A deeper look at how I connect with myself and cope with emotions using Self Portraits.
Why Self Portraits?
When I was 12 I started writing songs lyrics. When I was 17 I started writing poetry. When I was 18 I started taking photographs. When I was 23 I started taking self portraits.
I’m now 33 years old and I’m still writing and taking self portraits to express myself.
I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about, in depth, why I do self portraits. I don’t think I myself understood why I do self portraits up until a few years ago.
Self Portraiture is poetry I write with my body.
The emotions are poured out just the same, except what would normally take me lines and lines and lines to get out, I can do in one single frame.
Why is there a pull to pick up the camera?
Self Portraits are also a way for me to process my emotions, connect to deep seeded issues, and understand the subconscious things that aren’t yet conscious to me. They are the therapy I didn’t have to pay for. I know this all sounds over dramatic, but after years of experimenting and expressing myself, by myself, in front of my camera, sometimes for no other reasons than it just felt right, I now better understand what that aggressive, instinctual draw to just pick up the camera and create something was and still is all about.
I needed to tell myself something, I needed to work thru something, I had something to say, I had something I didn’t know how to say, I had something I needed to find, I had something I needed to lose.
How I see myself in a Self Portrait.
What may appear as egocentric and vain to some is actually the total opposite for me. A lot of the time I experience what some may consider disassociation, which is where you mentally lose that connection to your identity. I hardly ever see “myself” in my self portraits, especially the more artistic and dark images. Even while shooting, I have no concentration on who I am in society, who I’m hoping to be, I just let go. I be. And oddly enough, I come back to myself. So really, is this disassociation or connecting to myself on a way deeper level?
When I’m not using the camera in such a deep way, a lot of the time I still have a story or message I want to tell, and I find it very easy to fall into character. At this point I am far more aware of what I’m trying to say, but I’m not worried about “me” saying it. I let the character do the talking. Again, I don’t see myself in the frame. I have no idea who others see.
There are times where I, as myself, pop into frame, and those are usually fun, dancing, laughing times where I just want to play, create, and have no expectations. This is still extremely therapeutic as there’s no end game here. I’m not out to achieve anything.
Vanity and Ego in photographing myself
Another reoccurring theme is hardly ever am I trying to be beautiful. It’s the last thing on my mind. Sure, sometimes I’m inspired by fashion, aesthetics, and no, I don’t hope to look awful, but I’m not in the mindset that I want to impress anyone. Most of the time I have just rolled out of bed, no shower, ratty hair, no makeup, and that’s when I feel most at home creating. Most of the time I’m going to either get dirty, liquid latex something all over my body, or go into character makeup anyways, so there’s no point in getting ready for that.
I will openly admit I went through a phase last year with self portraiture that almost ruined the whole experience for me all together. I began creating based around what I thought other people wanted to see, what brands might be looking for, what other people were doing on social media. I would pick up the camera with complete emotional disconnect and try to take pretty pictures. I hate taking pretty pictures. And trying to left me feeling empty, not good enough, and disappointed with myself and my skills.
Why Dark Art?
I also think it’s worth discussing and exploring why I thoroughly enjoy creating dark art over any other style. My poetry was always dark, as are my favorite self portraits, which made and still make a lot of people uncomfortable, either with themselves or with me, and after 15+ years, I’m pretty used to that. I’m going to be honest- I’m not entirely sure I have an answer for this, but I’m willing to try to explain what I think it might be and that is- I’m very comfortable, and at times happy, sitting with thoughts and emotions that feel heavy and hurt. I can fully sink into those hard, deep feelings and still feel safe there, and I think that’s because I’m not afraid to feel. I want to feel. That’s how you know you’re still alive. There’s raw, pure, power under any pain, and I realize not everyone is going to agree with me on that, or relate, and that’s ok. I also think I just really enjoy seeing this juxtapose beauty in things that are dark. It’s unexpected, it’s strange, it’s interesting, and it’s far from boring. It’s truly asking you to see more in the world- to question, to have concern, to squirm, to feel.
Exploring the vast layers of one’s personality
Self Portraits have always allowed me to be who I need to be in that moment. Are we the same person, with the same emotions, and the same thoughts every day, all day long? I hope not. Some days we feel weak, other days we feel like fucking billy god damn bad ass. Some days we feel humbled, calm, at peace. Other days we’re pissed, aggressive, and have loose lips that sink ships. But that may just be in our heads. When we go to work, or the grocery store, or to that family party we hide that away, we answer “Good, and you?” to everyone who asks us how we are, and we wear that face we’re suppose to wear that everyone identifies as us. Allowing myself time to FULLY feel what I’m going through at the time makes it less fake when I do have to reenter the world because I’ve gotten out those emotions and I can come back to that middle ground that gets me through my day to day.
Express yourself through any medium that speaks to you.
I don’t think it’s because I’m a photographer or an artist that I get to do this. I think it’s because I’m not afraid to express myself, and I have a deep, deep desire to do so. I say that as if it’s special to me, but isn’t that really in all of us? Don’t we all want to be heard? Don’t we all have something to say?
Yeah. We do.
So do it.
Do it with a pen, a camera, a sewing machine, a ballet shoe, a hammer, a cup of flour… whatever makes you feel at home with who you are. Find it. Embrace it. And allow it to show you yourself in ways you can’t yet understand.