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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tulej

Using portraits to say important stuff, with Thamar Kempees

Updated: Mar 11, 2023

I don't love the name of my genre of photography: 'personal branding.' It sounds a bit ego-driven, a bit influencer-y. But it doesn't have to be all 'me me me!'

Building your visibility through photography is such an important way to get your message across. The people I work with have important things to say - whether it's about male violence against women, the lack of diversity in the creative sector, or the climate crisis.

Strong imagery makes their message pack an extra punch. And, in the process, helps them connect with the right kind of clients and collaborators.

This article takes a look at how Rotterdam-based marketer Thamar Kempees has used the photos from our shoot earlier this year to talk about things she cares about. If you're on the fence about showing your face more regularly when you speak up, this should provide some inspiration...

Mischief marketing

This is what you read when you hit the homepage of Thamar Kempees' website:

I own the absurdly bold name above. A proud Rotterdammer, mother, experienced book reader, concert fanatic and festival goer. An experienced hobby chef, a realistic fairytale fan, amateur photographer, storyteller and lover of words. A little bit of activist and marketing consultant and strategist. Mainly, but not exclusively, in the arts and culture sector under Mischief Marketing.

Thamar could give a masterclass in showing up online the same as in real life. Every photo and caption she shares crackles with character.

Let's take a closer look at how you can use personal branding photos to amplify your voice, and talk about things that matter. AND attract clients that float your boat in the process.

Not everyone's cup of tea

On her website and socials you instantly get a strong flavour of who Thamar is, and what she does. When I read it I thought - this woman sounds wicked, I want to get to know her more.

But no doubt some people might think - "nah, not my cup of tea."

And that's the point.

I'm guessing Thamar doesn't give two f*cks about working with people who don't like her vibe (something known in the business as 'repel marketing. ') Meaning the folk that love her straight-up tone (like me) will be knocking on her door to work together.

Scroll down for examples of Thamar doing her thang. But first, it would be rude not to say a bit about who Thamar is and the many pies she has her fingers in...

Thamar Kempees - sometimes angry, always interesting

Thamar works in the arts and cultural sector as a freelance 'mischief' marketer, with an aim to make marketing for everyone - marketing that is diverse, inclusive and intersectional. She wanted photos she could use on Instagram, not strictly to use for work, but also to talk about the stuff she cares about personally.

Here are a few more things to know about Thamar, that she regularly weaves into her online story:

Tattoos and Nikes

She has a serious tattoo and Nike Air Max habit, both of which featured in the shoot. I loved this caption in one of her many sneaker-themed posts: "In a world where the man (has) determined how a woman should dress at work, at school, at the club, for her partner, or at the beach, I use sneakers as my nano activism."

Angry Bitches Book Club

She set up Boze Bitches Boekenclub (Angry Bitches Book Club) in Rotterdam - a book club for intersectional feminsts. AND there is a spin off book club for kids (Angry Baby's Book Club) involving reading hour with a drag queen, creating a space for kids to ask questions about gender, wigs, and identity over a fairytale.

Image of a drag queen  in blonde wig with crystal necklace reading a story to children
Boze Baby's Boekenclub with Ma'MaQueen. Image by Annelies Verhelst

Speaking about speaking

Thamar is also regularly up on stage, sharing her knowledge, and is refreshingly honest about the experience of public speaking: "the feeling of knawing insecurity, throbbing nervousness [...] and dubious perfectionism [...] combined with a sense of pedantic victory, delirious self-assurance and ecstatic pride."

Portraits that pack a punch

Now, onto how Thamar pairs a strong image with powerful words - getting her message and her personality across in spades.

1. Learning to live with ADHD

The first photo Thamar shared on Instagram was simple, a little vulnerable - seated on the floor, bare armed, eyes straight into the lens. Here she talked about how ADHD has affected her life - being misdiagnosed, how it's often not recognized in women, and how she's learning to cope with it.

"My diagnosis was also wrong at first, namely: mild depression. That turned out to be ADHD (previously my diagnosis was called ADD). That made a lot of things fall into place for me, but I wasn't there yet."

For ten years I forced myself to function like a chicken without a head in this society. Demanded myself to start on tasks even though I couldn't (literally) get started on them, worked on pressure and guilt, handing in the feeling of half-hearted work - when I damn well knew I'm excellent at my craft. And I was done with that."

2. Questioning the need for men's 'solidarity' on IWD

On International Women’s Day Thamar used a striking image of her standing dead centre, under the colossal road bridge Van Brienenoordbrug.

She questioned the whole premise of the theme that year - asking men to stand in solidarity with women, despite a century of women fighting for equal rights. She argues that any solidarity needs to be inclusive - in solidarity with women AND the anti-racism, anti-ableist and LBGQTIA+ movements.

"Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, you can remain in solidarity with your trans-exclusive, 'gender critical', racist and discriminatory white feminists."

3. Calling out victim-blaming

Thamar has also used her platform to talk about the way that victims of male violence are hidden away, whereas the perpetrators of the crime are given ample space in the media to express their shame. And how the public arena sides with the influential footballers, musicians, artists that commit violence against women.

"I'm ashamed that nowadays it's still about how deep your cleavage is, how far your bottom sticks out, how short your skirt is, how enthusiastic your make-up is, how long your hair or how wide your smile is.

"I am ashamed that the career of the perpetrator is widely reported in all positivity, how we all mourn the death of a successful man."

Beyond these striking posts, Thamar throws in a bunch of witty and lighthearted snippets from her every day life, giving us a rounded picture of who she is.

What can we learn?

Not everyone will use social media to share their political views, but what Thamar does can be applied to whatever it is you want to say. Here's what I took from observing her using her images:

  1. Pairing a quality image of yourself with a strong statement makes people sit up and pay more attention.

  2. You don't need to only use professional photos - using phone photos and selfies can work really well. The point is to show up and say what you need to say.

  3. Sharing your unvarnished point of view - despite not pleasing everyone - is a shortcut to connecting with people you resonate with.

And, even more importantly, we need far, far more women (like you) saying exactly what they think, because that STILL doesn't happen nearly enough.

What you can do next

If you are wondering whether to press publish on that article, that post or even that tweet - give it a go. It gets easier, and through regular posting and writing you sharpen your thoughts and attract co-conspirators.

When you next post something, I dare you to put an image of yourself up there too. Your friends, and of course - the dreaded 'algorithm' - will love you for it. Let me know how you get on.

Here's where to find Thamar:

Ready to take your own visibility to the next level? Drop me a hello and let's have a zero pressure chat.

Need some inspiration on the many ways you can use personal branding photography? Grab my free guide: 13 game-changing ways to use brand photos to grow your business.

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