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Picture This: The Awkward Years project

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A wildly popular new photography blog called "Awkward Years Project" is proof that no one is alone when it comes to having awkward teenage years.

We've all gone through the rough patch of years where you went from a cute kid to awkward teen,  be it braces, acne or bad hair. 

Many times, those old high school yearbook photos become the skeleton in the closet. But a wildly popular new photography blog called "Awkward Years Project" is proof that no one is alone.

"Some people, like myself, had been teased and bullied over how we looked. It was very hard for me to make friends," said Salt Lake City-based photographer Merilee Allred, the creator of the blog. "I just wanted to put my story out there and, hopefully, have people relate and show them that their best times are yet to come."

The blog is a series of portraits of people today holding up photos, often school portraits, taken during the most awkward periods in their lives. Along with each photo is a short story about what they went through during that time and how they feel about sharing their pictures. 

The blog is still very new with only 10 photos, but Allred plans on  accepting submissions. 

Allred joined Take Two to talk about how she got the idea for the blog, why she wanted to work on this project, and how she puts people at ease during shooting. 

Interview Highlights:

On what you'll find at Awkward Years Project:
"You will find a bunch of people that I have featured so far, where they are holding up pictures of themselves from their most awkward time. A lot of them have painful memories associated with them. Some of them had a facepalm, thinking, 'What on Earth was I thinking back then?' There's a wide variety of people that I am planning on shooting. So far there's only 10 and I'm accepting submissions as well. I will get to posting everyone else who has submitted."

On the comparison between then and now:
"I see healing and relief. I'm proud of who I turned out to be. Looking at that photo brings back a lot of hard memories. I had them locked away; I didn't want anyone to see those pictures. I have several, and I may show more as time goes on. I guess I was so embarrassed by how I looked, so much that I was afraid to share it. But once I did, it was almost as if I was holding my 11-year-old hand to help get her through it as I was posing with her, or me."

On some of the photos that aren't as awkward:
"I've had a lot of people ask me that, actually, with many of the pictures. Most of them have said, 'What's going on? Most of these are cute!' But here's the thing: who am I to say who hasn't felt awkward at that time. I don't want to invalidate their feelings, and when I talk to them, they really do feel that this was an awkward period in their time. Maybe not necessarily the photo that was taken, but the time that they went through.

"My friend Daisy, for example, the one in the meat pan, adorable. I just loved that picture so much. She was saying that it was extremely hard for her at that time because she wasn't fitting in at school. But of course, you can't see that in the picture."

On how she puts people at ease before photographing their awkward pictures:
"They are very nervous. They ask if they need to have their hair and make-up done, but I say, "Be yourself." I don't want anyone to go to the salon and get themselves all fancied up. Here's a little secret: I just use my iPhone. I love how my iPhone camera takes really good pictures. It's fast to edit, so I can hurry and put it up on my blog. When they find out that it's just me, there isn't a crew, there isn't an intimidating camera, it's just me snapping some pictures and letting them see their photos first. Once we find one that they like, I'm happy that they're all proud of the pictures I've taken so far."

On what it means to receive pictures from all over the world:
"I've found that everyone goes through an awkward stage. Even if they weren't teased or bullied, they still have self-esteem issues. The submissions I've gotten so far, I've gotten a couple from Brazil, and they were telling me their story, and it's really neat. I realized that I had something here, and a lot of people could relate to that.

"One of my other subjects, my beautiful friend Autumn, she had an extremely hard time. She had scoliosis, she had to wear leg braces that eventually became a back brace and she was teased, even by her elementary school teacher about how she walked. She was very afraid to share. She was afraid that those feelings would come back, that people would tease her about how she looks. It really affected her, and I want her to be proud of who she is and share her story because I know there are a lot of people out there that can hopefully heal and find hope and inspiration with this project."

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