Sonjhai Meggette: Oakland Photographer and Owner of Esoteric Images
is a self-taught professional photographer who is passionate about a particular aspect of style: HAIR.
Project One was Meggette’s exploration of the beauty of baldheaded women. Project Five, this year’s photography venture, has broadened to include images of people of all genders and ethnic backgrounds with natural hair. Meggette says to me, “if a Caucasian woman is wearing an Afro, she may be ostracized” though “it is often considered too comfortable, too lax or edgy and rebellious in a woman of color.” Her projects take a look at all of these judgments, all of the stereotypes we have as a society.
Meggette tells me, “I pay attention to how people feel when they are authentic- really in line with how they feel about themselves.” What I instantly love about this woman is her obvious knowledge of self worth and her equally gigantic compassion. I can immediately see why people flock to her for photos. She could have told me that Grand Café where we met for her interview was the perfect place for a nude photo shoot and that the uninformed public was an ideal backdrop, and I would have been nekkid and posing on the coffee table without hesitation.
Luckily, she did not say any of this. Instead, Meggette did say her photography “heals people. It is a perspective of empowerment.” She also said, “I create these projects that reaffirm who I am and at the same time they (the models) are reaffirming themselves.” This is something that resonated with me deeply. It is how I feel about the interviews I do for Wear Your Voice. Each time I meet a woman who is truly doing what she loves, what is aligned with her values and what she wants out of the world, I am encouraged and strengthened.
Meggette chooses her clients based on how it feels to interact with them. She acknowledges that all people have issues with their bodies, no matter what gender or ethnicity, and hence her approach includes consulting with people beforehand, asking them to share about any insecurity they have. That said, she adds that people do “flirt with the camera,” and working with individuals who are comfortable looking at themselves is fun because they get to be more expressive and creative.
Meggette is a part of the small but growing group of localist, community centered, creative entrepreneurs that center their work on meaningful, long lasting relationships. Many of her customers are artists and entrepreneurs.
Sonjhai believes in giving back. When finding out that several of her clients were cancer survivors, she decided to give a portion of Esoteric Images’ proceeds to Charlotte Maxwell An organization that aids low-income women diagnosed with breast cancer.
She also has Calendars for sale, showcasing not just the models but also the make-up artists and stylists that make the photo shoot what they are. She makes an annual calendar at the end of each project.
In 2010, Meggette started her photography business with the aim of eradicating negative images of people of African American descended and people of color.
Sonjhai’ Meggette’s Story:
A California native, by way of orange county-,Sacramento and san José, Meggette moved to the Bay area as transfer student in 1999. She went to culinary school, was a barber, a deejay, worked in catering at UC Berkeley, in a sheriff’s office, a prison…and still works as a social worker during the day. “I always loved photography but didn’t have skills,” says Meggette. She didn’t always know that she was into portraits, and describes the process of getting to know where her passion was exactly, as a bit of trial and error. It wasn’t “the person and the building” or “me and some damn cats.” It was her and another person, connecting, creating and sharing meaning.
THE HARDEST PARTS OF BEING A SELF-TAUGHT PHOTOGRAPHER AND BUSINESS OWNER…
“I had to learn that the market is very male dominated and very competitive, to find my own niche…I am still segueing and now,” says Meggette. She had to get to know the market, to build relationships and find volunteers. She tells me that she is always forming new relationships, negotiating the terms of them, assessing to make sure that her natural inclination towards compassion doesn’t lead her to get used. Though many people continue to come out and present themselves to her, to want to be a part of what she is doing and to be generous contributors.
It just goes to show that being genuine and pursuing what you are drawn to pursue forges a path for you all its own and being in line with your authentic self draws others who live similarly out from all sorts of places to connect with you.
Book a photo session with Sonjhai Meggette and Esoteric Images!
Look out for the Kickstarter for Project Five, scheduled to start mid July and end in august.
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