It combines self-loathing, collaboration and the impacting of people’s lives. Strange bedfellows, for sure.

It is not an autobiography. What “Make Me Hate Me” represents is the evolution of Scott Church: the photographer, the author, the artist.

The human being.

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What it also is is some of the best work the Lebanon-based photographer/advocate has ever produced.

Recently, “Make Me Hate Me” debuted to rave reviews. It’s modest first run literally sold out in days.

“Everything I’ve ever done when it comes to my career has been attempting to make people feel better about themselves,” said Church, from his downtown Lebanon studio. “I made a career out of making people feel beautiful. For me to make changes on my purpose in life means I want to be happy with me. Making everybody feel better about themselves just happens to be where I’m at right now.

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“Ever since I stopped working for magazines and started teaching and focusing on more local issues, I’ve been more in tune with myself,” he added. “I just felt like I could do better. When the pandemic came along it gave me six months to think about it. Then when it lifted, I hit the ground running.”

The cover of “Make Me Hate Me,” by Scott Church.

The concept behind “Make Me Hate Me” is both simple and revolutionary.

The 154-page softcover – excuse the expression ‘coffee table’ – book features 75 of Church’s black-and-white photographs accentuating what the subjects hate about their physical appearance. Adjacent to each image is a short monologue written by the subject explaining what they hate about themselves and why.

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The book, which sells for $80, took Church and his support system a year to produce.

“Yes, it’s a strong word, and I mean that,” said Church of the word ‘hate’. “It’s about the things I hate about me. I hate. That’s the point of the book.

“No, I don’t hate myself,” he continued. “I’m OK with me. Me and myself are cool. I like my life. I’m happy. But there are things I’m working on, that I’m getting better at. Do those things make me hate me? It makes me want to work harder. But it’s selfish to just want to make yourself better.”

In many ways, Church relinquished much of his control on this project. From the resulting collaboration has come meaning and beauty and power.

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All the work, including the behind-the-scenes stuff, was performed locally. Church commissioned the downtown Lebanon agency Level Eleven, which specializes in graphic design, web development and marketing, to design and layout the finished “Make Me Hate Me” product. The printing of the book was performed by H&H Group of Lancaster.

Many of the subjects in “Make Me Hate Me” are local residents, and no one who contacted Church about being in it was turned away.

Read more: Scott Church is imperfectly beautiful, and so are you

“This book is bigger than me,” said Church. “Everything I do starts out for me. Everything I finish I have to like first. But this finished product is not about me. It’s more than me or even the people who are in it. I believe it’s a universal statement. There’s security in believing you’re not alone.

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“The idea itself was already way beyond me,” continued Church. “This is everybody’s book. It took me completely out of my group. To me, that’s the best part of the book. My name is on the cover and it’s my idea. But it’s an overwhelming collaboration. That just shows me it’s a good idea.”

This is the 13th book that Church has produced. While they have all featured Church’s photography and each previous book has been different in its own unique way, none have been anything like “Make Me Hate Me.”

“Those books were very different than this one,” said Church. “Most of my other books have been compilations of my work. There wasn’t a theme. I’ve been dealing with online publishers. I’m still proud of those other books, but they didn’t give me that ‘box of books’ feeling that made we want to go all out for this project.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” he added. “I wanted it to be perfect. It’s for real and it’s in the universe. We made something really special. These weren’t professional models. These are people who are already part of my world. But we also got to meet new people. I’m really proud of it. I needed to do this book.”

An inside view of “Make Me Hate Me,” by Scott Church.

“Make Me Hate Me” is the result of perfect execution of a brilliant idea. For Church, ideas are products of experience, inspiration and a fertile imagination.

“A good idea can come from anywhere,” said Church, 49. “But I had no idea how amazing this was going to be when I started it. The idea was only the spark. It’s easy to relate to because everyone has a body. It’s body positive. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t have something they don’t like about their body. Everyone has something they’re insecure about. My intention was to change the way people think about themselves.

“This is an artist’s statement that I think everyone can relate to,” he said. “If that makes it more mainstream, that’s OK. The ability to connect more people to my work was appealing to me. Maybe that’s not the case with everything I’ve ever done. There’s something about being honest about things we’re always trying to hide.”

If the message flowing from “Make Me Hate Me” is primary, then the financial considerations are secondary. Because of its nature, the book was made to be physical, held in the viewers’ hands, not virtual and looked at on a phone.

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“I sold a hundred books and I’m broke,” said Church. “Using local publishers is really expensive. In 1995, there would’ve been publishers I could’ve approached with this project. In 2021, a good idea doesn’t count for as much. Nobody made any money on this project. But I know that all the people who bought the book are thrilled with it.

“We want more people to see this book,” he concluded. “We want a publisher to approach us because it’s a darn good book. We did a good job and we want to show it off. We want someone to help us take it further. I believe we’d created an amazing project.”

If Church’s next project is to reflect his continuing evolution, the anticipation is already building.


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