Currently Untitled, 2019
January is almost over. I look at this new image and a feeling of not living my life overtakes me. I feel boxed in, the things I want so close, visible, yet strangely out of reach. It would be easy to blame others for me not living the life I want, making myself the victim in a grand story of woe-- a pervasive pattern in the story of my family (which we'll get to, I promise).
But that’s just another story to camouflage the deep fear that maybe I won’t be good enough, strong enough, smart enough, insert anything here and follow it with enough, for the life I dream about. Fear is a very funny thing. It’s there to keep us safe, and what is safer than a very tiny room locked up tight against any manner of harm?
Elizabeth Gilbert has some sage advice in the way of fear. Acknowledge it, she says, and invite it in to stay. Congratulate it on a job well done, for it has done its job and done it well. It has kept you alive thus far. She says to imagine that you are on a road trip. Instead of trying to leave fear behind, let it come along for the ride, but only as a passenger. Fear does not get to touch the map or navigate, play with the radio, suggest detours, and it is absolutely not, under any circumstances, ever allowed to drive.
So if you’ve found yourself in a tiny room, if you feel alone, know that this is only a place to start. Get to know your tiny room and your fears. Get to know yourself and accept your story. I’m reminded of the song, “Little Room,” by the White Stripes. As Jack White says, a little room is just a place to get started working on something good.
Well, you're in your little room and you're working on something good
But if it's really good, you're gonna need a bigger room
And when you're in the bigger room, you might not know what to do
You might have to think of how you got started sitting in your little room
Imagery, for me, comes together like a dream. And I don’t mean everything just neatly and effortlessly falls into place. What I mean is they come to me in pieces, confused, out of order, and perplexing.
There’s a theory that dreams are our brains defragging (more on comparing ourselves to machines later). The idea is that when we are sleeping, our brains are sifting and sorting through all the information from the day, from life, and trying to organize it all into something coherent and accessible for our waking selves. My images come together something like that.
I’m working with the information that I have and trying to sort it and put it together into something that I understand. So I don’t always know what I’m putting together and very often follow my intuition, a gut feeling or compulsion to photograph myself a certain way, in a certain pose, or at a specific location. I’m like Harry Potter having drunk Felix Felicis’s potion of liquid luck-- I listen to my instincts and go where they say.
I very rarely know exactly what a finished piece will look like. This is not to say that anything could happen--I have developed or discovered my personal way of interpreting the world and procuring it in 2D form, a style, as they say. Rather, I begin with an idea in picture form and other thoughts and ideas sort of creep in and out without much censoring until I'm satisfied that all the pieces have fallen into place.
Many times, an image is a reflection of a feeling I'm grappling with, and making the image is my way of sorting through my emotions. It's a cathartic process and my way of navigating the complexities of being human.
I absolutely love starting with an empty room. It's one of my favorite things to do--clear everything from a room. The possibilities of an empty room are endless and I relish this phase of an image.
This image began with this idea of looking through a fishbowl like a magnifying glass. It takes me many shots repositioning myself and my dress, craning my neck just the right way and getting the light to dance along my fingers, emphasizing their wondering posture. I want that childlike feeling of inspection, of scrutinizing something intensely. I want the curious feeling of seeing something for the first time.
I color grade to emphasize this idea of wonder and mystery. And I also start to add other elements to drive a narrative. This builds on previous works in the series and is constructed with those other pieces in mind. There's a bit of trial and error here, though. I may have ideas that end up not working well visually, or other ideas may crop up as I go. I stay open to trying ideas and censor nothing. If something occurs to me, I try it.
After a day of fiddling, I end up here. I always intended to put red velvet curtains around the window and so didn't concern myself with the awkward cropping of the top of the window frame. There's some unfortunate but useful track lighting up there that I never intended to leave in the image.
I now have my perfect red velvet fabric and will be taking it down to the studio to shoot in the next couple of days. Elements will need to be reshuffled, but I'm confident that everything will find its place and hopeful that there's room for lovely red velvet.
And so the moral of the story... trust yourself. You might just end up wrapped in luscious red velvet :)
Do you want more?
If you're interested in hearing more about artists and their practices, check out Cig Harvey's talk. She's a color guru and is wonderfully articulate about her practice.
Read Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life if you're struggling with how to develop a creative practice.
Still trying to figure out your style? Start with developing your mental model by reading my article on Using Your Personal History as Inspiration.
It can' t always be work, work, work. Take a break from time to time, fill up those creative reserves with a walk in the woods or a good read. I'm currently reading "The Shadow of the Wind," by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
And Stanford proved that a two-minute walk in the woods results in "meaningful improvements" to your mental health. Nature is always there for you (hopefully). It's open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, so get out there and enjoy the greatest show on earth, even if it's only for two minutes :)
For more tips on unwinding, read my article, Taking Care of Your Animal.
Are you still here?
I did promise a chat about our tendency to compare ourselves to machines. I did it just a couple lines up with my talk of unwinding. Many of us unconsciously do it all the time. How often have you heard talk of resetting oneself, as though we can just flip a switch and reboot our brains? If you're ready to level up, read on with Peter Senge.
"Somehow in this scientific revolution the sense of the animism and vitality of life, the living presence of the universe which was so fundamental to peoples for much of human history, gradually started to be supplanted by the idea that it was a big machine." ~ Peter Senge
Going behind the scenes with Teresa Meier and getting an in-depth look at her process and inspiration for her fantastical and surreal imagery.