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The How of My Self-Portraits

Updated: Jun 16, 2018

When I tell people that I take photos of myself, they often wonder how...

Lady of Justice haciendose una limpieza: Self-portrait as Paz de la Huerta, 2017

The process is time-consuming. It involves a lot of planning and pre-visualization. I think a lot about the elements in the final image, from the background to props to wardrobe, to, yes, myself. I think about the meaning of the photo and how to best achieve it visually, through symbols and performance.

Then I proceed with execution. There are a lot of technical elements to balance. These range from shopping for supplies to devising a lighting plan and ordering rental equipment. When I've got everything together, I shoot.

The process of shooting myself has changed a bit over the years. When I started, I was alone in a room, using light stands as stand-ins for myself in order to find framing and focus. There was some trial and error involved, but when you're shooting film you learn quickly how to avoid mistakes. And I liked the quiet meditation of problem-solving on my own. I now use a bit more lighting gear than I did then, so I have a trusted friend help me with lighting and that person can act as my stand-in for framing and focus.

I sketch what I have in mind so anyone helping me has as clear of an idea as possible what I'm imaging. Depending on the technology available at the location, I might be able to see a digital feed of the shot to help me set up, like in the video below of the Paz de la Huerta shoot, where I was able to use the TV to rough in a camera angle with a digital feed. Other times I will shoot tests on a digital camera to help set the position and then swap out the camera for my Mamiya 7 once I feel I have a rough digital approximation.

Lastly, I get into position and begin shooting. We shoot a roll of film with the other person depressing the shutter when I indicate that I am ready.

And from there, it's just processing and scanning the film to discover super fun results!

This video shows a bit of setup process for the Paz de la Huerta shoot, which was shot against a seamless that hangs from a rod on the left of frame here. You can see me testing flash units--one was bad and had to be swapped out from the rental house. We set up a 6x6 ultra bounce to soften the flash quality. A documentary crew came in to shoot my process for their own content development. You can see me multitasking by touching up my temporary foot tattoo (to match Paz de la Huerta's) with alcohol paints. You can also see my dog trying to boss everyone around and getting away with chewing on a rawhide on the couch (not allowed!!!) because I am doing a million other things... Oops!

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