Sitting at the computer, occasionally glancing out the window, trying to find words that can be written down eloquently and not in haste. My mind is loud but my words are few. I’m frustrated. A platform for creativity should not have restraints to control how creatives express themselves. Creatives should not alter their art for validation.
When I was 17, I used to take my mum’s Olympus FE-280 Digital XD Camera (which made the most exciting electronic twinkling noise when you turned it on - I can still hear it!) all the time to take some self portraits. I didn’t need a jazzy camera to create what was in my mind’s eye. I just needed a camera. Recently I stumbled across some old self portraits which I took as part of my Dreams and Nightmares Project for A Level Photography. I don’t think these photos are perfect, but I am still proud of them. They are so expressive and interesting. All I used was the compact camera and a table light.
I felt inspired looking through these photos. I wanted to grab my camera and my table light (the same one I used in the above photos is still kicking it so I had to bring the old fella back), head into my bedroom and take some expressive photos. I set up my camera and the light, Aaron kindly said he would help me so I gave him some objects to create cool shadows and light flares.
Something didn’t feel right. I felt tired and worn down. I could not find the energy in me to create strange or dramatic poses. I sat. I turned my head from side to side. My hand graced my cheeks a few times. I felt lifeless. Aaron supported me, directing me through it. My mind wouldn’t let me create. It wouldn’t allow me to let go.
The idea of trying to recreate the style of these images was really exciting to me. I remember feeling so free and confident when I took them 9 year ago. But now, being there in that moment felt so alien. It was like I had never been in front of a camera before.
Looking out the window once again, telling myself how petty my thoughts going through my head are whilst knowing deep down I need to let go and get this feeling off of my chest. It has been playing on my mind for almost a week. So… out with it. Last night, Aaron asked me where am I thinking of putting these photos and suggested that I do not upload them to my Instagram as they aren’t typical Instagram posts. He’s right. They’re not “typical” Instagram photos. I couldn’t agree more with him. They are not bright or colourful. They are moody and atmospheric. I remember seeing a video recommending using white backgrounds and using blue tones to fit in with the crowd, but also you do you. I don’t understand how you can be yourself whilst conforming to what everyone else is doing. I guess that is deep down the reason why I wanted to recreate this style of imagery. I wanted to create something which at is core is me. No filters. No conforming. Simply expressing myself freely. I think creativity is so important to defining who you are.
Instagram has been pissing me off to death recently, with it’s nonsense algorithms and adverts being forced down my throat every time I open the bloody app. I used to love opening it up, probably spending a little too much time on it, seeing what my friends, family and clients have been up to. It was a really nice experience to use. But now when I want to see photos of the lovely people in my life I get toothpaste, beer and cat food adverts. Instagram, I know what toothpaste is and if you stalked me properly you would know I do not drink beer and although cats are cute, I am a dog person at heart! The feed is clogged up with adverts so I can no longer see the rubies in the rock. Instagram is like No Face in Spirited Away when he eats everything the workers give him, becoming fatter whilst his consistency transforms into something gloopy. Underneath it all, No Face is enchanting and gentle, with an obsession for Chihiro’s sincerity. I would like that No Face to come back.
I have no strong feelings for these self portraits. I neither love nor hate them. However I do think they are important, as they allow me to see that I am not the same person I was 9 years ago. “I feel I’m anonymous in my work. When I look at the pictures, I never see myself; they aren’t self-portraits. Sometimes I disappear.” (Cindy Sherman) A statement I agree with when I take my own self portraits. However in these images I see myself too clearly. Someone who is tired and frustrated.
Sometimes clients will say they want to shoot at a certain location or the perfect location will come to my mind when they tell me what they have in mind for shooting. Norwich is a picturesque city with several iconic buildings and streets, but there is a danger of overusing the same locations for photo shoots. Often a location I have previously shot at will be used again for a later shoot with different clients. I don’t want to give out photos that are clones of previous shots I have taken. Instead I try to use the location differently each time.
An example of this is when I shot with Beth, Lucy and Emelia (roughly just over a month between each shoot) in the Cathedral Cloisters. Both Beth and Lucy suggested this location for their shoots and I recommended it to Emelia as it was raining on the day we were shooting so we could be sheltered and the backdrop would look really pretty too. Coincidentally, Beth and Lucy had dresses by Caris Closet which they wanted pictures for their blogs, whilst Lucy and Emelia’s outfits were bright red.
Each person has their own style and personality which I wanted to capture in each photo. I wanted to avoid using the columns and corridors of the cloisters in the same way each time, so I made sure I took the photos using different angles and different sections of the cloisters. However the Cathedral’s architecture is very iconic, and I’m sure a good number of people would recognise it instantly, therefore it is easy for the photos to feel like they are all part of one set rather than three different shoots. I also love placing my subject at the centre of the image, so you can spot this trademark move in most of my photos! I love chatting away to the people I meet and photograph, it helps me to take more honest images of them. I hope that you can get a feel for each of their personalities by looking at their photos below.
I edit my photos in a similar way each time to reflect my own personal style and tastes. I will always add a bit more contrast to the photos, bring down the black tones and pop the red (warmer) tones and deepen the blue tones in each image.. and voila!
I’d love to hear your thoughts… which photos were your favourite, whether you feel stuck taking photos at the same locations, or any questions you may have for me about photography or about life in general!! Send your questions my way!
Sitting in the conservatory, watching Jeremy (our pet tortoise) slowly stroll across the garden eating all the dandelions in his path an image formed in my mind. Golden hills and a lonely figure standing in the sparse landscape. Inspiration hit me quickly and I knew this was going to be the concept for my upcoming self portrait for the Self Portrait Project. A week of sunshine but filled to the brim with other activities, I knew I was going to have to wait till next week to take the photographs.
I pictured the lighting for the images to be golden so I planned to take the photos on the upcoming Monday evening. A week of gorgeous sunshine I thought was going to last for a bit longer. Monday came and so did the rain. So I thought I’d leave it to the next day. Tuesday came and so did the rain. Maybe I’ll wait to Wednesday. More rain. Thursday? I have plans to go to a gig. Thursday won’t work. Friday, then? More rain. Saturday arrived and I was sick of the rain at this point. I turned to Aaron and said “Screw it! I’m going to take my self portraits today and I’ll just have to get soggy!”. Aaron came with me so that he could protect my camera from the rain. He also helped me with location hunting and posing. He’s such a gent!
The look itself was easy to come up with. I wanted to be the figure that came to me in my minds eye, dressed in black from head to toe. I adore western fashion, and already have a number of clothes I could put together to create my anti hero alter ego. I previously bought a cowboy style hat for my “A Close Watch” shoot with Arleya and Rebecca, so I used this with a long black skirt with side slit, one of Aaron’s black shirts, my leather jacket and a string choker with silver drop details. I also put on my Doc Martins with white knee length socks for extra coolness!!! The make up was my favourite part. I used Urban Decay eye shadow palettes, using their darkest shades to create a heavy smokey eye. I kept my lips nude so that the attention was on my eyes. I gave myself a middle parting, plaited sections of my hair to add texture. I was anticipating that the rain was going to mess up my hair, but I wanted this to make the photos seem raw and authentic. A cowgirl isn’t gonna care about her messy hair, am I right? The outfit made me feel really powerful and strong as soon as I put it on. I felt like a new person.
We ventured out in the cold rain and took the photos in a field close to my house. A location which has been one my favourites for self portraits for about 10 years! As this field is intended for new houses, they have moved a lot of the earth into tall mounds and pits to do whatever tests are necessary. This was perfect for what I initially intended. The area where I live is very flat, so these man made mounds were great for creating the illusion of a hilly location. We took the photos from an array of different heights to suggest that this is a hilly location. The rain made it difficult to be outside for a long time, we were probably outside for about 45 minutes. It was so cold that our hands were turning pink and seizing up (something I had to retouch in Photoshop), our noses were running and we were becoming a little bit grouchy (we went to McDonalds afterwards so that cheered us up!). The rain made it difficult for me to open my eyes, as it was clingy and getting in my face. Luckily squinting my eyes helped to make me look more menacing. So I guess we have to be grateful for the rain for that! I think the rain also helped to make the setting look more dreary and miserable, perhaps helping to make my character look more like an outcast.
Editing these photos was lots of fun! I had to completely transform the bright green location into something that resembles a valley/desert/wild wild west! I used both Lightroom and Photoshop to get the desired golden, reddish tones. In Lightroom I made the location warmer and golden. In Photoshop I increased the red, magenta and yellow to get it to the colour I wanted using Selective Colour and Gradient Maps. I tried to keep myself looking as pale as possible to make me stand out and contrast the location. I want people to be drawn in by the character first and then scout the location for more information. Below are some before and after images of my edits.
These photos are my favourite from the Self Portrait Project so far. We are only four months in, so I’m really excited about what’s going to inspire me over the upcoming months. Keep your eyes peeled!