Shower Confessionals

Robyn. Photo by Manjari Sharma

Robyn. Photo by Manjari Sharma

he best way to get a subject comfortable during a photo shoot, Manjari Sharma found, is to get the person into the shower.

Sharma started her shower series about four years ago with her subject Anastasia.

At the time she was photographing people in her bathroom. She didn’t know Anastasia well, and it was a bit awkward.

She had Anastasia get in the shower, and as the water fell on her, Anastasia relaxed and opened up, both in her demeanor and in her conversation.

Standing in that private place, where typically only a lover or child would join a person, Sharma has heard about the emotional journeys of a number of people.

“The shower creates this confessional-like space,” Sharma said.

She started the series soon after moving to New York City.

Looking back, she says during shoots she found those substantial conversations that are hard to find in a city of strangers.

“I enjoy getting to know people and find content that’s not just skin deep,” she said.

She would start the conversation with general, light questions, such as ‘Do you shower in the morning or at night?’ or ‘How’s our mutual acquaintance doing?’ Then she asked tougher questions that might not have been entertained in another setting – but here, people opened up.

“It was like Russian dolls, and it became more and more personal,” she said.

Sharma thinks the strongest photos are those where, during the shoot, the person was comfortable and reflective both physically and in the conversation.

But even those who didn’t relax created intriguing images.

“Every once in awhile a photo was successful even if a person wasn’t fully open,” she said. “That was the charm, that they didn’t let me all the way in.”

The body of work is a mix of people who were really open and people with barriers to break through. Those who wouldn’t make eye contact with the camera were the most difficult to get to open up.

One friend, Amelia, has cancer, and wh[d!i^[ arrived for the shower shoot, Sharma hadn’t seen her since she was diagnosed a year before. They sat on Sharma’s sofa and talked, but their difficult and powerful conversation didn’t come until they were in the shower.

“She talked about connecting her previous life to her current life and what it’s all meant to her,” she said.

“I think ultimately, it’s about finding a moment of spirituality. Sometimes it’s in a large temple with bells, and sometimes it’s alone in the shower.”

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