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Aimee’s Self-Portrait

Lifestyle Photographers Edmonton | Hobbs Photography

Self-portraits have never really been my thing. For 2019, we decided to carry on with our mentorship with Kirsten Lewis, an incredible photographer based in Denver, Colorado. Our first assignment of the year was to create a self portrait. Sounds simple, right? The assignment wasn’t as simple as sticking my camera on the tripod and hitting the button. We were assigned to journal about ourselves as well as list what we believed our ten best and five worst traits to be. We also asked our spouse and reached out to family and friends to find out what they though. It was actually a pretty fun exercise.

MY TOP TEN TRAITS according to my people are (it ended up being a TOP 15 because of some ties:

authentic/genuine adventurous  earthy

BLUNT loving free-spirit Witty/Funny creative

talented FEARLESS kind STRONG

motherly steadfast/dependable

While it was super nice to have everyone chime in and say loving things about me, from the perspective of needing to make a self portrait, I was more interested in the other list. The one that both Wes (my hubby) and I made about my ten worst traits (five each). If you’re curious, here they are:

procrastinator   DON’T TAKE CARE OF POSSESSIONS

gossip UNTIDY time waster Defiant

acid tongue stubborn BLUNT impatient

What I did find kinda interesting was how some of my “worst traits” have served me so well over my life. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some things I would tweak, but mostly, I don’t think they’re all bad. For instance, Wes (my hubby) had the “don’t take care of possessions – specifically my vehicle” on his list. I totally agree. I could give a shit about 98% of possessions and my vehicle is definitely included in that. But, if I flip that around, I DO really value people and experiences. Do I appreciate a vehicle that starts reliably and gets me from point A to point B? Sure. Do I get too worked up if the kids spill a smoothie in the backseat or I need to haul a straw bale and get bits and pieces everywhere. Not so much. And I think that falls into the category of being a good thing. My Grandma Leone said regularly that she’d never seen a hearse pulling a u-haul and evidently that sentiment stuck. I’d say this is even getting more so as I get older. It’s getting to the point where I just bypass the not taking care of stuff by avoiding getting stuff in the first place. If my house was on fire and my people were all safe, I’d grab my camera and hard drives, Pink Bunny for Sam, Blankie for Levi, and would probably shed a tear over needing to abandon my great-grandmother’s piano in my living room. There is a similar thought process for every trait. Being a procrastinator has taught me to keep incredibly cool under pressure and honestly, it’s when I generally create my best work. My sharp (or acid tongue, in Wes’ words) generally comes to light in defense of others or to put an insufferable ego in check. But, the vast majority of the time, my tongue is tied to my quick wit and humour, which were ranked in my best traits. And I’ve come up with some of my favourite, most creative ideas, while daydreaming in the land of time wasting. Sometimes, creativity just needs the space to happen.

Throughout January, I kept rolling these words around in my mind (probably while time wasting), trying to see how they could fit into a self-portrait. The list of “negatives” definitely appealed to me more. I figured I could do a nude shot of me running across the barren frozen lake with only a toque on addressing words from my “positives” list as my fall back plan if I didn’t come up with anything better. This whole world of creating conceptual imagery is pretty new to me. From the start of my photography life, I’ve been more interested in documenting what I see. So while I’d like to say I have some grand process for making these conceptual pictures, it’s all pretty random. It involves rolling ideas around constantly until something takes hold, then rolling a more specific idea around some more until (hopefully) something more concrete materializes.

Back to my self-portrait. I kept circling back the acid tongue trait, lovingly added to my list by my husband. If any of you have met my kids, there’s a distinct possibility that you may have encountered a few pint sized acid tongues. The good and the not so good can be passed along fairly equally, it seems. I thought I might be able to incorporate this idea into my self-portrait with the removal of my tongue and passing it along to one of my kids. Go figure. My rough and tumble farm kids were too grossed out by the raw pig tongues I had bought to participate. I decided to go ahead and do the portrait without them, and below it what I came up with.

woman stares at camera with tongue cut out lying on plate in front of her for a self-portrait

The logistics of making this picture were actually really simple. Having tried my hand at a few conceptual projects now, I think I can say pretty definitively that the taking of the picture really is the easiest part. At least in the type of conceptual work I’m drawn to. Simple. Visual. The work comes in the hours and hours spent thinking and imagining. That part, I find pretty consuming. It’s an area where tangents abound. My hours of turning ideas around have resulted in a lengthy list I have stored on my phone of pictures I feel the need to make. Doing this has also definitely highlighted my impatience. I hate the fussiness of moving the tripod a few inches this way or that. It took all of my willpower not to just phone Jenna to come over to explain how I wanted the picture to look and get her to take it, or get her to sit with a mouthful of chocolate sauce, corn syrup and red food colouring so I could take the photo myself.

When my mentor first saw this image, she asked if I really felt like I didn’t have a voice. For me, that is a definite and resounding “no”. I have always had a voice and have put it to ample use with wit and humour as well as to defend myself or others. Have I felt, at times, that voice has been unappreciated at best and absolutely hated at worst? Yes. I have worked in quite a number of male dominated industries where I have gotten the distinct impression that a woman with an opinion is not always appreciated. I’ve also discovered I’m not particularly good at talking about this style of pictures that I make. It’s really, really difficult to streamline a month of endlessly swirly thoughts into a concise description. And I think that doing that kinda ruins letting people just ponder for themselves. So, I’ll leave it here. I’m also happy to report that my Raising Ragamuffins shirt was not destroyed in the making of this photo. And, once again, Levi, thank you for being my button pusher.

You can see Jenna’s self-portrait here: Jenna’s Portrait

or her beautiful PHOTO ESSAY ABOUT MOTHERHOOD

You can also see my first attempt at conceptual work here: Lessons

There are so many incredible self-portrait projects out there once you start digging around. Here’s one of my favourites by Iiu Susiraja.

If you liked this read, you might also like to read about OUR STRUGGLES WITH CENSORSHIP.

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