“Let’s be friends”

09.12.2020 | Author: Katalina Farkas | Photo: Anna Heupel

Cristina Mittermeier meets five women from around the world. What follows is an emotional conversation – about dreams, challenges and self-worth.
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Cristina Mittermeier talks to five women about dreams, challenges, and knowing your worth.

It might feel unfamiliar to talk in an open and confident manner about your own successes, especially when a world-famous and multi-award-winning photographer is the one asking you to do it. But as hard as it may be for them, Cristina Mittermeier insists the participants do exactly that to kick off the She’s Mercedes mentoring session. She feels it’s important to do this regularly. “Especially as women, it's so important to articulate where we’re going, but understanding the value of your work is a crucial step. You have to silence that self-doubt that tells you you’re not strong enough. And you have to do it every day.” As unfamiliar as it may be to speak freely about the things that make you proud of yourself, it is also empowering. Adrienne from Chicago comments: “The amount of superpower and bravery in this group is pretty awesome.”

It’s a Monday in November when the environment and conservation photographer meets her mentees – the five women selected to participate in the first session of She’s Your Mentor. The meeting is digital, not so much because of social distancing and safety protocols, but mainly because the participants live in Argentina, Chile, the USA and Germany. There’s Marianela, a marine biologist who is breaking her family tradition of a life in farming, and Adrienne, who is homeschooling her children due to school closures.  She wants to work on the side as a photographer. María Jesús is on the call and wants to explain climate change in Spanish but still isn’t sure where and how to reach the most people. Marina is an engineer, currently on maternity leave, who wants to make fossil technologies more environmentally friendly. Sofia worked with inhabitants of Argentinian national parks in an organization that will soon release jaguars back into the wild. Leading the conversation, there is Cristina Mittermeier, who lives on Vancouver Island in western Canada. She joins today’s meeting from a trailer at a harbour on the east coast of the USA, from where she is about to set sail southwards to the Bahamas on a catamaran.

Cristina Mittermeier and the participants of the “She’s your mentor” session

A conversation like this is incredibly important, says Mittermeier. When she was raising her children in her twenties, while her husband pursued his career, she often felt invisible. “I felt like the potential I could bring was not even seen. More importantly, I felt like nobody cared about what I had to say.” Being able to talk to other women who were interested in the same things she was would have helped her back then. To talk about the issues that she’s passionate about would have inspired her and would have brought clarity to her own goals and abilities. It was immediately clear to Mittermeier that the conversation needed to start with each woman telling her what her superpowers are. These superpowers, so powerfully expressed in the participants’ answers, are as diverse as the participants themselves. What they share is their interest in nature, the ocean and protecting the environment, which they approach artistically but also scientifically. This insight enthuses not only the group but also Mittermeier. “It gives me so much hope that there are so many of us out there, studying different aspects about our planet, so that we just better understand how to live here.”

It’s these shared interests that drive the conversation, how to capture the imagination with scientific facts and tell complex stories in a photo or an anecdote or how to make your own work stand out among the flood of content on the internet. Mittermeier is direct. “You won’t like the answer, but it takes an awful lot of discipline.” Other topics include how to approach people you wish to photograph; how to stand up for yourself; what it's like to do your own thing and finding your own voice, which Mittermeier says, “should be loud!” The discussion also covered how to deal with frustration when it feels like your words are going unheard. After a while, it doesn’t seem like these are six strangers talking – six women who have never met before, it sounds like old friends who perhaps haven’t seen one another for a long time and for that reason have a whole lot of big topics and milestones to discuss and catch up on.

What’s the takeaway? A feeling of solidarity that, according to Mittermeier, feels warm and gentle. “I hope this is not our only chance to talk to each other. Let’s stay in touch. I want to see your photos, hear from you, send you the texts and films I talked about. Who knows, maybe circumstances will eventually allow us to meet sometime. In real life. Let’s be friends.

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