Friday, October 19, 2012

{in the picture} an interview with debbie

Happy Friday everyone, and welcome to another installment of our {In the Picture} self-portrait interview series.  Today you will get to know Debbie. I actually had the pleasure of meeting Debbie about a year ago at an informal ladies "flickr meetup" in NYC. Although our time together that day was brief, I could tell right away that she was a wonderful, creative spirit, and I've been following her self-portrait journey ever since...

1. Was there ever a time when you couldn't imagine taking self-portraits or have you always been comfortable in front of the camera? Do you remember when the self-portrait "bug" bit you?

Until the day I picked up the camera to take my first self-portrait and embark upon my 365, I absolutely never thought I could  point the camera at myself.  Truthfully, I never took any photos at all.  My husband was the family photographer, and he was the one with the camera always in his hand.  As my husband’s passion for photography expanded, he asked to take photos of me.  At first I was extremely reluctant to be in front of the camera, and I found it very difficult to look at the photos of myself.  It took quite a while before I was even able to sit with him as he edited the photos.  There came a time when we began working together, collaborating to create a vision, and I began to enjoy the process while also beginning to realize that I had visions of my own.  That was when the idea of self-portraiture began to take root. One day my husband just put the camera in my hands and said “go for it”.  I had that moment of now or never, that if I hesitated I was giving into self-doubt instead of reaching toward new possibilities.  It was an amazing feeling, taking that first photo, a real sense of exhilaration, and somehow I knew I was about to begin an incredible journey of self-discovery.

another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
taking my time, but I don't know where

2. Your self-portraits convey both confidence and vulnerability--a wonderful combination. How much planning goes in to your shots--the setting, props, your clothing, your hair, etc? Where does your inspiration come from?

the rest is still unwritten

Learning how others perceive my self-portraits has really given me the opportunity to think about why they might see something in the image that I did not even realize was there.  Most certainly, the issue of confidence and having confidence in myself is something that I struggle with.  And yet somehow confidence is an aspect that seems to come across in my photos.  Perhaps it is because it is those very images that were the most difficult to post that were the ones that I pushed myself to do.  That internal push comes, I think, from a desire to really use self-portraiture as a means of self-awareness, honesty and acceptance of who I am at this stage in my life.

she only reveals what she wants you to see

The female form, and recognizing how beautiful it really is, became a central theme for me.  And perhaps, the sense of vulnerability that people see is because in pushing myself, in pushing those comfort levels, there does exist that feeling of being exposed, both physically and emotionally.  Somehow I feel compelled to take those risks.  Perhaps both getting older and seeing my teenage daughter struggle with issues of self-esteem, it is so important to me to embrace being a woman. To show that we are beautiful, no matter our age, no matter our imperfections, we are all beautiful. If we can feel that, and own that, no one can ever bring us down or take that away from us.

more than words

Truthfully, there is not too much planning that goes into my shots.  I tend to really be in the moment, either grabbing an item of clothing, moving some furniture around, or picking up the camera and heading to a nearby field or parking lot.  I found that for myself, over thinking or over planning led to ideas that were too complicated for me to be able to effectuate with limited time to shoot and learning about the camera as I went along.  Scaling down, keeping it fairly simple, made the process easier for me, and kept it more about the emotions and the feelings of the moment.   Music is central to the whole process.  I am definitely one of those people who always hears music in my head.  Song lyrics and the meanings within them have provided me with my inspiration.  For the most part, I’ve got a song or parts of a song stuck in my head, and I think about what the lyrics mean and how best to convey that through a photograph.

the darkness must go down the river of nights dreaming, flow morphia slow, let the sun and light come streaming into my life, into my life

3. Do you have a favorite self-portrait or series of self-portraits?

My favorite self-portraits are all very different from each other.  Each one represents a unique experience, a particular emotion, and a special moment in time.  These images stay with me because of what they taught me about photography and about myself.

Rivers belong where they can ramble

The image of me clenching my fist was driven by pure emotion.  A sense of frustration, helplessness, even hopelessness, and anger.  I poured all of that into the one motion of making fist.  To me, the image was so raw, I hesitated for quite a while before posting it.  I decided to take that risk and to expose my emotions.  In the moments after posting, I agonized over my decision.  Then something truly amazing happened.  The comments started coming in, and I realized I’d struck a nerve.  People could relate, and expressed that they too, felt that way, that they understood.  And it was then that I learned about the power of photography. It can go someplace deep, maybe even dark, that it can cause a reaction, can stir up emotions,  and that it can connect people.

and I knew I was out of luck, the day the music died

The photo of me holding my father’s banjo is an image that I love.  My father passed away when I was a young girl, and my most wonderful memories of him are intricately tied to his talent as a musician, and the happiness that his music brought to everyone around him.  Picking up his banjo, sitting quietly in the chair in my bedroom, a feeling of peace, a feeling of him, overtook me.  Something so real, so alive, coursed through me, and the image flowed from that.  This image is so dear to my heart because of what happened to me in that very special moment in time.

the fundamental things apply, as time goes by

Another favorite is simply because of how fun it was to create an image full of whimsy and childhood joy. Sitting at my piano, decked out in a polka dot dress and pink pumps, I felt the silliness of the moment, the idea of prancing around my house in a party outfit, moving couches to make room for the tripod,  it was wonderful to lose the seriousness of the day, forget my responsibilities and just be someone else for just a little while.  The result was happy and carefree, and this image stays with me as a reminder that photography can take us out of ourselves sometimes, and can transcend our daily lives.

color my world

The image of me with paint on my hand is a favorite because of what it represents to me in terms of stepping outside the box, trying something new and trusting the vision you see in your head.  Overall, the shot was extremely challenging for me.   And getting it technically correct was made even more difficult as the paint began to drip everywhere!  Within minutes, I had paint running down my arm, paint on the remote, paint on the camera.  I felt completely discouraged and was convinced that all I was doing was making a mess for really no good reason.  Later, when I sat looking at the photos, I was sure I had made a mistake. This was so different from anything I had done before, I felt like there was no way I could go ahead and publicly post it.  But I took a very deep breath and went ahead and did it.  So for me, when I think about that image, it means so much to me because even though I had such doubt and worry, I took that leap of faith and pushed my own creative envelope and found a way to trust my instincts even though it took me into unfamiliar territory.

4. Do you feel that you have discovered anything new about yourself through your self-portraiture?

Most people who point the camera at themselves, sit down and look at those images, and then post them for others to see, would say that bravery is one of the first things you learn about yourself.  It takes a great deal of courage to take a self-portrait, and I know that I learned that I am braver than I ever thought I was.  Becoming more comfortable in my own skin, accepting who I am,  I learned that it is okay to feel good, to be happy with myself.  I’ve learned that with my camera, I have an outlet for creativity, a place to make the pictures in my head come to life.  I love that I have something of value to offer, photos can speak to people, and if I can give voice to feelings that others may also share, then I have a way to reach people, something I never would have thought I was capable of doing.

I'll be the one to tuck you in at night

5. Do you have any advice for someone just starting out on a journey of self-portraiture or for someone who is in a selfie "rut"?

There is an incredible community of self-portrait artists on flickr.  People who understand the somewhat crazy aspect of taking a photo of yourself and how challenging that can be.  My advice to someone starting out or someone who is just feeling a little uninspired, would be to check out the many groups of these artists and see how supportive and kind the people are.  They will motivate you, with their images and their words because they understand the value of self-portraiture. There is a wonderful camaraderie that results from  being part of a community of people who understand both the difficulties of being in front of the camera, but also how rich and rewarding the experience can be. There were times I just didn’t think I could continue my 365, and then there would be that comment, or the personal email from someone, and those connections and friendships were instrumental in providing motivation to keep shooting.

6. Do you have any goals this year for your self-portraiture? You know, something that's been on your "idea list" for a while that you've been wanting to try? Maybe something a bit outside of your comfort zone?

It may sound funny, but my main goal is simply to make sure I keep taking self-portraits.  Within the insane structure of a 365, I had to take a photo of myself every day and I took it as a personal challenge to make it to that 365th day.  The structure was sometimes confining, but it kept me shooting, kept my mind thinking of new ideas, kept me posting, kept me learning.  In the year following my 365, I was so excited to now have the time to turn the camera to other subjects and begin to learn about and explore other areas of photography, and I sort of put self-portraiture on the back burner.  And I realized that I was truly missing something in my life, and I was unlearning all those lessons that I had tried so hard to learn about myself.  I was missing those moments of reflection, missing that quiet time, missing the creative outlet, and also just missing me.   And I made a bit of  a promise to myself to not let all that slip away. So for now I have tried to take at least one self-portrait a week, sometimes two, and to keep myself focused and on track.

the hardest part is letting go

My personal inspiration will continue to be music, it’s just something that is a part of me, and I hope to use that inspiration to continue to push myself and to really see myself.  And my goal is to remember that even without a structure or a deadline that I should never lose sight of all the amazing aspects that self-portraiture has to offer.

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Debbie is a Brooklyn native, raising a family on Long Island, New York.  She is the very proud mother of three children, Danielle age 18, Jonah age 15, and Sara age 10.  She is a devoted animal lover, with two very large dogs, Simon and Griffin, and volunteers her time at a local animal shelter. I hope you will go and visit her to see more of her beautiful work on flickr.

Debbie, thank you SO much for joining us here at {In The Picture} today! I have long-admired your work but I am even more in love with it now after this interview!! You are a true inspiration.

* * * * * * * *

First time joining us at {In The Picture}? Click here if you want to catch up on prior interviews, themes, etc. Our optional theme this month is "my favorite place" and our October linky party will be next week ~ Friday, 10/26. I hope to see you back here then.

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Meghan @ Life Refocused said...

Awesome interview and amazing photographs. I adore the last photo--so dreamy and ethereal. Thanks for introducing me to Debbie. I will be sure to check out more of her work.

Kirstin said...

I adore your work, Debbie. Your self-portraits especially are so incredibly haunting. Thank you for inspiring me to have more of a go at self-portraits! x

cara said...

Debbie, your self portraits are some of the most creative, most original, always different sps I have ever seen. I'm so glad to read your thoughts about it all here today!

Kendra said...

Absolutely gorgeous! Thank you for the inspiration!

Anna said...

What a treat to read this first thing in the morning! I have been following Debbie since she started her 365, and she has grown from someone who was just beginning to explore photography, to someone that many of us truly look to as an inspiration. Thank you for interviewing her - it was great to read her thoughts on her process.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful interview!

Anonymous said...

the piano shot is outstanding, and the blurry ballerina, too... and they all are breathtaking! what a wonderful light work...
and I totally agree that 365 Project has an insane structure. I've got only 11 weeks left and as much as I've been really enjoying it, I'm getting somehow tired of it and the pressure is not very inspirational in my case.

shirley said...

What a great interview! Every shot tells a story and is so personal. Thank you for sharing.

Jo Murray said...

I so enjoyed this interview ans Debbie's photos are compelling.

Debbie said...

thank you so much for taking the time to read the interview, your words and support and kindness are truly appreciated, and I really want to thank christy for giving me this awesome opportunity!!!

deb did it said...

Oh Debbie......I just fell in love with you....GIRL CRUSH!~ Seriously amazing interview here with Christy (thank you)
Debbie....I love your story of progression, from the moment he handed you the camera and said "Go for it" to the beautiful (semi)nude .....I see you bloom and grow. Thank you for sharing your story here. Every detail and truth.

Unknown said...

what an incredible collection of portraits, each so unique and expressive. I too think about body image with my daughter and hope that one day I can teach her that beauty comes in all forms but primarily from within. I think you really shine from within and you can see that in your work. What a great post.

jennifée said...

An incredibly powerful collection of self-portraits! Thank you Urban Muser and Debbie for sharing - this was such an inspiring read.

Tammy Lee Bradley said...

Wow. Such a wonderful series of photos. Thank you for sharing these with us. xo t

Unknown said...

This whole interview is just fantastic. Thank you, Christy, for interviewing and featuring Debbie, and thank you, Debbie, for your incredible and beautiful work. What inspiration in these pages! I'm blown away and itching to get myself yards and yards of tulle :-)

GalleryJuana said...

great interview! thanks for doing these.