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Lifting up by lens Junior lexi naperala uses camera to empower herself and others

By Grace Ostric

At first glance, junior Lexi Naperala replaces the oxygen in the room with quiet confidence. Whether it is her eye-catching makeup skills or the fact that she addresses even strangers with an enthusiastic “Hey girl!” her poise is captivating. Every sentence that comes out of her mouth is encouraging, exciting, or a combination of both. Every movement a dedication to growth. She seems to know her worth and radiates that confidence onto others.

But it wasn't always that way.

LENS LOVE (LEFT): Junior Lexi Naperala uses a Nikkon D7100 to photograph others. She labels herself as a lifestyle photographer that focuses around empowerment. (photo by Grace Montgomery)

Last summer during a trip to Florida, Naperala had reached her breaking point in an emotionally abusive relationship.

“The story is so silly to me but I was told I was a disappointment,” Naperala said. “I just literally broke down, I was sobbing. I didn't know what to do so that stuck with me.”

After the breakup, she found herself on the treacherous journey of rediscovering her own self-worth.

“I came out of that and was like, okay, how can I make others, women especially, feel like they are worthy of love and worthy of happiness, and that they are beautiful human beings,” Naperala said. “Ever since I kind of stepped out of that I've been healing and with that healing, I've kind of learned just about how to get in the grip of that positivity and I brought little elements from there, made it my own and just kind of pushed it out to the world.”

Despite the pain, the stars aligned for Naperala as she picked up a new passion at the perfect moment.

In the same summer she experienced heartbreak, she also picked up a camera and start taking pictures.

“So I actually kind of started photography as a joke,” Naperala said. “It just kind of happened between my friend and me. One day, my mom had her camera and I used it for fun. I was like ‘okay let's see how it goes’ and they turned out better than what I expected. From there we just kind of kept on taking pictures and then people started recognizing that and started asking me for shoots.”

Now, with her Nikon D7100 in hand, Naperala has developed her photography skills into a meaningful business. She promotes herself as a lifestyle photographer who focuses her shoots around self-confidence and esteem.

But she didn’t stop there.

POWERFUL GAZE (RIGHT): "This is certainly my all time favorite," Naperala said. "I was so excited when Jenna brought up the idea of playing around with paint in her shoot. The lighting hit just right enough to make her gorgeous eyes pop and the paint stand out." (photo by Lexi Naperala)

Like she did in her business, Naperala found a way to use confusion and pain to create something beautiful for everyone, culminating in a photoshoot she titled Project Worth.

“I was in the car and I was thinking ‘okay so I'm getting a little bit better at photography, but how can I make that into something that inspires people and pushes them to make a better person?’” Naperala said. “And thus came Project Worth.”

PROJECT WORTH (RIGHT): Julie Witte is a subject of the Project Worth photoshoot. (photo by Lexi Naperala)

Project Worth was inspired in part by the Chalkboard Project and the main photoshoots took place in the fall of 2020. It was female based and involved both students and teachers.

“I came up with the idea of having the hand over your head which meant a word that you thought about yourself that was negative, one over your mouth, which was someone that someone was that someone has said to you that is negative and then over your chest or your heart, because it's closest to your heart, is the biggest and the brightest, it's your truth,” Naperala said.

All of the photos are in black and white. The only exception is that the true word is written over the chest which creates a pop of color.

APT ANGLE (LEFT): With creative focus, Naperala takes pictures for her Project Worth photoshoot, inspired in part by The Chalkboard Project. Project Worth included both students and teachers. (photo by Megan Voorhees)

It isn’t just Naperala’s past experiences that allow her to bring out the best in people. Her genuine and joyful personality makes her not only a great photographer but a great friend.

“She always tries to make people feel very comfortable and she doesn't want anyone to feel like they're not in their comfort zone,” Megan Zelenka, one of Naperala’s closest friends, said. “She wants people to feel confident and feel so beautiful and that’s everything that she wants to capture about everyone because she wants everyone else to feel so good about themselves.”

In such a short period of time Naperala has created timeless art with her camera. But it couldn’t have been accomplished without immense support from her close friends and family.

Angie Lindeman, a nurse who does photography on the side, has given Lexi bits and pieces of advice throughout her journey. From the beginning, she recognized Lexi’s outstanding personality and talent.

“Something that she's really good at which is just a natural gift is posing people and bringing them out of their shell with her personality,” Lindeman said. “And that's the kind of stuff that you can't really teach, that just has to kind of come naturally. She's got all the hard stuff she's already got it figured out.”

ACTION SHOT (RIGHT): Naperala in position to get the best photo of her clients. She is dedicated to her craft and isn't afraid to take pictures even when the weather is cloudy and rainy. (photo by Grace Ostric)

Although Lexi doesn’t see photography as a full-time career, she does see it as a hobby and a tool for change in the future. As of now, she is brainstorming ideas for more female empowerment projects.

In the future, she hopes to go into the medical field, but no matter what she does, she will have a solid foundation to succeed. Lexi’s camera will be used as a catalyst for change, both her and for those around her. Her ability to create beauty from pain and simultaneously uplift others will no doubt affect the world for the better.

“I see my camera is almost like my confidence,” Naperala said. “Not that I see validation through it but it's something I'm good at. And I know that I can constantly keep pushing myself to become better through it. And I also see my camera as something that I can help people really like themselves and understand themselves through. So, I see it almost as kind of a lifesaver, in the sense that it really helps me feel better about myself but also makes other girls feel better.”

IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA (RIGHT): Not only does she take breathtaking photos, but she also looks good in front of the lens. (photo by Grace Montgomery)