April 01, 2011 — Don't be too surprised to find yourself surrounded by the presence of true love while witnessing a couple in the brink of tears at a Jesh de Rox photo shoot. "Half of the people I shoot usually cry," says the fine art portrait photographer. "They tell me how I have changed their life and revived their relationship."
In merely three years, de Rox has captivated the hearts of thousands and has become a revolutionary figure as more than 800 photographers now follow him worldwide in a new genre of photography he dubs the "Beloved" sessions – capturing raw emotion from couples who are in long-term relationships and in love.
Ironically, de Rox believes the "genuine communication" and "celebration of love" he has developed in these sessions comes from his own struggle to find ways of creating close relationships with people as he and his parents moved more than 50 times during his childhood. "Although it was heartbreaking and incredibly lonely, I learned how to make connections with people very quickly," says the Indianapolis native who still travels and currently resides in Canada. "I now feel it has been the biggest blessing of my life."
While he first made a lucrative business for himself shooting wedding photographs about six years ago, the self-taught photographer felt emptiness inside. "I don't like fake conversations and a lot of modern photography has shifted towards this fake side of culture," he says. He is now convinced, though, that we are at a turning point where the age of information technology and social networking has forced us to draw attention to the impersonal relationships that subtly emerged as a result of an era where massive reproduction dominated the last one-hundred years.
"People value real relationships, and that is what has been missing," de Rox says. He also finds there is an untapped market where half of U.S. marriages end in divorce—which has become about a $33 billion-a-year industry.
"If people just decided to participate in a Beloved session instead, there would be fewer divorces," de Rox says. That is why he began his journey to study the psychological aspect of how to "remove the veil" people create in order to find truth in relationships, and genuine smiles in pictures. "It was an amazing feat to capture those real moments couples had with each other," he says.
But de Rox doesn't credit himself as "discovering" this approach to photography. "Only the great photographers in time have this innate ability to find the true essence of a person," de Rox says, who first fell in love with images while taking a high school photography class at age 17. "With Beloved, all I am trying to do is put language around this talent in order for the rest of us to be able to imitate this in our art."
That is why he created the Beloved Collective Field Guide that includes a set of 30 cards for photographers to learn how to use the "experiential technique," which empowers photographers to experience a Beloved session and invites viewers to experience an interactive Web site of a collection of photos.
His first lesson for photographers is to imagine the five people you love most in life: "Nobody falls in love with a client—that can heavily dictate the way you take your photographs and you lose your creative expression." A two-hour photo session with de Rox includes approximately 15 minutes of what he calls "trust building."
The couples are asked to engage in playtime that involves jumping, and even accidentally bumping heads, a sure way to get a laugh. Then, he starts the session asking deep philosophical questions about their love.
"I ask them to think about how they would feel if they learned their partner had been involved in an accident and to touch their partner's cheek as if it were for the last time," he says. "This is the root of the Beloved sessions, because our most authentic self comes out of tragedy."
He taps into the romance that many couples forget about as they begin to play the role of husband or wife. de Rox's style of photography is an amalgamation of "creative control" — only caring to manage a few elements in a photo shoot such as the lighting and setting—and gearing away from "posing" for the camera by capturing unrefined emotions.
His images portray couples wearing everyday clothes—kissing, hugging, smiling or looking intensely into each others eyes while one image captures an orange sunset that drops in the horizon. He likes to capture images of couples in their homes, and outdoors in natural light, so they are not confined in a stuffy studio setting.
While he uses a Canon 5D mark II camera and Photoshop (sparingly), the free-spirited photographer tries not to put too much emphasis on equipment, but focus more on studying the couple's energy.He sometimes prefers it when couples look away from the camera so they forget they're being shot. de Rox might suggest shooting a couple in a busy street while holding hands; even sitting inside a tent while pedestrians rush by. "I always see an extraordinarily beautiful person in those that I shoot," he says.
In September, de Rox will launch his first international seminar for photographers in Los Angeles. And he will later release images of celebrities who have experienced the Beloved sessions in order to create wider attention to this genre. "I want it to become a movement for photographers who are interested in financial success," says de Rox, who serves around 30 clients a year worldwide. He hopes that around 3000 photographers will join the Beloved phenomenon by 2012. For de Rox the massive support and love he's found is best expressed in pictures rather than words.
Freelance writer Nayeli Pagaza, is a 2006 University of California, San Diego graduate, and co-author of Impacts of Border Enforcement on Mexican Migration: The View from Sending Communities. She has extensive experience in the writing industry and is a former reporter for the Orange County Register. She is an international relations expert and a community and media liaison. A Huntington Beach resident, she moved to Southern California more than 20 years from her native home of Mexico City.