When Steve Rosenfield spoke the first few words of our interview, I knew to expect the hard Bostonian accent. What I didn’t see coming was his admittance to the burgeoning weight he considerately bears by spearheading the What I Be Project. Having already garnered attention and participation from some popular musicians as well as a few recognizable faces, the word is out.
Stories of depression, body image struggles, self-harm, insecurity, and unspeakable abuses are often shared in these intimate photo sessions. These stories plant roots deep inside Steve’s head and heart. The accounts are heavy, yet Steve remains shyly modest when the topic of his kindnesses are brought to surface.
The format is simple. The title of a subject’s image always begins with “I am not my…” With that insecurity, story, or stereotype in mind, the subject bears an image or phrase on their skin to share their point of pain. Finally, Steve snaps the shutter and posts it online.
As he carefully puts it, the project serves as “a way to create security through insecurity. It’s a way to show vulnerability. A way for people to see you for who you really are without being defined by an insecurity.” And then, what I would consider the sum of this fantastic project fell from his lips: “We all want to tell our story. We’re just afraid to tell it.” But since September 2010, people have bravely and therapeutically been shedding tears and fears thanks to the inception of What I Be.
This project is changing lives. Likely saving a few as well.
If you click through the images on the project website or Steve’s Facebook fan page, you’ll discover hundreds of images and thousands of conversations. All of which have animated beautifully healing responses. You’ll find images that jar you, sadden you, inspire you, shake you to your bones. Images that remind you of you, who you once were, and even sometimes, who you wish to be.
Steve shares, “It takes a lot of courage to participate. Sometimes it’s too scary for people. Sometimes not. But when it’s too scary and someone still wants a photograph…” Steve takes a second, his eyes relax to a still, and in a rare moment, he’s moved by his own efforts. He shifts the conversation with a deep breath and a polite, “anyway.”
The What I Be Project now has over 550 powerful images at its helm. That number is
consistently growing as What I Be catches hold of people’s imaginations. He goes on to share, “We’re planning on publishing a book with our most powerful images alongside statements. It takes a lot of work to put together a book.” He laughs, “Who knew?” The What I Be Project found its title inspiration from the track, “What I Be,” off Michael Franti & Spearhead’s album, Everyone Deserves Music.
When Steve isn’t shooting for What I Be, he’s likely on tour capturing all the behind-the-scenes action for his friend and musician, Trevor Hall. If you are interested in bringing the What I Be Project to your campus, company, or home, you can get in touch with Steve directly through his website: