I’m Braver Than I Thought: What I’ve Learned By Taking Self-Portraits

Taking self-portraits has been a part of my life for quite some years, but it was only in 2020 that it became integral to my existence.

*If you’d like to, you can read more about my journey with photography here and there’s a more advice led post about getting started with self-portrait photography here.)

I didn’t like myself in 2020. I didn’t like myself much at all. Truth be told, there hasn’t really been a time in my life when I have liked myself. But taking self-portraits felt like the way forward. And at the time, it was the only way forward. I couldn’t write. I could hardly talk. There was very little I could do, except for pick up my camera and shoot.

When I started, I didn’t know what I was going to find out about myself, I didn’t know in what direction my self-portraits would go, I knew fuck all. I just knew I needed to start.

Below are some of the things the practice of taking self-portraits has taught me in the past few months. It’s inevitable that there will be another one of these kind of posts pretty soon because I know I’ll have one of those ‘for fucks sake, I should have mentioned…’ moments as soon as I’ve pressed publish.

And You Thought One Was Bad Enough

What I’ve Learned By Taking Self-Portraits

I’m Braver Than I Thought

When I set out to take self-portraits, it was never my intention to show my feet. But when I wanted to do a levitation shoot of me above some trees – and not having any witchy boots to hand – I knew I was going to have to take my socks off and get my bare feet in the shot.

I was petrified when it came to sharing the images on social media, but I’d made a pact with myself that I’d keep sharing the photographs I was producing.

After a few days of the photos being up, I found myself starting to relax about the whole situation of my feet making appearances in photos. It dawned on me that, posting those photos with my feet was one of the bravest things I’d done in my 34 years (yes, I hated my feet that much.) and I felt proud.

I still don’t go barefoot around the house, and I don’t like people looking at my feet in ‘real life,’ but I think what’s happened is real progress, and maybe a day will come where I won’t think twice about taking off my socks in front of anyone.

I Can Have Patience

Before I started my journey with self-portraiture, I was probably one of the most impatient people you could likely meet. Really. I’d want everything done yesterday. But with self-portraiture, patience, I came to understand, sits with your camera, tripod and good lighting in terms of importance.

I needed patience when covering myself in body paint. I needed patience when the angle I thought would be best wasn’t. I needed patience when the shoot went to hell and I knew I’d have to re-do it the next day. I needed patience when I was covered in blood and ready to shoot and realized my camera battery was dead. I needed patience when the edit I had in mind was, in practice, awful.

I’ve noticed, in little ways, that my patience has started to bleed into other areas of my life too, which has been entirely unexpected but very much welcomed. The fact I’d curse my pasta for taking nine minutes to cook really wasn’t something to be proud of…

I Can Abandon My Comfort Zone

Abandoning my comfort zone has been one of the best steps I’ve taken on this journey. To begin with, I was extremely hesitant about introducing even the slightest amount of colour into my photography. It felt so…unnatural. And, for quite a while, I was unprepared to take even the smallest step out of my comfort zone. I was, in part, worried about what people would think of me if I did.

But then there was a day I felt an urge to make a photograph that conveyed that I was getting stronger, so I painted myself red. As I was hosing myself down in the shower, I found myself thinking ‘What if I painted my body silver?’ ‘What if I wore a white dress?’ ‘What if I let the amber of that gorgeous wig I have through instead of always desaturating it like I do all the time?’

So, tentatively at first, I started to creep outside of my comfort zone. After a few months, that creeping had turned into a purposeful stride. Now, I would be lying if I said that I don’t always question my decision to do something different to what I’ve always done before…but it’s absolutely getting easier to leave my comfort zone and not look back with the desire to leap right back into it and curl up with what I’ve always known.

Done Is Better Than Perfect

I’ve always been something of a perfectionist. It’s one of the reasons I could get so far behind in school. But taking self-portraits has helped start to shift my perspective of what’s most important.

Back in September, when I took my camera up again for the first time in ages, I wouldn’t over-think my photos. But the more time I spent on photography, the more I found myself nitpicking at the things I was creating. It got to the point where I’d create a photo and end up not sharing it because I couldn’t get something in the image – usually something really small – quite so and I would think that people would call me out on it.

It came to my attention that things had got out of control a couple of weeks ago, and since then, I’ve been working at reminding myself at the start of every photo shoot and every editing session that (sanity preserving) done is indeed better than (sanity uprooting) perfect.  

I’m Not In A Race To Find My Style

While I’ve been making photographs these past several months, there’s often been an ongoing battle happening in my head about my style of photography. About what I should create and what I shouldn’t. It’s been hard, extremely hard sometimes to allow myself to experiment and create photographs that are radically different from each other.

I’ve yet to find my own distinctive style, but I’m coming to terms with the fact that that’s actually OK. I’m on an open-ended journey here; I don’t have a deadline by which I need to have my style acquired. Though it would be nice one day in the (not too distant…) future when people can recognize what work is mine.

What I Was Listening To While Writing This

2 thoughts on “I’m Braver Than I Thought: What I’ve Learned By Taking Self-Portraits”

  1. This is extraordinary. The advice, the clarity with which you describe and detail each discovery, and frankly how motivating I find it all. To free yourself–or keep yourself freed–from the need for a schedule is so smart. Learn, self-learn, things as you will. Your photography is so carefully accomplished that I can’t imagine your ever overdoing anything. Subtlety and grace are elements of your art.

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