, personas and mythologies they present to the world.
When I look at photos of myself, I’m sometimes overcome by the stubborn facts of my history, biography and habits. The physicality of the woman who came before Shae.
I see the little dents in my nose from getting hit in the face with baseballs as a sporty adolescent.
The small breasts — thanks, genetics.
My right ankle which likes to turn inward, the result of old soccer and dance injuries or heredity or simple habit.
Tiny scars, freckles and innumerable marks, visible only to me. Remnants of Hawaiian vacations, ski trips, hikes, tumbles, parties, a life lived.
Straight, white teeth — the product of good health, top-notch dental care and orthodonture. Perhaps the most enduring trademark of a privileged upbringing.
It punctures my own fantasy, brings me back to earth. I’ve deleted countless photos simply because they looked too much like — well, too much like me. The woman who came before Shae. Not-Shae.
And other times — more frequently as time goes on — I look at photos of myself and see the fantasy, the promise of who I can become as a woman and as a companion. Someone who thrills me, pleases me and turns me on a little bit. Shae, as a persona and idea, is the core of what I believe is missing from the world, distilled into one person. A person I wish I had encountered at many points in my life. A person I really love, and oh joy, I get to be her. Life’s a trip, man.
With photography, I get to be on both sides of the camera. The seer and the subject. The framer and the framed. The stylist and the styled. Questions around ethics — around the objectification and exploitation of the photographed body — are, I think, largely side-stepped when the subject is also the photographer. At least if you believe that women have agency, and that we have the freedom to use our bodies as we wish. Sure, my photographs are designed to appeal to the male gaze — but they also appeal to my own gaze. I please myself first. If it doesn’t please me, it never sees the light of day.
I plan to continue this DIY ethos as long as I can. My photos, when they work, are unvarnished and pure and unapologetically me. At least the “me” of who I was the day the photo was taken. They are the product of a restless mind. Always reinventing, evolving, editing, shedding the old stuff that doesn’t serve me anymore. Creating new images, so you may see me in a new light.
Below: a selection of recent self-photographs. If you enjoy these, you may want to join my Members Only section, where exclusive photosets are added once a month. I reserve most of my most intimate photos for Members Only and my most ardent patrons. For information on joining, kindly email me.