While I have done some portraits over time, it never occurred to me to do self-portraits – for very obvious reason, some would perhaps say – and it still does not appeal to me compared with other objects. But when I recently stumbled upon Natalie Dybisz’ book Self-Portrait Photography. The ultimate in personal expression – in an art bookstore it was certainly an eye-opener for me. (She is known as Miss Aniela, too, from Flickr).
It’s a beautiful book in a good, almost square format. Her main chapters are Context and History, Equipment, Shooting, Processing, Self-portrait artist showcase and Marketing your self-portraits. It is very much a how-to book with a lot of learning opportunities.
When you see her floating elegantly in the air or there are a number of copies of herself in a living room turning in all directions and positions, the natural question is of course – how on earth did she produce that photo? And that is exactly what she tells you step-by-step and in a plain way that makes you feel like starting this very moment yourself. I should say they are all technically brilliant works.
Amazingly, so much of it all is about getting ideas and keep it simple. For a long time, Dybisz did not have the economic means, she tells you, to do anything expensive. That is how she learned to make the best out of what she had, or could buy or borrow cheap. It’s a wonderful attitude that actually promotes what is most important: Not the equipment and investments in sophisticated studio gadgets but creativity, hard work and a willingness to experiment rather than following some kind of style or “school” someone else has (told you to have). By the way, she is self-taught.
It will strike the reader/viewer that “Aniela” is very well equipped to turn the lens towards herself; she comes through in her pictures as a wonderful actor and indeed her body is superb for this type of photography, a piece of art in itself that she shows with both a touch of sensuality and shyness. (If you thought portraits were only about faces you’ll get wiser here!)
In addition, Dybisz shares a lot of “tricks” and ideas and offer what I feel is sound, down-to-earth advice based on her own experience – on anything from getting ideas, finding a location to discussing exhibitions with galleries and how to make a website. And often there is a little story – like about how a nude photo was shot in a hurry while she happened to be alone in a friend’s house, knowing the friend would soon return.
Judging from her homepage and blog, her works are moving more and more in the direction of the magic and surreal – fashion and glamour – but also and very interestingly, into ecology and the relations of humans and their bodies to Nature. Given that she is born only in 1986, it is a truly amazing achievement by intense productivity. I hope that she will not completely abandon the simplicity in executing her ideas that characterizes this book now 3 years old.
She’s recently published a follow-up, Creative Portrait Photography. I think I’m going to get it too! And I highly recommend you visiting MissAniela.com with with her blog – a wealth of the 3 i’es: information, insights and inspiration!
Natalie Dybisz a.a.a. Miss Aniela
The ultimate in personal expression
ILEX Press, London 2011
176 pages, £ 17.99