Leah Beilhart, founder and creative director of BEHOLD.HER, a female happy hour discussion and portrait series is throwing a reunion party for past participants in the series this Thursday at Sally’s Middle Name in Washington, DC., hosted by Capitally Magazine! We were thrilled when Leah reached out and asked Take Care to participate in the swag bags going out to all the amazing participants. We asked Leah to answer some questions about the portrait series and hope you enjoy learning about her journey as much as we did!
1. Where did the concept of BEHOLD.HER originate?
Setting photography aside, I’ve witnessed and experienced as a woman, the toxic insecurities and self doubt caused not only by our minds but the people around us. With that being said, the older I got the more I hoped the cattiness, the two facedness, or the bitterness would end. But it didn’t; if anything, female competitiveness grew deeper like a wisdom tooth and as the roots strengthened so did the difficulty of tearing away from that mindset. I found it difficult making girlfriends and found myself sinking away at the idea that I would never be included in female social circles.
As I dove into photography, I worked with many different women and noticed that many shared similar insecurities and worries as they faced the camera. As a photographer and a business woman, I recognized the importance of having to listen and support those women who felt uncomfortable through the process. Fast forward a few years and now I’m in D.C. trying to figure out how to make my photography more meaningful. I had borrowed some lighting equipment from a friend to test out. I invited a few ladies to come to a studio I was working in at the time. I told them they could each invite one girlfriend. I ventured out to Instagram to make two spots available to participate. I mentioned that when you’re here to be photographed you have to accept compliments if they’re given and that you need to love yourself for you during the process.
What I wrote on the post seemed to have spoken out to a lot of women because I had over 50 who applied to attend. After posting the series of portraits online, I got a phone call from Sarah from Kicheko Goods, who inquired about throwing a portrait session at her studio. I happily accepted...when I got off the phone I found myself running around my apartment realizing that I didn’t have a name, any branding, lighting equipment, and well, honestly, I had nothing but my camera. So for one week I spent all day brainstorming the concept and culture behind BEHOLD.HER. I called a friend Sam, who I went to University with in Florida, and we juggled some names around. I mentioned the phrase, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" and she was able to whip back what I'm using now. From there I really focused on what needed to be gained from these intimate gatherings and I started to reflect on how difficult it has always been to have friendships with women. Sometimes chances are lost to introduce ourselves because we might be making assumptions about their personality and character from afar...but in the long run, women are always craving connection with other women, it's just a matter of taking a moment to see we are all human and we all have a story to tell. Now I want to be that platform where women can gather with an open mind and not be scared they’ll be losing a friend, but be there to listen and recognize we’re all in it together.
2. What impact have you seen on the women that participate in your events?
I can’t speak for all the women, but there are always small moments during and after the events that reaffirm what I’m doing is important. One woman in particular melted my heart during an event. She had brain surgery about a week before. She mentioned she was trying to get her hands on tickets for a few months and felt like it was a sign the day after surgery that she was able to snag a seat. She shared with everyone at the table that with feeling sick the past few months it was difficult for her to hang out with people. That evening was the first time she’d been out since the surgery and she said that to her, “it was a new start to life,” and that she wanted to surround herself with people who would be genuine and uplifting. Those words mean everything to me and emphasize my duty to create these safe spaces for women to share and have a moment to venture out, be vulnerable, and connect. It’s not natural to want to open up about our personal struggles, but it’s miraculous to see what blooms in just a few hours. I believe the women leave with a different perspective about themselves and the women they sat with, I know I do, and I’m blessed to freeze a moment from that evening and give to them to keep forever.
3. What is your favorite part of the events?
I like the transition from the table discussion to the portrait. I really have to observe the people who step in front of the camera. I have to recognize who might be nervous, who’s been in tough spot that past few weeks, or who’s about to jump out of their seat from excitement. This really helps me understand how to interact with each person. We’re all different and we’re all coming together at different times in our lives. I am cataloging that moment and I need to be sensitive with how I bring them along in the process. Before I take the portrait I have a small question I ask that requests for the woman to share something from the table discussion. It’s in that moment that you see a burst of emotion. With tears or not, this is their moment to share something deep within their soul, this is the moment where “you’re more than just a face.” Yes, I enjoy photographing everyone, but what is most important to me is hearing and sharing a part of their story.
4. What is this next event you are getting ready for - how will it be different from your current events and what are your hopes for it?
The next event is the reunion party! This is not a traditional happy hour so no portraits. Instead it’s re-gathering the past participants to reunite and chill! The doors are also opening to those who are interested in the brand. We’re sold out and I’m super stoked to see how the evening rolls. The participants are always asking for ways to reconnect with everyone so I’m looking forward to see old and recent faces from the events. It warms my heart to hear everyone so pumped to see each other again. For a more traditional happy hour, that will be on June 27th at Cotton & Reed and the discussion will be revolved around Sexuality and Consent. It’ll be a tough talk, but we’ll have an amazing discussion leader and of course, lots of women to support each other throughout the chat. Each event is always completely different and a huge factor is that we have a completely different group of women each time around. That’s what makes it special in my eyes.
5. What's next for BEHOLD.HER?
I don’t want to disclose too much as I’m still trying to fumble through some ideas, but what I do know is that I’m seeking out team members and wanting to expand the brand to become more of a community and less recognized as just an event series. I will always be hosting these monthly portrait happy hours, but I’m hoping by next year I’ll be able to create a stable community platform where women can have a hub to continue to connect with the women they’re meeting through this series. For BEHOLD.HER’s anniversary, I’ll be hosting a Black Tie Fundraiser in November called “Thanks to Her,” where I’m looking to raise at least $10k for two local charities supporting women and young girls. I look forward to sharing information throughout the year. I’m excited to see how things will play out, especially with such an amazing team of women who are dedicated to helping me make this something unforgettable. Behold will also be venturing out to a few other states next year so I’m excited to get this series on the road.