Karin Elizabeth | self-portraiture
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Self 2016, the ole wedding dress

Well, so much for trying to catch up quickly! I haven’t spent too much time behind the computer the last couple of weeks, and I can make up some excuse to make myself feel like less of a slacker, but truth be told I just haven’t been in the mood for it. You can sort of compare it to my reading habits; sometimes I’m really into it, and can devour several books every month, and then there are times when it takes me 3 months to finish just the one. With photo editing, I have moments when I’m incredibly active and feel excited about working on new photos, and then there are those moments when I’m just not able to concentrate or not all that interested in sitting behind a computer. I at least manage to take photos; it’s the hassle of sorting through them and processing them that tends to hold me back. So that’s something to work on as I go, to try and feel excited about the entire process. Photography is more than ideas and executing them. #KnowThyself

For week 06, I took out the ole wedding dress. I hadn’t seen it since my wedding day, so I was in awe at it all over again. (What is it with wedding dresses and their ability to be so damn magical? It’s just a dress… but it’s so much more than that, argh!) I fell in love with its embroidery and that’s what I wanted to focus on for this photo.

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I don’t have a lot more to say about these photos, other than I might add these two to the Jilted series and I enjoyed taking these comfort-zone photos for a few weeks. In weeks 07 and 08, which I’ll share soon, I went in a different, darker direction.

Self 2016, back to my roots

After my Banshee theme, which was the 3rd death-related theme in a row, I wanted something different for week 05. I needed it for myself, too.

During that week I had initially planned an awesome studio portrait – and at another time during this project, I will take this photo – but it didn’t feel right for that week. I do want to try and take photos that I feel are fitting and relevant to where I stand in life at that time, so that they have more personal value to me.

I found myself very drawn to plants: they are peaceful, calming and in ways even comforting to me. So that’s what I decided to do instead: a photo featuring my plants, in some way. I also felt inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites that week, and then it all came together. I chose some familiarity by editing the photos as I would have edited a lot of my self-portraits back in 2010, 2011.

KE-blog-week05-nugoed(On some computer screens, there may be some WordPress-induced pixelation.)

Staying in my comfort zone for a change was what I needed: the goal of getting a photo I felt comfortable with was at that point the most important thing. But I did learn that doing this offered a different kind of challenge… Yes, I want to evolve by trying out different things for Self 2016, but I also think it’s important to understand and accept what my strengths are without feeling like it’s “not good enough” because it’s not new enough.
I truly love these images. They are perfect because they expressed and gave me what I needed during week 05.

For theme 06 I actually wanted to stay in my comfort zone a little longer: I reminisced about the Jilted theme, using a detail of my actual wedding dress (instead of my white prom dress) for some really lovely close-ups. It’s another example of how my comfort zone yields satisfying work.
Once I got those nostalgic kinds of photos out of my system, I felt ready and inspired for a different atmosphere in the last two weeks (we’re in week 08 already!), so I’m keeping it varied.

I’ll post themes 06 and 07 in the week to come; week 08 will follow as soon as I’ve edited them, too. I’d like to be caught up with everything before week 10 starts…

Self 2016, week 04 and catching up

One thing to know about me as you follow my weekly project is that I am very chaotic, forgetful and easily distracted. Before I realize it, time will have flown by, and lo – I’m behind on editing and posting my self 2016 project. It definitely holds me back. Then there is my perfectionism: for week 04 I struggled with getting the tones and edit just right, and had to work on two computers with their own pitfalls before I finally got it just right. But about two weeks had passed since I’d taken the shot, and while I did work on subsequent themes in the meantime, I couldn’t edit them, couldn’t focus on them, until I had theme 04 juuuuuust right.

*sigh*

While I experience frustration with myself, and this kind of thing used to make me want to throw in the towel, this time I am determined to see it through. So what if I’m delayed with getting the results in? So what if I’m a little bit of a perfectionist at times? As long as new work is being produced, all of that ceases to really matter. I’m going to do my best, and learn from the process in the meantime.

KE-blog_theme04-bansheeSo forgetful in fact, that I had to write a reminder on my hand to take the damn shot before week’s end.

During week 02, which was about death, I had the idea to work with the banshee theme. Part of me was hesitant (which contributed to my taking until the weekend to even take the photo), because I’d already done back-to-back death-inspired photos for themes 02 and 03. A banshee would make it three in a row. But I was too drawn to it, and it was mostly the combination of The Netherlands’ very stormy, foreshadowing weather that week, and how a banshee photo would allow me to really express something, facially and directly, that made me want to do this in the end. The gusts of wind inspired me just as much as the desire to be overt in my expression.

It lead to a classic interpretation of The Banshee, save from perhaps the grey hair (hey, if Teen Wolf’s Lydia can get away with it, so can I), but I’m pretty happy with the shoot in general. It yielded a lot of great expressive shots (with perfect stormblown hair); once I’m caught up with the other themes, I’ll see if I can share a few more.

A quick watercolor update: 

In the meantime, I’ve also continued to work on my watercoloring. I ordered a lovely palette box from Winsor & Newton, with 24 pans, and so far I’m absolutely loving it. It’s starting to look used, and there’s something incredibly beautiful to me about images of used paint supplies. They’re little works of art in their own right!
Anyway, I’m posting little snippets of my finally-started-watercolor-pad on Instagram, but will be sure to share some finished works here soon as well. First, Self 2016 themes.

It’s kind of funny how this post started off as me complaining about how far behind I am… only to, at the end of the post, understand that this may be a good thing, to have SO MUCH to share that I fall behind. Amazing, really. It’s actually pretty damn fantastic to be in this position for a change. 

Self 2016, week 03

It took me some time to get these edited, but here we are. My third theme’s photos.

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I’ve always been fascinated by vampires. Those of you who’ve followed my work for a while know that I’ve done a lot of vampire self-portraits for Reading & Reviewing.

For this theme I wanted to use “the vampire” as a metaphor: the vampire as a representation of what it means to me to have a chronic condition. When I can’t function well on a day, when I think about the underlying cause, this is what I imagine: a taunting, dominant and powerful vampire. One that intimidates me. I feel like her victim, my blood and soul and life and energy sucked right out of me.

She is my opposite.

I wanted her to be elegant too for that reason, because it is so far from how I feel and look on a bad day. When I look in the mirror on those days, I don’t see her. It’s like a reverse of the Picture of Dorian Gray, or a health version of Jekyll & Hyde.

One day I’d like to overpower her.

Self 2016, after loss

One way of allowing myself to find inspiration is to open up, take in everything, and think about it all. During week 02, I heard about and felt very moved by David Bowie’s passing (quickly followed by Alan Rickman’s), and it is this event which ultimately lead to the images I’m about to share.

I’ve always respected David Bowie. I liked his music, and “Let’s Dance” is absolutely one of my favorite songs, but I will admit that I didn’t listen to Bowie much. If he was on the radio, I’d always appreciate it and admire his beautiful voice. But I never made time to explore his music more, even though I do believe I would have liked it very much. I know, often people aren’t truly admired until they are gone, which isn’t fair. Another important example of that phenomenon is Van Gogh. I think for me one of the factors was that I thought there would be enough time to really immerse myself in Bowie’s work organically. No one expected Bowie to NOT be around for years to come, which is why his death was so shocking. But music is forever.

The respect I feel for him has always been there due to who he was as a person, and how he was utterly true to himself right until the end. In a world where people are often forced to conform, he did the opposite with a smile and a bolt of lightning on his face. I also loved how he was fascinated by unusual themes and subjects and incorporated them into his work, like many visual artists have done and still do. He was more than music: he was an inspiring, groundbreaking  person and artist. Also, Labyrinth. #NuffSaid

One of the first things I did when I heard of Bowie’s death was to play his last album, Blackstar, and watch the videos for the title track and Lazarus. The 10 minute long video for Blackstar is truly stunning and it forced me to think about death and grief. It is full of symbolism to interpret and, simultaneously, it is also very direct. I was also in awe when I saw photos of Bowie taken on his last birthday, two days before his death. That laugh, that confidence, that joy – when he must have known it wouldn’t be much longer. How admirable.

And that’s where it all came together: my week 02 image would finally represent the feeling of stacked on loss I’ve had in 2014 and early 2015 (with 4 loved ones lost, 3 of which in a span of four months), and overcame. It was an overwhelming hurricane of grief, but it has been incredibly strengthening. I made it through it all, still standing, and forever grown up.

KE_theme02The skull is inspired by David Bowie’s video, as is the idea of double exposure to signify movement.

I wanted to express direct grief-related emotions but to not make them too overwhelming, as it was important for me to express coming out on the other side of it. Blending the multiple exposures together (an out-of-comfort-zone decision, as was the incorporation of the skull watercolor I did) was a choice I made to express movement, because grief is a constant ebb and flow, and it stays with you forever even though you’ve healed. Most of the time, the grief hovers in the background and you feel fine, happy, able to go on. But sometimes, it sneaks up on you and makes you ache all over, all over again. And that’s what I wanted to express and I think I did it successfully.

Overall, it was a good week. I loved doing the noir theme during week 01, as it’s something that suits who I am, but it still expanded on a more superficial side of me. This week’s work is what I’ve been longing to do for a while. Something genuine and to me of immense value. And I’m not afraid to share it.

Self, this year

I usually make a list of resolutions, or things to improve, in any new year. And then I maybe last a few weeks before I fall back into my old patterns. It seemed more honest not to make any resolutions anymore, but to instead take it one little bit at a time, and to strive to just be a better Me.

For my work, however, I do have bigger plans this year. I used to take photos almost every day, and I’d sit at my computer enthusiastically editing my photos and sharing them on sites such as flickr, and deviantART. I really loved having this, being able to do this – having the tools and the time. I miss it. I miss self-portraiture the most because it was both an escape (I could be someone else and tell their story) as it was a way to document, well, myself. Taking landscape photos calms me; taking self-portraits challenges me unlike anything else.

I started taking self-portraits maybe in 2004, so when I was only 21 years old and had a lot to figure out still about who I was and what all of these emotions meant. There were definitely a lot of emotions (and humor, too) in the self-portraits taken by my younger self. While I do feel some of them were a reflection of the real me, I am now just very aware of how young I still was. At some point I felt like I expressed everything that I could. And then when life took a few turns for better and worse I needed clarity and direction more than I needed vague imagery and metaphors. During what was hands down the hardest time in my life, I chose direct words and I chose privacy. It helped me tremendously, but it put a stop to my creativity.

I’m a little more grounded now at almost-33, and now that I have either more life experiences that I’ve learned from and put behind me, or more life experiences that I carry with me every single day but forge through, I finally feel like I’m ready to tap into my creative side again. There is room for it again in my life now that I found my way back and found direction. I can afford this luxury.

So I’m going to work with a year long self-imposed assignment I first attempted to do in 2014: to work on a self-portrait (singular or series) weekly based on themes that both interest me, and challenge me. I want to make sure I work with subjects that I like, while also trying to do things very differently from how I used to do them. Different lighting, different editing, mixed media, at some point maybe different locations. I’m also trying to keep my current enthusiasm going by taking cellphone pictures regularly during the process, so that I’ll at least have proof (for myself mostly) that I’m actually working on something. (It motivates me to see my own progress and to add to it.)

KE_blogpost_theme01cTheme 01 cellphone snaps – Freshly made up, and testing lighting!

My first theme, which I worked on last week, is inspired by film noir. Anything from the 20’s to the 70’s basically interests me. I also love anything emotional and theatrical. It also allowed me to practice makeup and styling. Plenty to like! This theme is perfect for me.

The biggest challenge for me was to actually do it and get started, but there was an added challenge to work with lighting as my primary prop. The lighting would make or break the shot.

KE_blogpost_theme01Theme 01 results – image on the left is what I was aiming for. The right one is a bonus image.

It took some tinkering here and there, for instance I didn’t think to keep daylight out more in order to have that darker atmosphere. In the end I figured it out and got just what I wanted.

And the best part is that I felt like taking another shot in the same theme… but then week 02 rolled around and I really had to start working on that, first. But that other shot, it’s in my idea book now. I was inspired to do more. And that’s what this project is supposed to achieve: new photographs, but also continued inspiration and ideas to work with.

I can only hope that I can keep it going. I’m really trying my hardest this time around. I think it helps that I feel like I may actually have something to lose if I give up this time.