Surviving a Self Portrait Project

Due to an increase in photoshoots needed at work, I figured taking Digital Photography as one of my 2D electives this semester would be a good idea. 

I was a little disappointed, initially. The professor in this class is teaching us VERY LITTLE about Photoshop, Lightroom, and how to shoot in Manual. Everything I've learned thus far have been via YouTube...

EXCEPT for how to use Digital Photography as an art. He brought up a pretty captivating point in the first week of class (loosely quoted from what I remember).

"Thanks to social media and picture sites like Instagram, everyone with a smartphone is now a photographer. I'm not necessarily saying that is a bad thing, but it's a title that now no longer applies to what a big portion of artists are doing. I introduce myself now as a "Photo-based Artist" because I don't do weddings; I use photographs to communicate my concepts. They are my canvas and I spend more time manipulating my work than I do snapping the initial photo. If you want to do portraits and weddings, that's totally fine with me, but in this class, you're going to learn how to make photography your art." He also talked a LOT about breaking reality constructs and how he is fascinated with what is "real" and what is an illusion.

Okay Seth, you've got my attention. 

At first, I was annoyed that he wasn't going to step-by-step teach us how to be technically sound photographers. However, I can learn the details on my own time, but what I WON'T do, is learn how to use a camera to produce something inspiring and powerful...not unless someone pushes me. He is pushing all of us to think outside the wedding album, and to create material that speaks. 

I was annoyed again when the next project was revealed as a self-portrait project. Everyone groaned and my heart was already racing at the thought of presenting my face for class critique. Our negative feedback just excited my professor even more about seeing what we had to offer. 

I went back and forth on a few concepts. One of my ideas was a piece about my personal experience with very vivid dreams and uncontrollable night terrors (another blog post for another time). I did some research on night terrors specifically, and unfortunately there are little to no solutions. It's still a phenomenon to sleep specialists. I never remember having had them and am always surprised to hear what happened during the night. I felt like maybe that incredible lack of control over my own body would be an interesting self-portrait project. I took some pictures of me "sleeping" in bed and then sitting up in terror...but I wasn't in love with it. I had no real connection to what was happening because it was so far out of my control, so I left the pictures unedited and focused on work deadlines. 

Fast forward to the weekend before my project was due. It's time to get serious. Me and J spent all Saturday at the Georgia Dome geeking out over Supercross and then walking all over Atlanta. (See more pics and videos about that adventure here.)

Sunday was my night to focus. I went to the studio at work and locked myself in. No one was there so I could put on music and feel free to get weird. My theme this semester was "Skin" but I already knew I didn't want to be naked. I felt like that was overdone and didn't say anything unique about me. I am one of the guarded ones. I love my body but I typically keep it covered up. That's me. I love my personality but often feel zero need to share any of it with strangers.

I started thinking about how much of an Observer I am, and the Greek statues at the High Museum came to mind. Especially THIS one:

I think many people are captivated by this and others like her. It's amazing to see such fine, delicate detail be carved into something so hard and unforgiving. To me, it looks like a peaceful eternity. There was an episode of Farscape where one of the characters almost had to become a "living" statue for 100 years or something. He would be immobilized, but I think still able to hear things. I always thought this sounded like the ultimate hell, but I realized that I do love being a "fly on the wall". I love falling asleep to the sound of the world going on around me, and there is a sort of comfort in knowing that there are no eyes on you. That you are not directly affecting anything or anyone in that moment. I guess it's really about that cliche freedom when "no one is looking". You're able to take off that layer of yourself that's deemed "public appropriate"; much like taking off your clothes after a long day. This led to contemplating "modesty" and how skin is addressed in different cultures and religions. 

After some helpful googling, my "mood board" looked something like this: 

I lost a lot of time fooling with tethering apps and searching for a free program that would work with my Nikon D8800 (doesn't really exist, btw) and then realized when J bought the camera for us, it came with a little mobile app utility that we had played with before. I had to keep my phone connected to the charger for the duration of the shoot BUT this little guy was a lifesaver! You plug the wireless adapter into the camera, download the Nikon MWU app to your phone, connect your phone to the "wifi" signal that the adapter is now broadcasting, and it turns your phone into a remote AND a live screen. You can also tap where you want the camera to focus, and after it takes a picture you can choose to have a jpg downloaded to your phone AS WELL as the raw file stored on the camera. Seeing a live preview of my shots REALLY stimulated my creative eye and I don't know if I could have gotten such a fluid capture of movement without seeing everything real-time. 


Final Submission:

I did such little editing to these pictures. It took some work to get the background on the combined two at the bottom to blend nicely, but other than that, I literally pulled up the exposure on all of them and called it a day. I was worried about printing the background (light blues and green tend to look muddy and translate poorly when printing) but the colors printed perfectly.

Of course, presenting them to the class is another issue. Five years of project critiques, and I still shake like a chihuahua until after my turn. I usually try to go first so I can relax and focus on the other projects. Thankfully, that's how it went this time, and my project was pretty well-received. Silence, to me, is the worst response during a critique. I want my work to at least spark SOME sort of conversation. (I stopped caring a long time ago if that spark was negative or positive.) Art is supposed to generate thought and leave an impression, so anytime my work results in feedback, I chalk that up as a win.

The Class Liked: the cohesive color scheme, the intimate mood, the fabric I chose, and the movement

The Class Observed: themes of femininity, seclusion, and modesty

Let me just tell you; I'm so glad I didn't move forward with my night terrors idea because everyone's work was really inspiring. There was a very obvious growth between the last project and this one. I think a self-portrait session really forces you to open up and push for something different. (I'm deeming it a "necessary evil" of an artist's evolution.) We had our concepts more clearly defined, and our visions better realized. I was proud of the progress. My Drawing I professor once said "you're first idea is your worst idea", which I completely rebelled against. I love the adrenaline rush of doing things last minute. BUT I have begun to understand the value in pushing your ideas further. There are so many times when I felt like I had a great concept, but because I waited until the last minute, I couldn't really do it justice. (I am trying to break that habit.)

It's just proof (for the millionth time) that project research is incredibly important no matter WHAT kind of work you do, and doing things out of your comfort zone could really grow you as an individual. 

If there's anything that really inspires you and keeps your creative sparks flying, link it below!  I'm always looking for feedback and unique perspectives to keep my eye sharp and in-tune to what's out there in the big world.