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Being Seen: Photographer Devon Dadoly

It is May 5th, and so many things feel long overdue, most especially this review of my shoot with Coatesville-based photographer, Devon Dadoly. Yet I am reminded that everything happens when it’s supposed to, which is very different than everything happening when we plan it to.

A plant in a corner with curtains and fabric draped across windows and white walls.
Dadoly's studio set-up the day of our shoot.

If you’re procrastinating on something or you’ve let it go so long that you’re now afraid of it, you might as well do it now. Maybe it will strike a chord today. Or perhaps one of your project’s vibrations emitted out into the ether will run into a butterfly and change the trajectory of all human existence. You never know.

I have little patience for anyone who refuses to ever take their head out of the sand, to rip off the band-aid, to execute any number of clichés in service of destiny.

With that in mind, I’ll make my apologies to Devon for my latency while I throw this grimy band-aid in the trash and work to scrub its adhesive outline off my forearm

Most deadlines for Raven Rabbit Ram are self-imposed. It’s a labor of love that doesn’t and isn’t intended to generate income. The intention behind this website is to generate community and create space for various kinds of expression.

In the case of this article, the intention is to display Devon’s incredible art and, perhaps more importantly, her artful, compassionate way of being. Both this article and the project of RRR have been on the backburner for longer than I’d like, but it has given me a lot of time to digest the experience of being photographed.

The question of why things have been so quiet around these parts, however, brings us squarely to a point of deep connection I’ve found with Devon, one I feel is often overlooked by the promotional and the beautiful we see in our social feeds.

Last July, I left my corporate career to work for myself. I naively expected that working for myself would afford me a great deal of time and energy to focus on creative projects like RRR. All of the entrepreneurs in the audience, I am sure, are laughing at this notion.

As I discussed with Devon on their episode of It’s Always Saturn last year, running your own business—at least in the early stages—means having fewer resources to do more work for less money.

The work requires a laser focus and finds you laboring at all hours, not just doing the job for your clients (in my case primarily writing, editing, and design) but also being an accountant, a marketing department, and a sales department. Even when, like me, you have an amazing business partner, it is hard and constant.

A wooden folding chair in a corner draped with and surrounded by piles of fabric.
Before a session, Dadoly arranges her studio and takes several test shots to get a feel for the lighting.

It helps when the work is creative, something you find joy in completing, but it’s still work. One thing Devon and I laughed about is the sheer level of bullshit in that old capitalist adage that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Is being photographed by Devon Dadoly an absolute pleasure for both parties involved? Absolutely. Unless Devon is a first-class liar who can ham it up with an unmatched exuberance for your slight changes in facial expression over the course of several hours and hundreds of photographs, she clearly loves her work. But make no mistake, this human is working.

I imagine one of the most tasking elements of Devon’s work is exactly that exuberance—the energy exchange. Dadoly specializes in trauma-sensitive photography creating a therapeutic experience for her subjects. With her lens, she helps people to find presence and acceptance within themselves, right where they are.

Devon doesn’t seek to make people look perfect. They seek to observe. These photographs don’t point to some imagined beauty, nor do they hint at a future goal or some past glory. There is no photoshopping away the changes that her subjects’ bodies have seen, no erasure of the stories they tell and no prediction of where they’ll go next.

So much of my appreciation for my portrait session is for the incredibly healing experience of being deeply seen and respected. I felt so comfortable with Devon that I wouldn’t have batted an eye if she reached out and adjusted my hair or clothes, but the fact that she consistently asked my consent throughout the process opened me up to a whole world of possibility and agency I’m not used to experiencing. What if everyone who was about to affect you offered you the power of consent?

What a beautiful gift to receive from being photographed, something I have historically loathed. I can’t tell you how many times I have primped myself to a place where I feel there’s no way the pictures can come out wrong, then become increasingly uncomfortable while being maneuvered through the session, and ultimately being devastated when I receive pictures that feel so “bad” and so far from my sense of self.

Honestly, I haven’t spent a lot of time with the images from Devon’s shoot. I haven’t cared to. My favorite images so far are ones where I don't see my face, where I can appreciate this anonymous and beautiful person with some distance.

image of the author in white blazer and black boots on couch facing away toward window
The author looks away.

In fact, it was a huge relief when before the shoot Devon reassured me that it’s often hard for people to look at pictures of themselves, that I might not like what I see, and that’s ok. That’s human. Devon themself has spent years doing self portraits and becoming comfortable with their own image, assuming the goal of body-neutrality over body-positivity.

What a far cry from the guarantees of satisfaction and lip service we’re so used to hearing when we invest in things for ourselves. Devon may be over the moon about your image and the pieces you’re creating together, but she isn’t selling you yourself. She’s capturing the moment, honoring you, and giving you the space to feel however you feel about that.

As a photographer who specializes in boudoir, Devon enthusiastically celebrates and faithfully represents both individuals and the nuanced interplay of couples, generating a level of intimacy that is apparent whether the resulting image reveals someone fully clothed or naked and engaged in an expression of kink.

black and white photo of author posing in favorite t-shirt
The author commemorates her favorite shirt.

Devon’s work can be hot, but it can also be poignant, sad, contemplative, or funny. The day of my shoot, she told me about a pair of Crocs she had photographed for a recent client. She was fully on board with my plan to commemorate my favorite t-shirt, a Ron Regé Jr. design for The Duncan Trussell Family Hour which I have worn threadbare over the past decade. Devon is able to see the significance in our quirks, the gravity of these details that all add up to a person.

It feels necessary to say that Devon is committed to working with the queer community, the BIPOC community, the fat community, bringing overdue and breathtaking representation to the underrepresented, a lack felt especially in the images we’ve been exposed to through media within our lifetimes.

On the other hand, I’ve really struggled to find a way to convey that appropriately. While I want people to know she is a safe and supportive photographer for people who may otherwise feel very unsafe being photographed, I also want people to know how relative those distinctions appear in her work.

It’s not that these things aren’t important. Just as it would be ridiculous and dismissive to assume an attitude of “color blindness,” Devon works with these vitally important elements of identity, but in so doing, she’s able to uncover a very full portrait of her subjects. Her photographs are not about sex or weight or gender. They’re about whole human beings who can’t—and won’t—be reduced by the camera.

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