I was reflecting this week about pivotal points in my life, and each memory brought me back to the same four words: You Can’t Do That.
Those words have been spoken or written to me so many times, it must be fun for people to say.
When I made creepy films about death I was told I shouldn’t; when I made creepy photographs about death, I was told I can’t. But every time I did something that was weird and unfavorable, it brought me to a place of lush goodness. There must be a correlation between them.
Subconsciously, I began to associate things I shouldn’t do with happiness, prosperity. I started to believe that the more I did thing that upset some people, the opposite would also happen. Polarizing art means that people hate it and love it. And it is that love that drives my passion.
What an incredible tragedy that we are taught not to do certain things. Not to pursue certain careers, or make certain types of art. Not to waver from what we know, not to challenge who we could be.
We place too much confidence in other people – their opinions, their beliefs, their experiences – and not enough on our own. On what could be. On what we might make happen.
This week I’m taking that back. I’m claiming my passion for my own and my path for myself. I’m walking toward my passion with the confidence that if I can build it, I can live in it. If I can imagine it, I can make it.
My words for this topic are short because they are direct, sincere, and final. It’s simply time we took back what we rightfully own: our dreams.
Share two things with us:
1) What have you done despite being told not to?
2) Do you think you could be more bold in your life?
For whatever reason, I have always been hesitant to talk about pain. I live in pain, but I’m not bothered by that and I never felt the need to bother anyone else with it, either. I’ve always been of the mindset that if I take care of myself, and I see the best parts of life, then I can manage day to day. This method is working splendidly for me.
I have Fibromyalgia, which is categorized as wide spread pain. Not very specific. For me, it manifests in joint pain akin to arthritis, chronic fatigue, and extreme body sensitivity. This means hugs hurt me (sadly). It means that I feel a lot more pain when I am touched than the average person would.
That’s just an overview, not a pity party. I don’t mind having Fibromyalgia too much. Some days it’s tougher than others, but I have a really annoyingly positive attitude about it and I don’t dwell on it. I have it easier than a lot of people.
My friends are often annoyed with me because I won’t talk about it or say when I’m not feeling well. How I’ve personally lived my life is to keep my pains to myself and deal with it by myself. I’m not saying this method is healthy; it is just what I’ve done.
So, talking about it openly doesn’t feel great. But, I had a few emails from people recently asking if I would talk about it, so I have. And, I created two images that represent how pain feels to me.
Here is how I deal with my pain and continue to be regularly productive:
1. I always get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. I don’t have kids so that’s point one. But nonetheless, I prioritize sleep like no one’s business. I usually go to sleep between 9-10pm, and wake up between 5-6am.
2. I eat a whole foods, plant based diet largely without sugar. That works well for me personally: I am not attempting to give nutrition advise.
(Speaking of…I’m about to go slice a fresh loaf of this bread that I’ll smear with avocado. My favorite breakfast!)
3. I see beauty in pain. I really do. It inspires me and I create from it often. I let my poses, my emotions be dictated by what pain feels like to me.
4. I carry light-weight equipment. This has made a HUGE impact in my life. My gear that helps me travel light is: Sony a7rii (mirrorless, full frame camera), 3 Legged Thing tripod (carbon fiber, folds really small), and a Microsoft Surface Pro (laptop under 3lbs!). I use roller bags where possible because I also have nerve damage in my back.
5. I have a gratitude practice.
6. I build downtime into my day. I know that I have energy and feel best in the mornings. I do not, unless it is absolutely necessary, work past 7pm. I let myself relax from that time until I go to sleep.
7. I exercise, lightly. I do yoga everyday and hike 2-3 times a week.
8. A common effect of Fibromyalgia is bad memory. I have it in abundance. I keep to do lists and charts to keep myself organized. This helps to get me excited about finishing a goal as well as keeps my brain straight!
I know that there are people living in pain far, far worse than mine. And there are people who have never lived in pain. No matter your experience, I hope this sheds some insight into working through adversity.
At the end of the day, I have a passion that cannot be silenced. I try not to let time get in the way of pursuing that dream. What I mean by that is this: It might take me longer than I think it should to get some tasks finished. I might need to rest and take care of my body before I can move on and conquer. I’m learning to be okay with that. Passion and dreams do not have an expiration date. Take your abilities one step at a time.
I created these two images based on how I feel in pain.
One, a ripping apart of the body, an explosion within.
The other, a sinking, suffocating feeling as time passes you by.
Maybe one of these images resonate with you. Maybe you know the feeling.
Let me know below.
I’d love to open the conversation so that we all feel that we can share our pain.
I get asked all the time why in the world I take self-portraits. Usually it is a simple curiosity. Especially from fellow photographers who can’t imagine being in front of the camera, this is a strange thing to do. It is vulnerable, reflective, and telling.
But it is also a way to take control over all parts of your craft – to focus on the self is to be bold, brave, and mindful. Or at least, it can be.
Often the fear of self-portraiture goes back to body image. And, the assumption about self-portrait artists is that they love the way their body looks, so they photograph it. I can only speak for myself and what I know of other artists, and that isn’t always true.
I create self-portraits to see myself as a character, to be in total control, to not be accountable to anyone but myself, and to embolden and empower myself. To find acceptance.
One of my favorite self-portrait artists is Samantha Geballe. You’ll see why immediately. She is vulnerable, direct, bold, and innovative in all that she does and says with her lens.
Image by Samantha Geballe https://www.samanthageballe.com/
She is also the perfect example of someone who takes the conversation in the direction she wants. She is an artist who drives conversations, not one that takes a backseat.
Self-portrait artists can be harshly judged. I’ve received emails saying that I shouldn’t create self-portraits because I’m not good looking enough. It happens. (Don’t worry about me, I’m a very tough cookie.)
But I think that a really smart artist drives the conversation. If you create a self-portrait and want to talk about body image (like Sam does in a lot of her work), then do that intentionally. Be the one that moves the talk in a way that feels productive to you. That doesn’t mean criticism won’t come in, or that you won’t hear hurtful comments, but you are more likely to command respect and positive attention in this way.
For example, I am very mindful of how I write online about my work. If I feel the focus should be on the theme, I write about the theme. If I feel it should be on the story of the image, I write about that.
This directs the conversation away from a place I don’t feel it should go.
Images from 2009.
I remember in my very early work I created an image where I highlighted and accentuated my rib bones. I released that image and received a backlash of comments calling me anorexic (which is a horrible accusation to throw around) and, essentially, body shaming.
The next time I posted an image like that, I didn’t get mad about those names I was being called. Instead, I directed the conversation. I drew attention to the fact that I was accentuated my bones for the story of the image. The entire conversation changed, and it became about why that choice was made.
In self-portraiture, we have the ability to direct the conversation just like any other time we release our art into the world. You might argue that we shouldn’t have to do that. That people should just be nice. That we shouldn’t have to deal with judgment. But, that simply isn’t the world we live in. And if I am given a chance to be in control, I am going to take it.
Throughout my 9 years as a self-portrait artist, I have learned more about myself than I ever thought possible.
I’ve learned how to see myself as the main character of my life, not just my images. I’ve learned how to love my body through bad camera angles. I’ve learned to not touch the liquify tool in Photoshop, to not change my body, to let it be as it is. I’ve learned photography through self-portraiture, learned composition intimately, learned how to express emotion through non-verbal communication, and more.
I highly encourage you to create a self-portrait. It might be just what you need and you didn’t even realize it. Or, maybe it’s old hat and you’re in the market to try something new with it. Either way…
This week, create a self-portrait.
Share a link to it in the comments below.
What are your fears about self-portraiture?
What has your experience been?
I have always been open about my love of education. Growing up I wanted to be an English teacher. I thought my path was set from a very early age. I loved teaching, I loved helping others, it just seemed natural. But then I found creativity and that took over my life in a massive way. So, I started what any normal person would – teaching creativity!
I have been teaching for 8 years now, and I remember my first workshop like it was yesterday.
I used to shoot in this old warehouse. Half of it was still being used for some sort of materials company. I waltzed in one day and asked the owner if I could take pictures in the back of his shop. He said yes, and so a wonderful collaboration was born. I took pictures there countless times, even brought a dance crew there to photograph them…
And then, when I decided to host my first workshop (planning commenced in June 2010) I asked him if I could bring my workshop group there.
This is the first image I ever created in a workshop.
HUGE liabilities aside (it being a decrepit warehouse), he said yes, I announced my workshop, and it remains one of the neatest locations I’ve ever used.
I remember carefully planning out every single minute of the day. I remember feeling extremely confident in my curriculum. I remember freaking the heck out over my organization skills, if anyone would show up, and if they would find it valuable. I charged $200 a person and we did everything from inspiration exercises to shooting to editing.
My workshop structure has changed little since that first one. I spent hours upon hours planning it out and it worked.
I’ve been fortunate enough to teach at major conventions, go around the world with these workshops, and prattle about at Creative Live (it was an honor to teach their first fine art class).
Here is a look at just some of the images I have created during my Creative Live classes, of which I have taught over 60 hours worth.
You have trusted me, given me so much love, too many hugs to begin counting, friendships made, and experiences that have filled my 20s with so much appreciation. I’ve visited 21 countries on hundreds of trips. It has been out of this world.
Why give it up?
The answer isn’t what you may think.
On one hand, it is. I need to stop traveling so much. I need a break. I need to be home. I’m homesick even when I’m home because I know it’s just a week until my next trip.
But on the other hand, it is something very different that took a lot of growing up to realize.
When you teach your craft, you learn your craft intimately. It was the best decision I could have made to really, truly understand what I’m doing, and why. Nothing else compares, not hours of shooting or editing. It’s repeating that information in a digestible way that allowed me to understand my craft as well as I do. And how well I understand my craft, which I daresay is extremely well, is why I’m leaving teaching behind for now.
I’m in a new period of creative exploration. The baby stages. I don’t know what I’m doing yet. I explore it every single day. I’m not ready to teach it because I’m just getting to know it.
It’s like we’re getting tea for the first time, awkwardly not knowing if we should shake hands or hug, and we’re making small talk.
Some big conversations are coming on soon.
After that, I’ll be ready.
I’ll be ready to teach my new craft. I don’t know if it will be massively different or the same. I anticipate teaching writing workshops as well, something that, in more ways than you’ll understand, fulfills my childhood dreams.
But for now, I wait.
I don’t know if this break from teaching will last 2 months or 2 years. All I can say is that I am grateful beyond belief for your support thus far, for letting me guide you into the deepest realms of creativity, and for standing by me as I pursued this path.
I’ll continue on with my blog posts and videos, of course. But as for in-person education – that will have to wait until I’ve met my creativity, stared it in the face, and learned every wrinkle inside and out.
If you’ve been to a workshop, please comment below and let me know where we met!
(And maybe even your experience!)
If you’ve been to a class of mine, even if it was online, this is what I want you to know about me: I give everything. I am not someone who fears. I am someone who gives because I would rather see people uplifted and empowered rather than held back by knowledge that I could give but do not because I am afraid. I do not say that in vanity, I say it because it is a trait that I hold in high esteem and because I have built my life on that foundation. For my many, many flaws, this is where I hold my head high.
Teaching has taught me the kind of person I want to be. It is not someone who holds secrets close and guarded; it is someone who shares openly, with a heart like a sponge, who listens and aids and feels deeply. Thank you for letting me do this. It is an honor for which I cannot properly express my gratitude.
Want to take a class from me? While I am on hiatus from in-person education, I have classes on Creative Live that are extremely comprehensive and fulfilling:
These days I spend a fair amount of time in my room alone talking to a camera. And…I love it! I really do. Creating video content is so much fun and always a creative challenge for me. Last week I found myself in Los Angeles passing through between jobs, so I visited my friend Devin Schiro.
On a whim while we were out to breakfast, I asked him if he would create a video with me – a creative challenge, I pitched. One video, one photo.
He happily agreed, cancelled his appointments for the day, and we got to work.
I met Devin when he attended a workshop of mine 6 years ago. I came to love his style of filmmaking and we have collaborated many times since then, like on this most recent underwater video last year. Not to mention we became lovely friends (as you’ll see quite plainly).
These are the 3 reasons why I think creative challenges are so impactful:
It brings out your YOUiest you. When you are creating against someone, you are forced to think about how you can make the challenge into something that fits your style, and that allows your content to stand out. Immediately when we started our photo challenge, I looked at the fireplace. BINGO. I can fit in that fireplace, and he can’t. That’s what my brain said immediately, because I started to think in terms of who I really am artistically and what gives me an edge.
It lets you learn new skills. All day long Devin taught me so much about video, from the best settings on my camera, good microphones to use, ways to keep the camera still while moving, and lots of editing tips and tricks. It felt so good to be a student! And I like to think I helped him with a few things, too.
It takes the pressure off. You might think it would be the opposite when competing against someone, but for me, it really does take the pressure away. Yes, I wanted to make something nice. But the atmosphere was much more about learning, growing, and spending time creating than anything else. At the end of the day Devin thanked me for making him create for himself. That’s the spirit, truly.
What should have been an hour long project filming this video turned into a 12 hour day. I kid you not. We filmed and created and laughed from 10:30am until 10:30pm.
What you’ll see in this video: me laughing so much that I can’t breathe, Fumi the cat casually sauntering about in at least 5 scenes, a bathtub, frantic running, candles melting on skin, Devin’s incredible historic apartment, and more. Much more.
It’s a long one (13mins) but a really good one. I can’t watch it without bursting out laughing. Especially the bathtub stuff.
Giving yourself a creative challenge – or better yet, teaming up with someone for a challenge – is a beautiful experience. When I first started photography I joined a challenge group on Flickr. That’s how I met one of my closest friends Christine, who I met in person for the first time when she came to my first gallery opening. You just never know.
In case you don’t have someone readily available for these types of creative days, I want to create a safe space to share.
If you’re up for it (and maybe even if you’re not, hint hint) I invite you to participate in the creative challenge that Devin and I did!
Photo Challenge: Create using the color RED.
Film Challenge: Create using the theme FEAR.
Stills from my video challenge.
If you’re looking for a good resource to challenge yourself creatively, my dearest friend Lindsay Adler (with whom I frequently challenge myself creatively) has a book called Creative52. I adore it, and you will too if you’re looking to be challenged.
Please feel welcome to post your images and/or videos in the comments. I’d love to see some inspiration flood in this week and I know others will appreciate seeing what you have to offer as well.
P.S. Devin, thank you for having a very heavy hand in editing my video. I learned so much from you and I know I will continue to learn from your unique way of seeing the world. Thank you for sharing. I hope the whole world gets to see your talent someday.
P.P.S. I’m going on VACATION, y’all! I can’t believe it! I’m going to Hawaii on a trip with my sister for a week. That means there won’t be a new Monday video next week because I’m trying to take a proper holiday. So, I’ll be back the week after with new content and goodies!