It’s May 6th and I am well-into my @memademay2020 goals, one of which included improving my selfies on Instagram. A big part of participating in the online sewing community involves taking photos of self-made clothing and posting them on various social media, Instagram in particular. As much as I find the act of taking photos of myself annoying, and often somewhat depressing, this is the main way that makers interact online these days. I can blog all I want, but I don’t get nearly the interaction with other folks interested in sewing as I do on Instagram.
Up until this month I have shown off my sewing in one of two ways 1) On a dressmaker’s dummy or 2) With a mirror-selfie. In both instances I’ve been using my iPad or phone camera and I rely heavily on the Instagram filter “Mayfair” to smooth out the poor lighting and resolution issues. That works, and lots of people do this sort of thing to great effect – but I’ve never been overly happy with this presentation and because my studio is often a mess, my backgrounds are cluttered. On the one hand, my studio has great light because it is all windows, on the other, there is no blank white wall to photograph against.
So each day so far this month I’ve been playing with a different element of making a decent self-portrait. On May 1st, I got organized around using a tripod, on the 2nd and 3rd I took photos in my zendo of a specific aspect of my life (meditation practice), on day 4 I added the element of holding something (my morning coffee), and yesterday I swapped out the iPad for my real camera. You can see all these experiments over at @Birdsongworkshop.
Today I started playing around with a backdrop comprised of a room divider and a sheet that I can use for those days when I just don’t feel like leaving the studio (or when the weather precludes it). Up top you can see my experiments using the dressmaking form – first with the bookshelf as backdrop, then with lighting from the behind, and in the center is the one I settled on liking the best which deployed only natural light and the use of better photo editing tools.
Sadly, by the time it came to take my actual selfie, the light was a bit weird and also I had to contend with the fact I don’t like photographing myself enough to spend hours doing it. So while I am fine with this basic backdrop for use some of the time, I need to go back to composition, camera angle and height, and lighting and work on that some more. Plus I’d like to take some more in situ shots on days when I am not working and have more time and access to the outside world.
Now, I know I am not a very photogenic person which to a large degree is why I dislike this whole process so much. I am not comfortable or natural with a camera on me, and my features are much better appreciated in person than in a photo. But at the same time, why does that matter so much to me? Having taken lots of portraits of other people over the years I know that some people do not come across well in pictures, no matter how good looking they are in real life – it’s not a shortcoming to take a bad photo. Except I worry in this digital, image-obsessed world that it is and that so often we edit ourselves out of that bigger picture for no good reason at all.
I am reminded of Vivienne McMaster’s work on selfies as self-compassion and acceptance and that I have materials from one of her e-courses i bought years ago kicking around. I think I might have to take a look at that work again as I go through this process of scrutinizing myself through the lens and trying to create images that feel authentic and acceptable for showing off my the sewing, weaving, and knitting projects that I wear! It’s a bit of work to be sure, but preferable to being represented by a dressmaking form online 🙂
Stay tuned for more progress. I’m figuring this out one day at a time.