Personal Health

The Incredible Story of How One Photographer Helped People Get Real—Including Herself

Imagine you could strip your soul of the influence of the world around you, right down to the core of what makes you who you are. What would you discover? With the photos in her new book, My Naked Truth ($25,, artist Adrien Finkel helped her subjects bring those inner beliefs and realities to the surface.

Finkel’s powerful portraits depict men and women, children and adults; written in black marker on their skin are words that hold deep meaning for them. You’ll see phrases like, “What if you realized how powerful you are?” and “Beauty has no weight limit.”

What you won’t see are the hours of conversation that Finkel had with her subjects to help them uncover their “naked truths.” Through in-depth conversations, “we picked things that they wanted to capture for themselves in that moment,” Finkel explained in an interview with Health.

Finkel began her project in 2011, when she was in her mid-20s. She had hit a roadblock in her life, she says, and was feeling confused about her purpose, and unfulfilled by her career. She remembered a journal she kept when she was younger—a collection of quotes that she’d promised herself she would live by. But when she went back and looked through the journal, the phrases felt empty to her.

“I decided to make it my personal quest to find more quotes and pieces of advice that could maybe help me in my current state,” Finkel says. She sought the input of her friends on Facebook, asking them to share the words that have shaped them.

Inspirational sayings started filling up her inbox, and Finkel realized those words of wisdom could do more than help her; they could help anyone realize they’re not alone in the complicated journey of life. So she set out to capture the moving advice—and the people who had shared it—with her camera.

With each portrait, she hoped “to take a photo that actually means something in a world where people take a million photos a day.” In other words, she says, she was hoping to create images that could be “shared with purpose.”

After she had photographed about 10 of the people who responded to her original Facebook post and they shared their portraits online, Finkel heard from others who wanted to participate. The project continued to spread by word of mouth, and over the next two years, she shot some 200 people.

Finkel has since helped countless others confront the meaning of their experiences. And her subjects have helped her overcome her own obstacles as well, she says. 

“I was always looking for something very special about me, a talent or something that made me feel worth it. But I realized that something special about me is that I can listen and ask questions,” Finkel says. “I’ve decided my life’s mission is to be a safe space where people can say anything. And that also comes with my own honesty with myself.” Her project has led Finkel to the belief that happiness lies in authenticity.

Years working behind her camera has given Finkel plenty of time to consider what her own portrait would look like, if the lens were reversed. She says the words written across her skin would read, “You deserve all the love you give to others.”

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All photos excerpted with permission from My Naked Truth by Adrien Finkel. (c) 2018 by Adrien Finkel. Citadel Press Books, an imprint of Kensington Publishing Corp.

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