The Empathic Lens

Most, if not all, of my clients come out of their portrait sessions with a feeling of being refreshed, empowered, and relieved. Some of them have described as a feeling of love and care. A byproduct of this great attention is a renewed confidence in self. This feeling my clients receive during their sessions helps even the most apprehensive person to face the lens with confidence. The reason for this is what I call THE EMPATHIC LENS.

Throughout this post you will see images from a session I did with Marlene, a subject who was not keen on being in front of the camera. She had struggled in the past with being in front of the camera formally. She texted me after the session and this is what she had to say:

Working with Tracy was easy. I am on of these people who is very uncomfortable in the presence of the camera. This dissolved very quickly during our session and somehow she captured me looking younger and more serene than I typically see myself.”
— Marlene from Ridgewood, Queens


The definition of "empathic" involves the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathetic people are different from empaths in many small ways and often the division between the two becomes a grey area. For purposes relating to the photographing people, I prefer to use the term empathic. Empathic goes beyond empathy and reaches into the ability to be highly sensitive and attuned to another person's thoughts and feelings. 

To better understand how far this sensitivity goes there is a wonderful article published by Psychology Today in 2016 entitled "10 Traits Empathic People Share." I use several of the key traits described in the article to benefit not only my clients but my work in street and documentary photography. I thought it would be beneficial to go over some of these traits and how they relate to empathic photography sessions. 

Absorb Other People's Emotions

This is the first step to any session. It is what I do from the very beginning of my interaction with every client or subject. Sessions always begin with a consult to get a good gauge on how the subject is feeling about being in front of the camera. Understanding their triggers, looking for micro-expressions, body language, and tone of voice help me absorb a bit of any kind of apprehension or excitement and provide a buffer. During sessions I will play music chosen by the client providing an emotional connection for them. 

Being Highly Intuitive

Being intuitive is a key component of a positive relationship with any subject or client. Listening to my gut about how they feel throughout the session helps with movements that are natural and do not look posed. Before you know it, you are posing on your own as well as expressing natural emotion key in expressive portraiture. 

A Giving Heart

I approach every session paid or portfolio with a clear understanding that I am giving of my talent. Being able to reflect a true, expressive, emotional and honest self in portraits is what is behind the rise of self-confidence in sessions. A giving heart also means patience. I do not place limits on a session time if I feel the subject isn't comfortable. Many sessions begin with 15 to 20 minutes of sharing experiences verbally before I even raise the camera. 

I use empathic photography for every portrait session, finding that it was the best approach. The strategies are not only helpful to clients but also to any photographer who feels they too have these highly sensitive traits. It is a side that can be tapped into for portraits, street, or documentary work. 

All of my work is very people-centric. I love what I do and my ability to pull in empathic traits for my approach to portrait sessions makes my clients and subjects love their time in front of the camera.

Tracy Barbour is a New York City Street, Documentary, and Portrait Photographer based in Brooklyn. She is available for Empathic Portrait Sessions. Please inquire about booking your session on the CONTACT & BOOKING page. 

Ticket To Ride

 A bike sits outside a bicycle shop just off the street in Ridgewood, Queens, New York City.

There is something to be said for the journey. What does it take to get there? And once you are there, can you go further? Can you go faster? Some days are like a slow roll and others the faster the better. Whether the world is passing by in slow motion or whipping by at the speed of light, every mile ticks off important moments in the trip we make around the sun as humans. 

I recently purchased a bike. It is nothing fancy. I hadn't ridden a bike in over 20 years and it was a huge leap for me to get back on. The last time I attempted to ride, I ran over the salesman as I veered in the wrong direction and promptly fell off after slamming into him. 

Nope, not getting back on. Not ever. Or so I said. 

I made excuse after excuse for not getting on a bike that ranged from "my balance is off" to "I'm too old to relearn" to "I simply have not time." 

But I did have time and I definitely wasn't too old. And neither are you. Whether it's getting back on the road and two wheels after 20 years or trying something new at the age of 60 or 80 or more. You are never too old to understand every single moment of the journey is YOUR ticket to ride. It is YOUR ticket to get back on the journey. 

Get your ticket now. 

Making The List: Street Hunters

 A man reaches out to a window on a train in New York City.

Today I found out I made a list. I was featured alongside some incredibly talented street storytellers, all female, on Street Hunters. You can check out the entire list HERE

I cried. Seriously. I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling with tears rolling down my cheeks. I didn't even know. A friend sent me the link. I didn't start street photography all that long ago. And being in this very male dominated genre takes grit, guts, and a shit ton of patience. 

Those tears were tears of joy and tears of relief. Two weeks ago I felt like a fraud. Two weeks ago I was ready to hang it all up. I even threatened to leave my camera at a friend's house and never return to get it. I felt lost in an overwhelming sea of people, buildings, city noise, and feelings. I didn't know how to swim up and I was suffocating. I was not functioning comfortably as an artist, much less a whole human being. I had sunk absolutely everything I had into moving to NYC and I was failing miserably.

Or was I? 

I don't know. I doubt I will ever know. I moved to NYC in October of 2016 on a whim, a very well-planned and calculated whim, to pursue my greatest passion in the greatest city (to me) in the world. I was going to conquer everything with my honest, my humbleness, and my determination. 

That's when NYC decided to double-down on me. One misfortune and unfortunate event after another, my ship was sinking. Although my emotional honesty stayed intact, my determination and positive attitude was on the brink. I was distraught often, scaring a couple close friends and my family. 

But then something happened. I don't know what it was. A switch was flipped an incredible things started pouring into my life. Don't get me wrong, my days are far from easy. I still struggle like any other artist in this city. I mean I struggle like anybody in this city. We come, we stay, and we struggle. Day in and day out I pour myself into physical labor, hundreds of steps and miles on the streets, and long subway rides to spend even 5% each day focused on my craft. 

So now I sit here motivated again, determined again, and several projects in planning stages. I am no longer dreading a year from now when I stand on a stage in Jacksonville for my first major museum exhibit and presentation. I am working that 5% per day to the very best I can. 

My hope is 5% will become 100%. Today is just a first baby step towards that. I am grateful Street Hunters included me. It was the revelation, the inspiration, the confirmation, and the swift kick in the butt I needed.

For Their Service

 "J" A Homeless Veteran of New York City - Bushwick 2017

I met "J" through a chance encounter coming off a subway platform in Bushwick. He was struggling to get his walker down the stairs. A man in front of me helped him down and as soon as they reached the bottom I approached him. J was wearing a Navy Veteran t-shirt and I could see he traditional Navy Veteran cap similar to the one my grandfather wore 

J's story is long and full of heartbreak, yet he remains vigilant in his determination to get out of his current situation. He has been through 2 tours, an IED attack, numerous surgeries, a death of a sibling, and separation from his only son. 

J is homeless. He is one of approximately 990 homeless veterans in New York City. In 2015, The Huffington Post, published an article that there had been a 40% drop in homelessness amongst veterans reducing the rates from 3800 to 990. 

That is still 990 homeless veterans. There shouldn't be any, period. There should be nothing that stands in the way of our country providing for those who gave their lives, their health, and their families to protect and serve. 

J gets 100% disability benefits from his service due to the IED attack that left him unable to walk without a walker and having to endure surgeries and a titanium plate. The attack destroyed his leg and pelvis. J gives a good portion of his benefits to care for his son. The remainder goes to care for his mother and brother. 

But New York City says J makes too much money to get housing assistance. I think these veterans deserve more for their service. Don't you?

Survival, Shame, and Creativity

I want you to watch this TED talk by Brene' Brown. It was passed onto me by a friend after talking through my current path of survival before creativity. 

I'm going to tell you something I'm afraid to admit.  I am barely surviving.  Over the past couple months I have placed survival before creativity, before anything else. Survival has been my only speed and I can't seem to slow down and pull myself out of this race. 

 A young man sits on the subway in New York City, showing frustration and anger in his face.

This path of survival over creativity is a path of failure. The path of failure results in shame.

Shame blocks vulnerability. Vulnerability has been the foundation of my work as a photographer and artist. I expect everyone who steps in front of my camera whether it be voluntary or on the street as a stranger, to open themselves to me. I make eye contact, I connect, and a vulnerability is born. It is obvious in my imagery. 

 A man sits inside his shop in Downtown Brooklyn, NYC.

I had a follower send me a message about how they were inspired by my hustle. Thank you, but I don't want you to be inspired by my hustle. Hustle means nothing when the only thing you are doing is hustling. Be inspired by my ability to admit my failure, work through this shame. Because I know you have your own to work through. 

 A homeless man searches through is belongings on a subway in New York City.

I want you to be connected to the vulnerability. I want you to understand that hundreds of people pass these streets, that every moment spent here is fleeting, that nothing will every be the same from minute to minute. 

We have a lot of work to do, you and I.

Let's go.

Showing Up

 Balloons are tied to a sign on the street in Dumbo, Brooklyn, New York City.

Today I am going to talk about friends, family, loved ones, and patrons. Yes, you, the not-so-creative lovers of the arts. This one is for you. 

Creatives need you to show up. That's right. We need you to be there at every show, every event, every talk, every exhibit. We need it like we need air. When full time (or even part-time) creatives such as artists and photographers do what they do it isn't a hobby, it is our lifeblood. We pour every bit of anxiety and angst out into what we do with our craft. 

It's not enough to send a congrats text or comment on Facebook. It is definitely not enough to "like" a photo on Instagram. We need you to be there when we are have an existential crisis and we especially need you there when we hit a milestone. 

Creatives need celebrations too. We need someone to buy us a drink or a cup of coffee, to invite us to dinner. If we say "please come to dinner and celebrate with me" we need you to say yes. 

Showing up means you are there with us in the trenches fighting the good fight. When you hear a creative say "it's no big deal, I'm used to it" that's not a good sign. 

To those who continue to show up in my life. Thank you. You are the source of my energy. 

Show up. That's it. I know it's a big job but I also know you got this. 

Big Lights Will Inspire You

Six months ago I packed up all my sh*t and moved to NYC. Well, not ALL of it. Some of it is scattered. I've got stuff back in Texas at two different places and I'm pretty sure my first NYC friend is pretty sick of my lone suitcase sitting in her apartment (although her cats may be loving it.) How do I know it was six months ago? Because I count every single month. Hell, I count every day. Another 24 hours down.

 Cars pass under a Brooklyn overpass in the rain.

What was I thinking? What am I looking for? I was looking to leap. I am for inspiration and I was looking to live out my childhood dream of being an artist in the greatest city ever. 

I'm still looking. 

Because big lights don't necessarily inspire and big cities don't necessarily welcome you with open arms. Anyone who tells you they were ever immediately a success in NYC is lying through their teeth just to save their poor heart from breaking into a million pieces.

Fake it till you make it!

About a month or so ago, I started feeling my tenacity slide a bit. What am I saying? It slid ALOT. It slide so far that I lost any motivation to pick up my camera. Folks, NYC has NOT been nice to me. She's a total B and she's out for blood (or at least she has been to me.) 

 The Halsey MTA subway stop gets covered in rain in Brooklyn.

But...every single day I pack up my bag, I leave the house rain or shine and I ALWAYS carry my camera. It doesn't matter if I take a single photo that day. My camera is always with me, always ready and always willing, even when I'm not. No one else is going to take those images for me. Most of my days are spent alone. There is no one there to be camera twins with me. There is no one there to pat me on the back and say "great job." There is no one else who is exactly like me, taking exactly the same photos in exactly the same places. There is no one there to "work the corner" or whatever else you are supposed to be doing as a street photographer. 

You just have to wing it. That's all there is to it. There are no rules, except the ones you do or don't make up for yourself.

Today I stood in the middle of an overpass in Brooklyn and snapped too numerous to count photos of cars going by under me. I stood there because it was semi-dry despite the fact my feet were soaked. I stood and watched and I waited and I used my camera the only way I know how. My not-so-fancy black Olympus OMD EM1. The camera I just am barely paying off, covered in gaffers tape with brassing on the edges. The camera that some days bangs into subway doors (praise for filters) and other times sits silently tucked away in my bag. 

Big lights? Sure. Inspiration? That's up to you to find it.

How New Work Is Born

 The textile art of Tracy Barbour in New York City.

I moved to New York City six months ago to find myself amongst the bustling streets. I moved to take on new challenges and to face odds I couldn't even imagine in my cozy two bedroom in Texas. 

I found those challenges and so much more. I found myself homeless at one point, riding the train late into the night hoping I would find a bed by morning. I found myself without heat in a winter that was so hard on my lungs as an asthmatic person. But I also found friendships that have taken on the deepest of meanings, support in the most unexpected places, and a renewed belief in my abilities as an artist. This renewed belief didn't just come from me. It came from people who I know had long since given up on my seemingly crazy dreams.

This was not just some crazy dream. Between losing my day job and opening myself up to do show after show, week after week, networking and putting myself out there I am finally finding myself. 

I am returning to my roots as a fine artist. I am returning to the skills that began in a small rural school art classroom, where I was allowed to skip the required and painted everyday in a back room no bigger than a closet. 

This, my friends, is how new work is born. It rises from the ashes of heartache, it climbs its way out of rubble, and it breathes new life into everything it touches. New work comes from your gut. It grabs you and says "this is it, do this!" It shakes you awake at night and compels you to keep moving forward. It pokes at your creative brain and says "wake up." New work does not mean letting current projects die, it means addition and the process of evolving. I am still 100% a street photographer and documentary photojournalist. I am still 100% a portrait photographer. 

 The tools of the trade for a textile artist.

My new work took the form of textile art. Two months ago I began studying textile artists, in particular those who were working with textile art, multi-media art, and photography. The two artists I studied use found photographs and vintage photographs. I closed myself up in my room sometimes late into the night and began experimenting with different papers, printing, as well as threads and coloring methods. 

I created an initial prototype which can now be seen as a banner on the Etsy shop I am still currently building and in the photograph at the beginning of this post. The other two pieces I created are making a debut at The Greenpoint Gallery Art Politico Show. I do hope you will come out and meet me and see the work. I will also be showing at The Ridgewood Arts Market on May 21st for their brunch market. I will have so many new pieces! 

A Touching Project

The series is about grief and how human beings deal with that grief. It is also about the grace that comes in the fight to stay alive or the fight to have quality of life until we pass on. It is about giving people tangible evidence of their existence. There is comfort in knowing you were here and you mattered.
 A young woman newly diagnosed with glioblastoma rests in her living room in New York City.

Yesterday I had the honor of being featured on The Photoblographer for my Grief & Grace Project. A huge thank you goes out to Chris Gampat, the editor of this amazing online publication for reaching out to me. The interview breathed new life into my project and I am humbled by the feature. Please be sure to check out the interview here