Portrait photographers have all had to find a new way of working in the time of social distancing/ isolation/quarantine. Some have taken to “facetime photoshoots”, or socially distanced outdoor shoots, but I have taken it back to my roots of self portraiture.
When I first started taking photos, I worked on a self-assigned project (concept courtesy of Flickr) called the 365 Day Project. It was exactly as it sounds, one picture, every day, for an entire year. As a high school sophomore, I had few responsibilities outside of school and extra curriculars, so finding the time to shoot every single day wasn’t too difficult. The photos were by no means advanced, and more often than not, I found myself often taking photos of myself. I have never been all that interested in still life or landscape photography, and when you’re crankin out a photo a day, it’s not easy to find a model for every photo — so I acted as both photographer and model.
Working without something as simple as a flip-screen, or a remote, let alone something like an app that allows me to control my camera from my phone, I would spend the entire shoot, running from my camera in ten seconds, posing through the rapid fire 10 shots, and then running back to look at the shots and do it all over again. Being both in front of and behind the camera taught me a lot about portraiture and after going through a second year of The 365 Day Project, I had grown a lot as a photographer.
Shooting self portraits in quarantine has required I come up with some “creative” solutions, as I did in the early days. I had to leave my tripod in the city, so I have to find miscellaneous objects to prop my camera up where I want it, often in quite precarious balancing acts. I also only packed one lens, so everything is being shot with my trusty 50mm, even if I’d prefer something else. I don’t have my strobes, so I’ve gotten experimental with using natural light shining through different windows in my house to get some variation in light.
I’m no Cindy Sherman, and none of the photos I’ve shot feel like anything special, (mostly because shooting self portraits seems juvenile and insignificant to what I would prefer to be shooting) but I hope that shooting self portraits has helped me to grow as a photographer once again.
preface: my word vomit blog posts are not important in the grand scheme of things currently (or really ever), but I still feel this is necessary to write out, at the very least to look back on one day
I took the last month off from shooting, and from posting my own photos to instagram. I focused my energy on educating myself on the Black Lives Matter movement, taking a serious look in the mirror at my privilege and lack of awareness, amplifying BIPOC voices/photogs, educating myself (some more) on topics and issues I was previously unaware of, and thinking of ways to maintain efforts to create positive change and progress toward equality.
I am by no means finished doing these things. I will continue to foster more awareness of the things I have learned in the past few weeks, and give more attention to issues I previously ignored due to my privilege. There are so many different levels to the race inequality problem in our country it’s stifling and frustrating to think about, let alone try to take steps forward, but that does not mean that we (as white people) can avoid doing whatever we can to create change.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I want to use my voice as a photographer and whether it is right of me do certain things (such as photographing protests). At times I think that any documentation of what is going on in the country is important; I would hope that the people photographing today’s current events help to paint a more realistic picture for future generations to learn about in history books. However, I also believe that this is not my story to tell. There is no need for another white voice to take the struggle of an oppressed group and make a name for themselves or profit off of a movement. Not to mention the very real issues with people at protests being tracked down afterward, using protest documentation that shows identifying features.
I’m still trying to figure out what is the best course of action, and while I recognize there are plenty of other routes to take in the fight for justice, photographing would be a natural route for me to take. I just want to make sure that if I do take that route, it is done in a way that is sensitive to the situation, and isn’t stifling Black photographers, whose perspectives are most important in this moment.
I wish that I was in NYC, marching with my friends, speaking out, and fighting for what’s right, but for now I will do what I can from where I am.
When it comes to future action, as I take steps forward in my professional career, I want to be sure I have a greater awareness for who I work for, the companies I support and have jobs with, and the people I associate with.
I don’t believe that those with power and wealth can sit idly by any longer and continue to profit off of generations of oppression. I do believe that when people are held accountable, they can create change and do better in the future, but there is no longer an excuse for the injustices that have been tolerated in this country. I don’t believe you are truly putting in the work for yourself if your actions don’t follow suit, and for that reason, I plan to do what I can to work with people who fight against racial injustice, surround myself with creatives who are diverse and accepting, and buy from businesses that are making positive efforts.
There is still so much to be done.
No matter what you are or are not posting on the internet/social media, there are so many other ways to fight for the causes you care about, and lift up the people have been held down.
I am willing to listen and correct myself if something I am saying/doing is wrong. I am willing to speak with those who disagree with me and try to share perspectives. I am willing to sacrifice the privilege in my life so that we can take one step closer to the country of freedom and equal opportunity we claim to be.
I have been so hesitant to share that I traveled home during this uncertain time — that I left the “epicenter of the pandemic” and broke stay-at-home rules, as I got on a plane to escape the city that I love so much.
A part of me felt defeated, like I was giving up, going home, running away to the safety of a small town, with my parents, and the comfort of someone else to look after me.
In the beginning, staying in new york felt like a non-question. I was still working five days a week, and had no problem spending the majority of the time alone, in my room, with ample time to myself.
Although, after I was furloughed from my job last week, and faced the uncertainty of unemployment for the foreseeable future, as well as the mounting pressure in the city to stay inside, to isolate, protect yourself and others at all costs, and the dystopian/great depression-like grocery store lines and closed businesses, I felt like I needed to escape.
While everyone on social media has been preaching “self care” and mental health, as usual, I realized that staying in the city under the current circumstances, was no longer in my best interest. I had spent almost a month straight in my apartment, only leaving a handful of times to exercise or get groceries. As time went on, more and more people reached out, to check in, asking how things were in “the big city”, and I’d joke that I didn’t know, all I saw was the four walls of my apartment. But with every check-in and worried text, I remembered the escalating chaos in the world. I remembered what a massive affect this will have, even after each country’s “peak” has passed, and I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me. I would do just about anything to distract myself from this reality, and being in nyc, watching the numbers climb, and the hospitals fill, and the makeshift tent hospitals and morgues go up, it felt relentless.
So I went home.
I got a plane ticket, packed my bags, put on my mask, and did what I could to follow the social distancing protocol to the best of my ability. I had weighed the pros and cons of staying, thinking of being one less person who could potentially add to the overwhelmed hospitals, but also potentially being a carrier and bringing something home that could unknowingly infect my family, who are essential workers and still going to their jobs. Eventually, I made the, ultimately selfish and privileged decision to leave, and I have felt significantly more peace here in the past few days. I can sleep through the night without having nightmares or waking up to the endless stream of sirens. I can go about the monotonous, and often pointless feeling, daily tasks without feeling like I want to run away.
I try not to think of what this will all mean for our futures.
I try to avoid the anxious-planner thoughts that try to map out every possible scenario and mentally prepare for any and all outcomes.
I try to stay positive and thankful for the privilege that I have.
Hopefully, sooner than later we will get through this.
While it hasn’t impacted everyone in the same ways or to the same capacity, we are all in it together.
New year, another new years blog post…
I realized when I opened this page to start writing, that I only wrote three posts last year, one of which was never shared. This is connected to the fact that shoots were few and far between, especially compared to 2018, and when they did happen, they were spontaneous and lacking much meaning. I'm trying not to beat myself up about it too much, because I was working on a lot of other areas of my life… I traveled to see so many friends and family, and had so many people come to visit me. I found stability in a city that seems to be constantly unstable. I made lifelong friendships with girls who have been there for me for all the highs and lows. I colored my hair multiple times (pink, magenta, purple, and silver-ish). I found more mental clarity and a nice emotional neutral (which sounds about as boring as it is, but is also quite peaceful). I saw three of my favorite artists live, singing and dancing to Betty Who, Banks, and Maggie Rogers. I ran a lot of miles, including two half marathons and the full new york city marathon, which was something I never thought I'd be able to do, and when it was all said and done, I signed up for the Chicago marathon in October 2020. I got a promotion at my job, started freelancing as a retoucher, and learned a lot about how to manage finances and budgeting as a real human adult that has a steady income.
All of that was so wonderful, and I truly have no complaints about this year. I am so grateful for every person and opportunity in my life. However, I didn't come to New York to be comfortable and stagnant. I have a lot of dreams and goals to achieve here, and 2020 is going to be the year that I truly start going after them. A lot of the plans I have are scary to think about. It's going to be challenging and I'm going to face a lot of uncertainty. Things will (hopefully) be very different than they were in 2019, and (hopefully) in a good way. I'm typically not the one for New Year's Resolutions, or the New Year's Mentality in general, but I've been thinking about making these changes for a while and there's no time like the New Year to start going after them.
So here we go.
Here's to 2020.
I've always been quiet and soft … outwardly anyways. I didn't often voice my thoughts or opinions, I apologized for things I didn't need to, I tried not to take up too much space, and I thought so much about what would make other people happy, or like me more, that I pushed my own needs/desires/sense of self so far down, and the "softness" became the central part of my personality. But that's not all that I am.
There is strength in softness and vulnerability and love … but there is also strength in knowing yourself fully, all of the other/darker/harder parts of yourself, and embracing those as well.
I may still be quiet and soft and introverted and empathetic — but there are other parts of me that are hard and loud and seductive and stubborn and angry. Being on my own has allowed me to look closer at those parts of myself and feel comfortable with allowing other people to see them as well.
Recently, I've found that I don't put up with the bullshit that I would have in the past, I'm not willing to waste my time with personal relationships where people aren't willing to give as much as I am, and I'm done only acting in a way only to make other people feel comfortable.
There's a fine line between selfishness and understanding your own needs and while I'm still working on finding it, I hope that I'm getting closer.
For so long I talked about strength in femininity, or strength in the less obvious sense, and while I think that is still important and true, I don't feel like I've truly allowed myself to be anything else.
So as I typically do, I found myself with my camera in hand, feeling the desire to express myself visually in a way that words couldn't.
I have been slowly collecting a small arsenal of photo equipment, and I finally purchased light stands for my strobes today (longgg overdue). So when I got home at 9pm, I immediately got to work. Taking the role of not only photographer, but art director, hair and makeup, and model, I started shooting, and almost two hours later I wrapped up, and got to work as the retoucher as well. These photos turned out more glamorous than I originally intended, but my work often centers around soft light, things that are "beautiful" and far from harsh. I wanted to maintain my personal aesthetic, while still communicating something a little different.
Much like the way that I'm still trying to understand myself, this work is also a work in progress… but no matter what, I am just excited to be shooting again after a long hiatus.
Now that it's almost 2:30am … I'm going to stop rambling and hope that this is at least semi coherent ..!