Back in 2019 I faced a wholeee lot of life changes, pretty much all at once. It was the first time in my adult life I was truly on my own with a clean slate. Though it was terrible to me at the time, I knew I had a lot of growth and healing and self discovery to do. Prior to 2019 I would describe myself as someone always building towards the future; working towards the next thing. I made huge strides, made a career and a name for myself. Had the future I thought I wanted within reach. I had spent so much time cultivating the tangible things around me that I could control, but I never took the time to understand my experience in it. When all of that changed, I decided to take the time to really, truly get to know myself. To listen and understand, give myself patience and space and acceptance for the things I have done, lived through, and felt. And begin to spin that into forward momentum, a presence that is self aware and secure and strong.
I decided to start a photo series about this in 2019. I called it PRESENT. It was meant for me to be able to get out the feelings I was going through in that time of heartbreak and healing. It was meant to give myself the space to be present in my feelings and vulnerable enough to sit with them, to make something from it. And it was meant to be finished back in 2019 when I thought I could get over what I found out to be was a lifetime of me not giving myself the freedom to feel all of my feelings, good and bad. It's the later half of 2021 now and here we are.
This photo series is a bit different from ones I have done in the past in that it is very personal. And the project has shifted a bit over time. I'd like to walk through it in a way where I honor where I was when I began concepting, but also take note of my progress, thoughts, and the way it changed over time. My concept from the start was to create a series of mixed-media self portraits layered with colored gels that correlate to the emotions I was feeling at the time. Here's a look from start to "finish." The concepts were written in 2019, and the photos were taken over the span of the last two years.
Matte Portrait - Shot looking through matte paper, cut to expose neck and collarbone. Lit with architectural, muddy lighting (mix of natural light and strobe). "This image is about how I feel I've been hiding/not exposing my true self and feelings in my relationships."
Color Story: Deep orange and brown, expressing altruism and a sacrifice of self.
This was the second photo I ended up taking for the series (taken after the following image). I was not comfortable at the time taking portraits of myself that showed vulnerability. This concept felt weak to me at the time and it's still not my favorite. But I think it's a pretty accurate portrayal of what I was going through at the time and the realizations I was beginning to make within myself. Moving from a place of self pity and beginning to recognize my actions and experience for what it was.
Blood Oranges - Hands holding blood oranges dripping with honey.
"This image is about my feelings towards what I have to offer, putting myself out there, and the love that I have to give."
Color Story: Peachy, pastel tones expressing value and compassion.
I had the concept for this image first in the series and shot it first. This photo has been the most transformative and has taken on different meanings to me over time. When I had come up with the concept the idea was mostly centered around what I felt I had to offer and give to others, and the pain I was experiencing feeling like I could never really be in a place to give in a healthy way. I felt that I had continuously given my all but wasn't honoring myself. I loved how much this photo came out that I printed it and hung it above my bed. I reflect on it often. Since then I've done so much work on myself and it has shifted to take on a new meaning. One that shows how deeply I have the capacity to give love and compassion, but that it can only truly be given to others and received when I can also give it to myself. This change in perspective began to impact the series to shift in concept from just me trying to get my feelings out, to actually honoring them.
Floral Portrait - Self portrait of face and body consumed by floral arrangement. Muddy, film-esque lighting. "Conveying newfound sense of self, me embracing who I am as an individual."
Color Story: Red tones signifying rebirth.
Clearly the final image does not resemble my original concept. I had come up with the concept back in 2019 and in my mind, I wanted it to be this happy-ever-after, look at me and my growth and transformation glow-up moment I'm so good now. I think that was what I wanted at the time when I was feeling the worst I had ever felt. I also had a goal to finish the project at the end of 2019. That time came and it just didn't feel right. 2020 came and went and you know what happened. I was deep in a year of forced isolation after already being in a place where I felt very isolated for so long. It was a fucking brutal year where I really dug deep and did the work on myself that I needed to do all along. I got to know myself inside and out and process the things I was too afraid to face or didn't have the tools to take on. And I developed a new sense of self worth centering love and compassion. I put down the idea of ever finishing this series because it seemed silly to me to think I would be done processing and working on myself. We are always in a state of change and (hopefully) bettering ourselves and it seemed silly to put a cap on that through this project. I had honestly forgotten about it.
A few weeks ago I decided to take a self portrait as it had been a while since I had shot for myself. I had a hard time coming up with motivation and decided to shoot a more simple concept that kind of just portrayed me as I am; no frills, no makeup, no fancy lighting. I ended up going with continuous lighting and covering my skin in baby oil for a bit of a shine. I was really happy with how it turned out after editing them but hadn't done anything with the photos yet. I have felt so good and secure about myself and my progress and had a bit of a revelation that this photo could work for my series. It wasn't what I planned, it wasn't a grandiose display of achievement. It was just me. And like I said, I'm never going to be finished working on myself. But I'm pretty happy with where I've landed. Which I think is worth honoring and celebrating. The present. A gift to myself.