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inner excavate-along guest contributors: darlene kreutzer & vivienne mcmaster

In Chapter 6 of Inner Excavation, I mention that you can read Darlene Kreutzer's and Vivienne McMaster's full letters here on my website. But here is an inside scoop reality: Today is the first day they have appeared on my site. That said, I am delighted to share them with you today. (The moral of this story is that an editor should never let a nauseated-for-22-weeks pregnant lady put notes in her book that promise her readers that anything will appear on her website in the first couple of years of her baby's life.)

Enjoy these beautiful, from-the-heart letters from these two friends and photographers who turned their cameras on one another and felt deeply seen. 


Darlene . photo by Vivienne

Dear Vivienne,

Thank you so much for honouring me by letting me photograph you. I always feel like its a gift when someone trusts me enough to attempt to capture who they are, their beauty as I see it. I have to admit to you that the morning before we got together to take our photos, I was feeling a wee bit intimidated. Not by you because from the moment we met, I felt so comfortable with you, like we were old friends. I felt intimidated about taking your photograph, of capturing your beauty because I am a huge fan of your self portraits. Huge fan !!! 

You take such amazing whimsical and incredibly beautiful self portraits and they always make me smile. You truly do shine and I love the energy that you portray in your photos, the way you use your whole body. So, yeah. I was intimidated and worried that, as a photographer, I wouldn't have anything new to offer you.

And then we started and I immediately lost myself in you, in the soft gentleness that streams out of you, the way your soft smile causes your eyes to stream out love. I think what struck me most about seeing you through the lens is your openness and the way that you seem to so easily trust in the people around you. There is such wisdom in your playfulness and I think it is because you really truly care about the people you are with, you really do see them. I think that is something you should deeply trust, it is what makes you an amazing photographer.

I loved photographing you and it is my hope that someday, there will be time for me to turn my camera on you again. It was really fun photographing someone who understands the process and to be able to talk about photography and life and art and try different things, truly amazing. I still remember those moments when we lost the pose and I couldn't see through my camera because we were laughing so hard and I am so glad that I was able to capture a couple of those moments just for you and I. 

These are my two favorite photographs of that afternoon. They are my favorite because this is how I see you, soft and wise and shining brightly, eyes that see more than most people and a voice that will gently share those feelings. I am also attaching the masked photograph because one of the most lovely parts of our photography session was something that I don't generally have with the clients I have shot in the past, is the adventurous artistic trust of just trying poses for nothing more than the joy of creating. 

My dearest Vivienne, I cannot possibly express in words how much fun I had shooting you. Hopefully, that comes out in these photographs, a reminder of that afternoon together and how much closer it brought us. Thank you for that. 



Vivienne . photo by Darlene

Dear Darlene,

It was a total honour to be photographed by you. I had been so looking forward to it. You have such a beautiful way of seeing the world, an understanding of light and colour, a playfulness I felt drawn to.
I feel really comfortable when I take self-portraits, but getting my photo taken is a different experience for sure. There's a certain sense of control I have when doing self-portraits. I can figure out what it is that I find beautiful in myself and allow space for the ones that don't capture that without being too critical. There's a comfort in that. But I think its so important that we as photographers get the camera turned on us sometimes to remind us of the vulnerability it takes to show up in front of the camera. I too was nervous to have my picture taken as I would have to relinquish that control and just trust you. You, who I have gotten to know through reading your words over these last few years. You, who takes such beautiful portraits and has a way of making people feel seen. You, who makes each person feel so special simply by the way you look them in the eye. I trusted you.

Just as we began our photo session you snapped a photo of me and shared it with me. With all honesty, it blew me away. In one photo you captured what I find eludes me in almost all photos that are taken of me or that I have taken of myself. Its the one of me looking up at you and there is an honest beauty, a wide eyed childlike quality to it that I love. My mom tells me that I was born wide eyed and ready to soak up the beauty of the world. When I saw that picture I saw that part of myself that has been wide eyed ever since. I was amazed that in one photo you would be able to show me such a precious part of my identity.  I immediately felt safe with you, though intimidated to photograph you, but I'll save that story for later!

As we delved into our photo session I think we could be heard giggling by anyone nearby. It was lovely and playful and I felt so comfortable with you. I love that we were able to be silly and playful and push further into exploring ways to photograph each other.  Its such a vulnerable thing to sit in front of someone and trust them with to capture their vision of you with love. Often in photo sessions where I am the subject I turn into a bad catalogue model and get stiff and awkward. You pulled me out of that and gave me the guidance to capture the image you had in your mind. 

I loved how you spoke to me and guided me into each image you captured. I felt like you truly had my best interests at heart in capturing each photo.  

Thank you for holding that space for me to be vulnerable and let my playful self emerge. Thank you for reflecting back the beauty you saw with your kind eyes. Thank you for drawing me out of my shell and making our photo session such a beautiful learning experience for me.

With so much heart,



Dear Vivienne,

I so understand the fear that comes in giving yourself over to someone, to trust someone to capture you. I think as photographers, we are often the worst offenders and I know that I much prefer to be hiding behind the lens rather than in front of it. 

I know that when we talked prior to our photo session, I told you how fearful I was about having my photograph taken. I have had so many people take photos of me from bad angles exposing my double chin in a way that makes me want to cry. Its the dutch chin and I remember seeing it on my aunts when I was young and then cringing and hoping that I wasn't going to end up with that chin. I don't think people really understand how I feel about it, the way it wobbles in photos at certain angles. I can't tell you how many different weird facial exercises I did as a teenager and young adult attempting to stop my genes from going in that direction to no avail because there it is. I would never have even noticed it if it hadn't been for a photograph that someone once took of me and then posted it on facebook for all the world to see or at least a large portion of my world. We all have our insecurities and that is mine. I thought it was because of this that I rarely trust people to take photographs of me.

Thank you for putting me and my nervousness at ease and for really listening to me when I talked to you about my insecurities. So many people in my life who want to take my photograph wave it away and say but you are beautiful and I love you just the way you are which is awesome and cool and I am grateful to that. But at the same time I would like to look at a photograph of me and see me, the me I see when I take self portraits, the me I see in my head. 

For me, a photo session is more than just a capturing a moment in time, it is about capturing the essence of a person, the beauty of a person, the expression that sums up who they are in that moment. It is what I strive to do when I am the photographer and yet until you and I, I had never truly had someone do that for me. 

I love that you posed me and had me thinking about my hands and my fingers. Its funny because even though I am used to doing these things when I am the photographer because I can be, as you know, quite bossy, I never know what to do when someone is taking my photograph. I always feel awkward and a bit out of my element because I can't see what the photographer is seeing but you put me at ease. 

Do you know what I did when I saw my photographs? I stared in awe. You saw me. You really saw me. Then I jumped up and did a little happy dance. Oh yes I did. I love the ones that you showed me, I love how happy I look because often people capture me in a way that highlights the sadness in me but you saw the happiness and for that I will be forever grateful. Also you captured a stillness in me here that I am really trying to obtain in my life and which I get glimpses of when I meditate, this is the inner me that I am trying to become more often and i love that you captured that instead of all the nervous frenzied energy that sometimes gets away from me.

Oh Viv, these photos are teaching me something about myself, about who i am and who i want to become, about the inner parts of me. This has turned into such a powerful experience, photographing you, being photographed and reflecting on it all.  The photo of me looking up at you, honestly, I think this is one of my favourite photos of me ever taken by someone and the more I look at it, the more I love it. There is something wistful about it and something really vulnerable that I like. I still look happy but also a bit complex with just a hint of sadness. it feels like you really captured the whole of me. Thank you for that. There is truly something powerful about really being seen.

I learned so much from you. I learned that it is okay to let go of some the control I have and that it was okay to feel awkward and unsure and yes even a bit shy and that speaking about my insecurities didn't make them stronger but instead it made me let go of them a little bit. I learned that I could speak my truths and honour who I am and that by sharing myself and trusting in my friends, I could become a stronger person, one who doesn't always make herself smaller than she is. I didn't realise it at the time but now, weeks stacked upon weeks later, I am able to see more clearly how scared I really was of trusting the vulnerability of myself with someone. I am really glad it was you.

much love,



Dear Darlene

I can't tell you how much it fills up my heart to read you say that you saw your happiness reflected in the images I took of you. One of the many things that I will never ever forget about those days at the retreat, during which i got to know you, is that each day at least once or twice you would smile so wide and say "I'm just SO happy".  

I am so honoured that you trusted in me to express your nervousness and insecure bits. We all have them and I am so glad you were willing to share those aspects of you so I could do my best to have you feel nurtured and caputure your beauty in a way that you would feel drawn to truly see it. 

That moment that you took that first photo of me, along with feeling really seen, I felt incredibly intimdated. You have such a beautiful confidence as a photographer and are so full of wisdom. I trusted you deeply as your subject, but was in total fear for a few moments until I spoke my fear aloud to you. Learning to take portraits has been such a beautiful experience these past few years but truthfully, I've been winging it, not knowing exactly what I'm doing. I felt at that moment that I'd been uncovered as a photo-fraud and that I would be exposed as clueless. Okay, so I'm exaggerating a bit, but those were the gremlins running around in my mind at that moment.

Then I spoke it aloud. You listened. The fear was put at bay and you shared with me some of that beautiful wisdom. You shared how you compose a shot, communicate with your model, make them feel comfortable and get the shot you want within a few photos. You even encouraged me to be bossy! You trusted me in letting me photograph you.  It was really empowering as a photographer to learn anothers style. Its was so generous of you to let me into that shared knowledge.

Every time I've done a photo session with another photographer I've learned so much. I truly love that we can be mentors and cheerleaders to each other. Every portrait I have shot since our photo session I have brought a bit of you with me. I take more deep breaths and think through my shots along side my style of just going with the moment. I am so grateful that we got the chance to open up creatively to each other, to be vulnerable together as subjects and photographers.  When we let ourselves be seen in all our awkwardness and vulnerable bits we have so much more to offer each other. I'm so glad we could be that safe space for each other. I'm so grateful for it.

much love and hugs


Reader Comments (3)

Thank you for posting this full exchange! It's so much more complete to read the whole conversation. I love what these two women share about how they felt. It is so inspiring. Thanks so much-

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRose

I have truly loved every minute of these letters, this Inner Excavation experience just continues to get better and better. Liz you are putting your heart and soul into this project and I am grateful for the experience and for what I am taking with me. I look forward to each post and soak in as much of the experience as I truly can. I feel as though I am more in touch with myself throughout the day, I have learned so much by taking my time and getting through just what is speaking to me at the moment. Thank you Thank You and Thank you some more for this!

July 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDonna Wynn

i loved reading this again. loved.

July 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdarlene

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