Beauty Beyond Scars Uses Black and White to Look Past Tragedy

All images by Krysada Phounsiri – aka, Snap PIlots. Used with permission. 

“My main motive is to create dope photographs while allowing people to express their story,” explains San Diego based photographer, Krysada Phounsiri – aka, Snap PIlots. In his moving portrait photography series, Beauty Beyond Scars, he puts the focus on those who may wish to avoid the camera, reminding them of their identity, the love, and the self-love they deserve. “I want the photos to establish a visual narrative on their own while providing a space for people to share their story about their scar(s), their pain, and how they gather strength to move forward.” Phounsiri is building a beautiful story, filled with heartwarming and motivating narratives. We could not pass on the opportunity to discuss his work, as it’s truly inspiring.

“…with Beauty Beyond Scars, I want my subjects to heal. I want them to feel alive…”

Phoblographer: Beauty Beyond Scars has been an on-going project for quite a few years now. Can you update us on how you feel the work has developed and where you currently are with it?

SP: Beauty Beyond Scars is a personal project that helps me anchor my purpose in photography – to photograph humanity and evoke emotion in all the ways that I can. I feel my skills as a photographer have improved over the past few years. A good portion of my development can be credited through this project and will continue to do so. This project is a great way for me to view my own development and the development of my models in skills and life. I feel strongly for it. The project itself hasn’t been gaining the traction and speed as I hoped for though; in the sense of gaining more subjects to photograph and tell their story. I don’t want to rush this though which is why I’m fine with how it’s going. So far, people have been inspired by reading the stories, and they love the photos. The context helps. The folks that were willing to be part of my project trust me with their story, as much as they trust me to photograph them when they may feel quite vulnerable. I enjoy the process, and it’s one of the few things that truly keep me going as an artist. I’m all about the personal narrative told in our own creative ways. Currently, I am trying to schedule one or two more shoots this year from folks who are interested. I plan to be more active in my local scene.

Phoblographer: What’s your process for making your subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera? Do you ever have to help them with any insecurities they may have about their scars?

SP: Before photographing anyone, I first talk about how much this project means to me. I bring it back to why I’m passionate, and we don’t move forward with planning for the shoot if the subject is not ready. This is also why I am okay waiting until folks are ready. I aim to bring out the rawest, vulnerable, and honest visual of the person I’m photographing. I tell them that they can bring a close friend to the shoot if it’ll help them relax. I’ll send photos so we can discuss visual themes, outfits, and ideas. We talk about expectations. If what I’m aiming for with the photos along the sensual line, I will inform them right away. I won’t photograph what they are not comfortable with, it needs to be organic.

“I am an advocate for empowering voices, and my goal is to help bring visibility to the under-represented.”

The day of the shoot, I give them simple tips on how to relax. Body language, breathing, the environment, and ambiance are all important. Music really helps. I’ll let them play what they like if we’re in studio. These are things I do on my regular photoshoots. For those who are down to shoot with me for Beauty Beyond Scars, we’ve already established trust long before the day of the shoot. I do my best not surprise them with last-minute changes. As for the scars, we agree on the philosophy to own every part of the body. Scars are a part of us, they are visually and metaphorically who makes us unique to our experiences. I show them how I would like to photograph their scars and often times they are excited to make it work.

Phoblographer: How do you decide which locations to choose for the shoots?

SP: If the shoot is going to be intimate/sensual, we look for private/secluded locations where we can focus on the moment. Often times, that will be someone’s house, my living room studio, or through a bit of location scouting. The concept behind the shoot will often dictate where I choose to look. For many of these shoots, it was easy because it was personal. For example, my recent series with Bobby focused on his passions and how he appreciated them so much more after his first battle with liver cancer. We used my photo studio, his recording studio in his garage, and a basketball court that had the scene and the colors I wanted. For Beauty Beyond Scars, I try to plan around locations that represent the model most honestly. We discuss it in detail before locking down on a location.

Phoblographer: You have a personal connection with all your subjects. Is that important for what you want to do with the project (and if so, why?) or are you open to working with “strangers” in the future?

SP: I reach out to folks who I have a personal connection to because I believe their story should be told. It’s the whole idea about existing, celebrating who we are, and where we come from. I am an advocate for empowering voices, and my goal is to help bring visibility to the under-represented. This includes underrepresented individuals, ideas, and sub-cultures. However, it is not important that I have a personal connection to my subjects. I don’t have to know you beforehand. From the beginning, my goal was to work with more “strangers”. I want to work hard and make that more of a reality. This is why I want to share my project. I am quite open to shoot with people who want to be a part of Beauty Beyond Scars. Feel free to connect with me if you are interested.

Phoblographer: You describe your photoshoots as a sense of healing for both you and your subjects. Can you go into more detail? What do you mean by that and how does photography help you emotionally heal?

SP: I have personal challenges that I’m battling. Current life challenges and responsibilities have been burning me out with more intensity than the previous years. The stress from work, community advocacy, while trying to balance it all in my other art avenues exhaust me. Time commitment to everything I do along with my doubts impact me negatively. I’m working on other projects that are important to me, but I’m sailing many ships. It doesn’t help that I don’t sleep much and I’m involved in many other fronts. I do find them important, but I aim to cut down for my own sanity.

“When I look at these photos, and what we were able to accomplish, a sense of purpose fulfills me.”

When I photograph people and the shoot is exactly the kind that I want to do, it truly feeds my soul. It’s a feeling inside, a joy that lights me up. I glow with hope, ambition, and a vibe makes me feel so alive. It’s similar to the high I get when the right song plays, and I’m dancing in a cypher; completely present. Nothing matters but the act itself in the context of what’s around me. I find that when I’m shooting the things I love to shoot, it brings me back from the slump that I so desperately try to break out of. When I feel that good, of course I want to share it. So with Beauty Beyond Scars, I want my subjects to heal. I want them to feel alive, to be present, and to command resilience from their pain. We can heal together. I love that. Even if for that hour of shooting, or through the entire process from planning, shooting, post-production, and completion, it’s all worth it. We walk out of the shoot happy that we created something, we walk out knowing we tried.

Phoblographer: It has been four years since you shot your first subject, Kiki. How is she doing and did she ever share the impact of doing the photoshoot had on her?

SP: Kiki is currently working on being a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She is close to completing her courses, her hours, and examinations. I am truly happy for her. The hard work she puts in and the passion she has working with people shines through. When you read her story, you realize that she has experience fighting through personal challenges and trauma. Our shoot together made waves and was featured on various platforms (thank you Phoblographer for giving us the opportunity). She inspires others in the burn survivor community to love themselves beyond the scars that they have. Many people reached out to her and thanked her for sharing her story. They are in awe with the photos. It is wonderful to hear that she inspires others through her story, while doing her best to transition into a professional career that she feels strongly for. I wish her the best.

Phoblographer: It is a very meaningful project. Once the adrenaline of the shoot is over and the editing has been done, what emotions do you feel when you reflect on the images?

SP: One of the few feelings of completion I have in my life, quite honestly. When I look at these photos, and what we were able to accomplish, a sense of purpose fulfills me. Whether the impact is big or small in numbers, it does not matter. That feeling of being present, in the moment, and alive through the process sticks with me. I look at the photos and smile. The memories along with the actual energy I get from the photo shines through.

Phoblographer: Is there an end goal with this project?

SP: There are many goals with this project, but I do not feel there is an end goal. In general, I don’t prefer seeking end goals for anything I do. I’ll create what I’m passionate about through projects. After some refining, I’ll release them to the world. From there, they can morph, bend, twist, and evolve in their own way. So if the project connects people and inspires them, that is great. If the project helps me connect with build with more people, that is fully welcomed. If it leads to another project that I want to pursue, that is fine too. As long as we can exist and make a statement through our scars, whether physical/emotional/mental, then we’ve done what we can to empower.

At some point in time, I do want to print out these photos and do a gallery. I want all the models who were part of my project to be there. But until then, I am looking for the next story; the next photograph I want to bring to life.

You can see more of Krysada’s work by visiting his website and Instagram.