Interview with Self-Portrait Photographer Alicia Savage
What were some of the key elements to the development of your photography style?
I feel the key elements that have developed my style thus far is my consistency of photographing for myself, exploring my interests and curiosities, and being driven to always expand my capabilities with my camera.
I feel making the constant effort to photograph for myself to be the most essential element. Whether traveling or in Boston, I am constantly creating projects and photo shoots for myself. Sometimes the ideas work out as planned, other times they fail or evolve into something completely different – all resulting in valuable experiences that continues to shape my work and ideas.
Investing time in my personal interests has also shaped my style and concepts. Last year I made a conscious decision that I would spend more time exploring and traveling on my own, which resulted in my on-going series “Destinations”. These destinations are not always far or exotic, but they are unique and important experiences to me that are bookmarked in the images I create. My experiences are just as essential to me as developing my photography abilities – they go hand and hand.
The specific techniques I use and the learning opportunities I have had also hold a significant influence. In 2011, I took a workshop with photographer Brooke Shaden, learning that you can truly create any idea anywhere at anytime. I am also so incredibly lucky to have so many talented photographers as good friends that continue to inspire and teach me so much – specifically those at Elevin Studios and Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts. I am always striving to expand my abilities, and to develop and incorporate techniques learned to my own understanding and ideas.
To be honest, I’m often not conscious of my photography style when photographing, but rather trust in the habits and tendencies I have formed. My photographs are always changing, but it’s in those habits formed and the experiences reflected that my photography style will always be an expression of who I am.
What made you decide to keep your face hidden from view?
I often get this question of why I tend to hide my face and to be honest, it’s more of an artistic preference that has developed. In addition, with my face hidden the girl becomes unidentifiable – allowing others, including myself, to interpret the images, as they will; incorporating their own journeys and experiences.
You seem to be very comfortable in front of the camera. Was this always the case with you?
When I am photographing myself, I am very comfortable in front of the camera because I have the visual of the image in my mind. But if you were to put me in front of the camera of another photographer I completely freeze. It’s pretty awkward and probably also a pretty amusing sight!
What are some of the limitations of being a self-portrait photographer? How do you overcome them?
As a self-portrait photographer, I wouldn’t say there are necessarily limitations, but rather specific challenges. Being both the subject and the photographer provides me a lot of control over my ideas but there are definitely times when I wish there were two of me! Where I would normally be able to react instantly if I was behind the camera for the entire shoot, a self-portrait requires much more preparation and setup that needs to be continually monitored as the environment changes (exposure, props, etc).
To avoid having to continually reset my set and camera settings each time I step away to check my images, I use simple tricks such as keeping my camera on manual focus, using a focus place holder, setting up my camera to take multiple photographs at once, and bringing on an assistant when needed. There are limitations and challenges with all types of photography, but it’s within those limitations that we are forced to be creative in our ideas and techniques. My biggest suggestion to overcome any “limitations” would be to learn from trial and error, invest in preparation, and to never give up on your ideas.
What photo in the ‘Imagined’ series was the most difficult to create?
Much of my work I feel is not difficult to photograph, but rather it’s the attention to detail and mental organization required to create these images that can be challenging at times. Often my photographs only take about an hour at most to photograph, but will take 5-10 hours to edit and finalize.
I would say that one of the first images I ever created “Light Breeze” with the girl flying within the window to be one of the more challenging images I have created as it consists of so many small detailed elements; levitation, intense day light, my hair and dress seemingly blowing, dropping the floor, color matching, and toning. I often compare the process to a mind puzzle of photographs and layers. It’s fun once you get the hang of it!
Can you walk us through the setup of Grounded? I love the way the light hits you as well as the movement in your dress.
This image and the similar black and white one is actually a separate series I am currently working on but I am still finalizing the technique. Although, the lighting and the dress is the fun and simple part of this setup! I use a single strobe light in the studio to create the dramatic shadows and highlights.
The dress is actually one piece of fabric that I have wrapped around myself and continually throw, while taking multiple captures – a technique I learned from attending Brooke Shaden’s workshop. I then later blend the fabric thrown images together to create the dress. It’s amazing how a little fabric can suddenly turn into something so much more!
In your opinion, how important is it for artists to experiment with self-portraiture?
I think experimenting with self-portraiture is so incredibly beneficial and important, especially when you are just beginning to really explore your ideas through photography. It gives you the freedom to test and develop the strength in your ideas and techniques beyond the pressure and expectations of others. In addition, it creates an essential personal connection to your work. Whether you want to be a self-portrait artist or use it as a form of experimenting – self-portraiture I feel reveals so much insight of who we are as artists and individuals.
Any advice for people struggling with self-portraiture?
For those struggling with self-portraiture I would suggest being more relaxed with their approach to it and to have fun with it. A self-portrait is a reflection of who you are – value the imagery that reflects from that. Also realize that some ideas require the assistance of others – an assistant, stylist, etc. And finally, it’s okay if self-portraiture isn’t your thing. As artists all of our minds work differently, thus always be open to exploring different photography techniques to express your ideas.
What’s on your gear list?
Alicia Savage is a self-portrait photographer based in Boston MA. Her work is an interpretive documentation of her mindset and life, inspired by her surroundings and recent travels. Alicia obtained a degree in business and art at Northeastern University, and moved into accounting for the three years following graduation.
Feeling constrained for creativity and personal growth, in 2010 she took a position at a Boston photography studio and enrolled in the Boston University Center for Digital Imaging Arts photography program. Her self-portraits gradually developed as part of her portfolio, and ultimately took on a main role within her art as she began to travel and explore new ideas. Today, she works primarily as a fine art photographer, instructor, and creative producer.