What I loved and learnt in 2011

What a year!

By no means has it been an easy year, or a year where I’ve got everything I want.

This year has been more about making things happen in the face of not being able to get quite what I want, and learning slowly about what my goals actually are.

Above: my favourites of my images from 2011 whittled down to 9 – click to view larger (or to see them uncropped and whole, you can go to my newly designed website).

I’ve shot a large volume of work compared to other years (including over 30 models, thanks to the events), gained experience in new situations, engineered a new kind of exciting event, co-hosted a workshop production in a dream location, released a book and written my second, but most importantly, I have gained a clearer sense of direction than ever regarding where I want to go.

This year I’ve been working in two main series: Ecology and Surreal Fashion. Between them, I can cover most of what I currently want to express. They are quite different: Ecology uses stark nudes and landscapes, dystopian moods and ambiguous, environmentally-linked messages. It’s where my self-portraiture work has led to, though it’s not all self-portraiture. Surreal Fashion is my first substantial series featuring other (fashion) models, that has grown around an aesthetic that combines photos with other media, with more of an attempt at a conceptual core than most typical ‘fashion’ photography.

On the events side

This year I’ve done some teaching-based workshops in London, Scotland – and LA, right at the start of the year. I’ve also co-hosted a workshop for Phase One (further below). But what has epitomised this year has been our new event, what ‘we’ (that is, myself and Matthew my husband-to-be) have come to entitle the Fashion Shoot Experience.

It was a conception of two desires: 1) to transcend the typical ‘workshop’ and the limitations and contradictions it poses, as to what a photog/aspiring photog can truly take away other than some force-fed techniques and an illusion that the ‘art’ in photography can at all be ‘taught’. Maybe that is because I’m overall valuing being an ‘artist’ more than just a ‘photographer’. And 2) I wanted to put together a fashion shoot, instead of waiting around for a commission, but to make it happen myself. But the sentiment is not just “the only way to learn is to do it”, but “images get made whilst you are ‘learning’ – whilst you just do it“. Both myself, and all the participating photographers (who are everyone from students to seasoned pros) are on a ‘learning’, ‘doing’, and just ‘being’ experience together, making greater use of a great location that the typical workshop could.

The positive feedback from other photographers on the events has really made me proud of the event we have put out there. I really feel like I been able to facilitate a meaningful and fruitful experience for other people. And its growth is marked by going stateside: in 2012, one year after its launch in London, we’re taking it to New York.

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Books

Feels to me like it was ages ago, but it was only this year my book Self-Portrait Photography came out in the UK in Feb (Ilex) and in the US in March (Pixiq), which has sold 24,000 copies worldwide to date and is going into second print run. I’ve also been writing my second book this year, which comes out in the spring, Creative Portrait Photography. Writing these books is one of the best, if not the best, work I’ve enjoyed so far in my photography. There’s an inevitable commercialisation and level of compromise involved in the final product, but I love the freedom I get in putting them together, and I value the growth I gain in every book I write.

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Shooting at Weston Park

The PODAS Phase One workshop has got to be one of the best things for me about 2011 (see blog post with video). Getting to sleep over and shoot a workshop and eat great food – and even play dress up before the models arrived – in the most wonderful stately home, and be paid for it – wow – I was very lucky. There, I made what I think is my favourite image of the year overall, Storm Door (below).

And the important ‘OTHER’

This has also been a strong year for self-development. Particularly in the last couple of months, I have really solidified my sense of self and direction in life. Prioritising healthy eating and fitness above absolutely everything else, including photography. I’ve drastically addressed stress: the importance of getting headspace from perpetual computer use and the constant ‘I could be doing more’ mentality. I am so happy to be doing what I do for a living, but now I realise, for one reason much bigger than any other: the fact that I can organise my life around the priority of health, in body and spirit, which includes regular exercise, rest and rebuilding a connection with nature, in antagonism to much of the modern lifestyle that befalls most of us. Moreover, my intended direction(s) with my art have been in mental tumult over the last few months, finally landing on the one thing I want to do with my art: to question, and to seek truth.

Where 2011 has brought me

It was only a short while ago that this end-of-year post would have said something along the lines of: in 2012 I want to break into commercial work, grow my name, expand, in essence just get bigger, better, richer, greater, work and whip myself harder than ever, blah & etcetera. I’m questioning everything about that outlook. I still crave ways to use my work in other (commercial) avenues, but the right ones. This year, I have already felt this change coming, manifested in my Ecology series which has been somewhat a test run for me, for how matters of environmental concern meet ‘art for art’s sake’. I wrote a blog post about it earlier in the year where I professed to the series’ softcore quality and that “it’s not the place of my art here to tell people how to make the world a better place.” However, although I still crave subtlety, I now want to invoke deeper thinking, to actively engage my audience. I do want to make the world a better place, because it is possible.

I realise more about who I am as an ‘artist’. I’ve battled with feelings of dissatisfaction about my direction, feeling that a lack of commercial work meant I am less of a photographer. Maybe in a way, but not less of an artist. I now see what my work is: it is my dog by my heel, whom I want to stay true to me, close to my side. I see that my dream is to always be able to be myself, to channel every profound thing I feel, but not just for me. In that respect, as I grow in knowledge and awareness all the time (as well as passion and altruism) the art does too! I want to turn up the volume button, by increasing my work’s power and also its channels of expression; by using words, and by sharing more than just pictures that compel one to simply look and enjoy. There are too many issues around us to ignore, and too many layers to those problems than is typically regarded by the mainstream media. The kind of ‘issues’ I am referring to will become clearer later.

It is quite astounding to consider the potential power of a photographer who chooses to value truth over money, message over self-lording. What if my pictures can help expose truth, shift attitudes in one person and then another, and bit by bit make a difference to this world? That notion is just too exciting. I’m starting to even wonder, what is the point of art if it does not make a statement, to try make a difference? I want my art to have other purposes beyond our typical notions of ’success’, and I realise I’m going against some people’s advice when I say that. I’m interested in how this new perspective will change things. I know for a fact it will make me happier.

Above: Heatstroke (my favourite from Ecology this year)

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Some inspirations this year…

Here’s some references of things I’ve noted inspiration from in 2011: this picture ‘Mr Vet’ by Milosz Wozaczynski, pictures like this by Susannah Benjamin, and pictures like this by Chiara Fersini, and even illustrational Biblical stuff like this off Google Images, and weird animal hair pieces of Nagi Noda… also in a more general way by the following, in a random order: Tim Walker, Federico Erra, Rutger ten Broeke, Yulia Gorodinski, Martin Parr, Gregory Crewdson, Guy Bourdin, Noah Kalina, and Peter Kemp – as well as the other 4 contributors of my new book.

I also highly recommend this inspirational book Art & Fear, which has really helped me this year.

Cheers to a stimulating, enlightening 2012!

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Posted in Essays, musings on December 24th, 2011 | 10 Comments |

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Comments for “What I loved and learnt in 2011”

    1. Jannine Smith
      10:14 pm on December 24th, 2011

      Having followed you (and still am) on Flickr from the summer of 2010, you have improved in your work. I went through your page on the site from the photos you took in Poland to now – and I have to say, you have created a ’style’. You expressed yourself in what you want people to see and think whether it’s visually or how it can be interpretted (sorry for awful, awful spelling!!).

      I wish you a happy Christmas and a happy new year too!! :)

    2. jestem
      12:49 am on December 25th, 2011

      Wesolych Swiat + Szczesliwego Nowego Roku + Dziekujemy za sztuke. (Especially for my favorite one!)

      Zycze pomyslnosci poprzez sztuke w 2012. (I’m pushing my ability in Polish there, so forgive if that makes no sense.)

    3. Louis
      6:38 am on December 25th, 2011

      You’ve changed how I see things. To me, ur an inspiration…thx for verbalizing a lot of what I see as a struggle inside of myself as well. Ur so brave, authentic and talented. Amazing. Los Angeles, CA

    4. Sabina
      10:43 am on December 25th, 2011

      Hi Natalie,

      I admire the honesty and openness in your writing. In your photos you bare your soul, and in your writing you do the same. This is a quality of a true artist.

      I don’t know about commercial work but your workshops are success. Inspiring and teaching other photographers, how meaningful and great is that? I have seen your work in magazines, featured online on websites that are visited by thousands of people. You have achieved success more than many photographers will achieve in their life. A Week does not go by that I do not stumble upon your work somewhere :) I understand your drive to always improve. But give yourself credit for what you have achieved already.

      Continue to do what you love, stay true to yourself and just do your thing and great things will come from this.

    5. Marty Pinker
      11:07 pm on December 26th, 2011

      You’ve come a long way, Miss Aniela!!
      I’ve learnt a lot from following your work over the years.
      Good luck in 2012!

    6. Lash LaRue
      6:23 pm on December 31st, 2011

      A wonderful essay, Natalie. I find myself nodding and say Yes, and I am especially pleased to read that you will place your health — physical, mental, and spiritual — in first place. Best wishes, Lash /

    7. Mike
      5:42 pm on January 1st, 2012

      “what is the point of art if it does not make a statement, to try make a difference?”
      You are EXACTLY right in this. Weren’t you a lit major? Refer to “Anecdote of the Jar” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Art without purpose is just … nothing.

    8. Peter Kemp
      7:18 pm on January 16th, 2012

      Dear friend,
      I am impressed reading your 2011 story, learning points , seing your wonderful highlights and realising/knowing that you are more than an exceptional artist …. respect to a bright, intelligent andwonderful young woman.
      Looking forward to our meeting in 2012, where we’ll work together and bring together each others creative vibes

      respect and a big hug from holland
      Peter Kemp

    9. Andre
      3:37 pm on March 16th, 2012

      Your text is so wonderful and sincere. You are still a very young artist, with a very bright future ahead, and already a great source of inspiration. All the best!

    10. My words of 2012: Value, voice, & vocation.
      7:02 pm on December 27th, 2012

      [...] the end of 2011, my review began with saying it was a year of “making things happen in the face of not being able to get [...]

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