Tell us a little bit about your journey as a photographer and what was the motivation for you to start shooting the nude back of a woman?
I came to photography later in life – my “midlife awakening” – when I finally stopped and acknowledged that I was uninspired and exhausted! What I was doing was suffocating me and there was a huge need for change – Carla I know that you of all people understand this feeling!
The decision to connect to photography started on a day when I was feeling lost and overwhelmed and I decided to distract myself. I thought maybe if I could see a different perspective of self, I might also be able to see a way forward out of my personal darkness. So I stripped off, grabbed my computer and took my first image of a naked back.
I was looking to see something new and different in me. To see if there was more to me than what a mirror reflected! It was the first step on an extraordinary journey that saw me sell house, car and fridge, get accepted to study at Speos the Institute of Photography in Paris, quit my job and walk into the unknown.
You have photographed women around the world in all sorts of situations from kayaking nude to driving through a desert. What is the reaction of the women being photographed?
Without a doubt the overwhelming response from the women that I photograph is “liberation”. When they decide to be courageous and trust me, to put aside their clothes and choose a place in the world that speaks to their soul’s they will invariably come away from the experience having felt mentally, spiritually and physically free. It is a moment for them to let go of fear, be completely free from judgement, and in return they receive from me an image of their soul beauty – a perspective that they very rarely get to see, or gaze on.
The women that I work with also know that there will be no use of photoshop or magical, digital slimming diet! Soul beauty is an image of their authentic, natural selves, it is an image for reflection on their spine, strength of character, resilience and courage. It reminds them that they have an ability to challenge themselves and believe in self. The soul beauty that I seek to capture is about reconnection to self, not judgement, or criticism of self! So within the safe space that I create by my manner and demeanour the women have a chance to laugh, dance and be at one with the Universe – fully present in their glorious selves, free of guise and disguise! I suppose that is one of the benefits of my being an older woman – who am I to judge? I accept.
What was the idea behind your book Liberating Self?
In my life I have had to face ego and also reflect on how I wish to live! Do I want to live my life driven by fear of failure, worry about safety, and striving for security? Or do I have the capacity, the courage, to listen to the whispering of my soul and believe in it’s instinct and dreams? Do I have the fortitude to challenge myself and believe that I am worthy of creating my dream life? Do I have the energy to create a balanced life, one that is motivated by choices desired by soul and by ego? Basically, I have had to look at myself and ask the question “how brave am I?”
So “Liberating Self” was born from my philosophy about the journey that a soul takes when its voice is first heard, to when it becomes a committed party to life’s daily conversation and choices. The images, taken of women around the world, are provided for reflection on the words expressed – to reinforce my understanding and belief that soul beauty arises when we challenge our ego and seek to balance it’s demands with the wisdom of our soul and instinctive self.
Carla, if I am being truly honest I would tell you that possibly I wrote the book to have a reminder at my bedside of the lessons I have already learnt! So that the next time paper tigers are roaring inside my head and my knees are quaking with fear…. I can pick up my book, read and remember that tigers can be conquered with my breathe and belief in self!
As a woman do you think there is an age where we start to embrace ourselves and let go of body image fears?
In my experience acceptance of self, self-worth, self-esteem and self-love can come at any age, but there is something richer about acceptance that comes with maturity, or after we have had to overcome major life obstacles. When we open our hearts, hear our soul and realise that self-worth, and self-love are not governed by the ego’s standards and judgement! To me that is when we start to embrace ourselves and let go of body image fears and see our deeply unique beauty.
I love on your website where you have written ‘I am more than a photographer’. Can you tell us what is the more?
Carla, you are making me smile….. more…. I suppose what I was trying to say is that it is not just that I seek to ‘see’ with a camera, I am seeking to use the camera to help women connect to a soulful perspective of self.
I also spend a lot of time thinking about the balancing act of soul and ego and choosing to live a life of passion and true to my values – and writing my thoughts about this down. So I see, think, feel, and speak….. more!
Your images are the antithesis of boudoir photography, they are raw and real. Did this evolve naturally as you started shooting women or did you start with a clear idea on how you saw the beauty of women?
When I first conceived of heading to Paris I sat and thought about the big “Why?”, and “What?”. I sat on a plane and sketched. The images were of the shape of a neck, a spine, an ankle – the things of beauty that are often overlooked when we critique ourselves and when others critique us!
I kept wanting to focus on this alternate perspective of self. For me it is simple – I am not interested in “fronts” or the things we women are often judged on. Have we dyed our hair, put on make up, waxed, are our breasts big enough or small enough??? I suppose, when I look at boudoir photography I often see an image seeking judgement – so it is not something that really interests the artist in me.
Instead, I have a curiosity about soul, and the beauty that it can bring to our life. To me, the images that I seek to take are a reflection of innate soul beauty, set in a location that the soul connects with. The challenge for me, as photographer, is to work with a woman’s chosen location and time of day and capture the beauty in the moment. I don’t strive for perfection. I don’t turn up with anything or anybody other than me and my camera……. and I work to capture the magic of soul beauty.
So in answer to your question – I had an idea about photographing an alternate perspective of self – creating a portal for a woman to see herself differently – without judgement…… and from there things evolved naturally to what you see today. What surprised me and made me laugh, let go of control, is that often the location and the woman’s spirit determined if the image would be colour or black and white. In my head, at the outset, everything was going to be classic black and white! I learnt to just go with the flow!
Are there any dream locations where you would love to shoot?
I am enthralled by natural beauty….. so a beautiful natural location will always be a dream location. But I am also a traveller so Namibia is on my to do list, the flower fields of Holland, and South America. To date the most extreme location that I have photographed a woman is in Antarctica – that required quick work!
Yet, I have also photographed a woman in her back garden, and for many reasons that shoot is memorable for the journey that she had survived to get to that point in time. Often I recall a shoot not by the location, but instead by the story and the courage that shines from the woman. Working with me is often driven by a desire to create a deeper connection to soul and to see self from an alternate perspective. I hope that makes sense!
Anything else you would like to add?
Carla – you know there was a point in time when I felt I had ticked all the “right boxes” – the ones we hear about as children and strive towards. Only when I got there I realised that my shape was not fitting well into these “should” boxes!!!!
It is hard when you realise that you have strived and ended up down a path that does not feed your soul, happiness or joy. The miracle is having realised it, I then found the courage to make changes. This hasn’t been an easy road, but it has been deep, rewarding and full of passion. I suppose all I want to share is that “Liberating Self” is a soul’s journey and for me travelling its path has led to life’s magic!