As I come to a close of my year long self portrait challenge, I am doing a bit of looking back and assessing how I have grown as a photographer. I am debating about what, if anything, I want to do as a personal project in 2014. This year’s 365 is the third in a row, that’s 1, 096 consecutive days of photographing something- whoa. Both 2011 and 2012 were not self portrait specific, but a challenge and growing experience all the same. What pushed me to attempt a self portrait 365, you might ask (and some days I have asked myself)? Two names come immediately to mind, Kristin and Meredith the creators of NowYou Workshops.
I had taken the “mini” Now You Workshops in 2012 (Now You, The Beginning and Now You, Digging Deeper) and felt a huge shift happening deep down inside. When they announced a 52 of You, I jumped in with both feet. I knew that I would draw inspirations from the weekly prompts they offered up on Monday mornings. Even if my daily inspiration was low, I would have a theme to fall back on and use. I also knew that I would have a group of women on a similar journey that I could connect with and feel safe with throughout the year. It sounds a little over the top, especially if you haven’t done any self portrait work before, but I know that this type of artistic expression saved me. They kept me from completely looking myself as I slipped deeper into a hole of depression. I was clawing for a way out and here is the truth:
The photographs I have taken of myself have allowed me to see that I was and am still here, that I was okay even when I didn’t feel like I was okay. The group held space for me when I asked and let me know that I was not alone in my journey. Turning the camera around let me explore and translate my internal feelings in a way that words wouldn’t have worked and didn’t work for me at the time.
This week marks the 51st of the 52 weeks in 2013. What better way to end my year long journey then to have a conversation with Kristin and Meredith about the Workshops and self portraiture in general? I hope you enjoy the interview and are encouraged to check out 2014’s offering of 52 of You. And maybe, just maybe you could be a lucky winner of a class pass! Leave a comment after you have read through what these beautiful woman have to say, and tell us why a year of self portraits is something you want for 2014.
Kristin and Meredith, Your openness and huge hearts have changed so many of us for the better. I have made amazing friends and partners in “crime” this year because of your classes. With love and gratitude I say, thank you, a million times thank you.
Why self portraits? Why not food, landscape, wedding photography? What made you choose to lead a class in this particular vein of the art?
Kristin’s thoughts… I did not start out a self portrait artist. I like so many women photographers began shooting my life at home. The everyday moments, the moments of my children and loved ones. Then one day I realized I was the one always holding the camera, and I mean ALWAYS. I was present for all those moments I was documenting but proof of me IN those moments was missing. By holding the camera I had complete control, and could hide. If by some chance someone did snap a shot of me, I could delete it at will. I was erasing my own history. That was the turning point. I knew I needed to begin getting in the picture, and I knew it started with me.
Meredith’s thoughts… There are a thousand answers to this question. Sometimes I know exactly why I gravitated towards self portraiture and sometimes I shake my head at where this path has led me. Years ago, I picked up my camera and began pointing it at myself because I was going through a big transition (from new mother to single mother, separation to divorce, and my mother’s terminal illness.) Life at this time hit me like a ton of bricks and I used my camera as a healing tool. Perhaps I needed to see that I was still standing. Perhaps I needed to see what grief looked like (and later, what strength looked like) and I was the only adult in the house to document. If I wanted pictures of myself with my son, I had to use the self timer or sit him in my lap and hold my camera at arms reach. It was very important for me to have pictures of the both of us together, as we came through this part of our life. I never thought about self portraiture really, I was just on my own path of rediscovery.
Teaching a class about self portraiture came later. Years later. Maybe because Kristin and I both (simultaneously, separately, from thousands of miles in distance) came to this same conclusion: we saw the power of self portraiture and how it was more than just a photo, but it was a new way of seeing. Self portraiture became self care. And Now You Workshops was born.
Do you have an all time favorite self portrait? What is it that makes it powerful, important, and true?
Kristin’s thoughts… Oh goodness that’s hard. I have many favorites, but I think the most powerful self portrait I ever shot and shared was one of me crying. It was a real moment. Real tears. Red nose. All of it. We tend to focus the camera on ourselves when we feel our best, when we are smiling and happy, but what about all the other times. The hard days, the scary days, the sick days, the sad days? Those for me are the most powerful. Sure I love a pretty self portrait just like anyone else, but the power in allowing oneself to be vulnerable and let down your guard, those mean so much more to me.
Meredith’s thoughts… I have many different favorites, and attached to all of them are the stories of their creation. I love the moments nearly as much as I love the end results. For years I documented the struggle. It was easy for me to pick up the camera and click the moment of struggle, grief, loss, and tears. But what was hard for me was documenting the joy. This photo is one of my favorites because it was a shifting point for me in my life. It was where the balances started tipping towards light and laughter. This was where I found love and trust and strength … and it absolutely blew me away. I wondered for days about how I could best create an image to portray this feeling I was experiencing in my heart… and this photo was the result. “Feel it All” is what I called it because that’s what was true. The image still makes me smile (years later) and that makes me happy too.
What have you learned from leading a group of women in the self portrait journey?
Kristin’s thoughts… That we are all so very much alike. We are all different shapes, colors, ages, but oh how we all just want to be seen and heard and loved… I love that. And if NOW YOU can be a catalyst for women seeing themselves in a kinder way, it is all worth it.
Meredith’s thoughts… I’ve learned that we all have a story to tell. I’ve learned that self portraiture actually has very little to do with how you look and has everything to do with how you feel. We are all the same heart. And when you gather women together, the love and respect magnifies and true friendships bloom.
How do your families react to you taking and to your self portraits in general?
Kristin’s thoughts… My family is pretty used to my camera at all times. They are nonplussed by my “gig”. they laugh at me when I set up the self timer and run into the shot. They are still young enough that I am not embarrassing them in the moment. That may change, but I hope as they grow older they will learn more about NOW YOU and what our message is.
Meredith’s thoughts… For most of my self portrait journey, my family consisted of myself and my son. Since his birth, the camera was always around, so he never gave it another thought. It was simply what I did. Now that my family has grown (and includes children who did not grow up with a photographer in the family until now) it’s a little bit different. I use my iPhone for a lot of photography now. I found that using my iPhone has less of an impact on the moment while photographing the children in my home (they were more comfortable with the smaller iPhone than with my nikon dslr) and so these days I continue my self portrait journey mostly with my iPhone (partially out of respect for their space and partially out of convenience for me.) They don’t seem to notice if I’m taking self portraits and they even like playing along and getting into the frame for shots of all of us together, and the iPhone has a certain normalcy to it that keeps them in the moment.
Who influences you or inspires you in your journey of the SP?
Kristin’s thoughts… All the women in our classes inspire me each and every day. They get real, are brave and bold, silly and fun, and oh so beautiful. They inspire me and push me to go bigger and braver.
Meredith’s thoughts… The Now You Community is a major source of inspiration for me. Not just photographically speaking, but with the bigger picture as well. Our cameras are our tools but what we share through images is much more about sisterhood than photo gear.
I think Self Portraits, or “selfies” get a really bad rap. How do you defend the art?
Kristin’s thoughts… Well it certainly has become a cliché word in today’s society, but I still feel so very strongly that women as a whole are deleting their own proof. We are either hiding behind our cameras, or deleting the shots. What will there be of us for the generations that come after us? Very little if anything at all. How incredibly sad that is. I have boxes and photo albums stuffed full of film photos of my mother, my grandmothers, and me as a child. They are treasures. But with the age of digital, all that changed. We no longer have those beautiful beloved prints to hold in our hands. And if we continue to stay out of the picture there will be nothing to show of us one day… It hit me so hard it just really became a mission and passion. I like to say “for proof not pretty” and I stand by that. It is NOT about vanity at all, not one bit. It’s all about this is me, the me right now, and that is worthy. I am worthy. And so are YOU.
Meredith’s thoughts… Self portraiture has been a medium of self reflection since the mid- 1400’s when artists began painting themselves on canvas. How we choose to define ourselves is a big part of the self portrait journey. How we look inward… how we choose to define beauty or strength is all part of the process. “Selfies” are definitely more common these days than in previous years, and the iPhone and social media markets I’m sure have something to do with that. I believe in the power of self portraiture. I began taking self portraits not for anyone but myself. I think if enough women (and men) show their authentic selves, their everyday beauty, and their truth of being (to themselves or to a group of friends)… we as a society could grow and possibly redefine many social standards on what is deemed beautiful and human.