June 6, 2011

Interview: Vivienne McMaster

I'm so excited to share this next fabulous interview with photographer Vivienne McMaster who I had the pleasure to meet a couple of years ago.  Her photographs are breathtaking and her online course You are Your own Muse has completely shifted my views and approach to self portraiture.  Let's dive in and get to know:

Can you remember when photography began to play a more important role in your creative life?  Could you describe that time for me, specifically when you realized that taking photos was no longer just a hobby, but something you felt a deeper passion for?

Photography appeared in my life about 4 years ago.  I had just gone through my ‘saturn return’ also known, in my case, as depression.  I had shed so much of who I thought I was but I had no clue who I was anymore.  I felt like a blank slate and that was pretty scary.

It so happened it was around the time that camera phones were getting pretty common.  My phone had a camera and that is where it began.  As I started to take photos I realized that as I was seeking my way back to happiness, these photos could act as a roadmap from that blank slate to where ever it was I was headed.  It became my visual story, be it water droplets on leaves or a self-portrait…my story of finding a happy place in my heart again.

My passion for photography was pretty instantaneous once I finally found it.  I quickly became obsessed with everything from Through the Viewfinder to Polaroid Film and all things digital in between.  One of the things that makes me the happiest is that there is always more to learn about photography and that I will likely be obsessed with it for the rest of my life!

I love the light and the fluidity of the movements you capture in your self portraits.  Would you tell me about how you started taking self portraits and what they represent for you.

Taking self-portraits started at the same time as my love for photography did.  It began with that journey back to finding myself.  It began when things were still rough, so at the start it was documenting my sadness.  There is something pretty powerful of taking a photo of yourself in struggle.  You know those times when you just want someone to be able to see that you are hurting, sometimes we can be that for ourselves by taking these photos.

As happiness slowly reappeared, my photos became really playful and all about movement.  One of my major journeys in this life is being present in my body.  It is funny, I see my muses (the participants in my classes) telling all sorts of diverse and incredible stories.  Often when I look at my self-portraiture I see one story.  This one about being present in my skin.  Sometimes we have a million stories to tell, others like me might have just one that we need to tell again and again and again until we can move on!

So a lot of my self-portraits are based around movement and playfulness these days.  The flow of a long skirt twirling or a ray of sunlight to stand in help me feel like I’m sharing my story.

  Photo by: Vivienne McMaster

How has that part of your journey (self portraiture) evolved since you began?

Things started really shifting for me when I spent half a year in the Bay Area.  The California light pushed me deeper into my love of self-portraiture.  I started to use more costumes (well, really just non-everyday clothing) and dig deeper into thinking about the storytelling piece of self-portraiture.  It was in those months that the ideas that are at the core of my classes came forth.

Going out to take some self-portraits is still scary sometimes but I come back from these photo walks feeling really grounded and energized.  It has become a part of my daily life, always looking out for a good spot to take a photo or thinking about a prop to use.

Its neat because although self-portraiture has evolved into something I think about daily, teach about, theorize about…there is also a really grounded element to it that is just a girl and her camera, looking herself in the eye.

 Photo by: Vivienne McMaster

The extra depth you add to some of your photos using layers is amazing, and I absolutely love your photo essays.  What is your editing process like and is it the same for all of your photos?

I love the editing process.  It is so different than the taking of the photos but at the core has the same obsession with playfulness.  Editing is a messy process for me....like making art on a canvas and painting over it again and again until it feels right!  I get in a zone and don’t overthink it and see what happens.

I play around in photoshop mainly.   I love textures and actions and altering photos but sometimes the photo feels just right as it is.  Putting words on photos is a big obsession of mine and that is where the photo essays came from.  One of the biggest influences on my post-processing has been the flickr group Textures for Layers.  There are so many textures and borders in that group that one is welcome to use. 

The layering has developed from that too.  I’m really excited for my class Swan Dive that starts in the fall where we’ll be getting playful with post-processing, layers, textures and all that good stuff!

Photo essays are so much fun too.  Sometimes a post or concept just doesn’t feel right only in words.  I love to add text to images and make a story out of them.  They usually start with a line or idea but then always turn into something I never expected.

Would you share the names or links to photographers you admire or to some of your favorite photos?

One of my biggest influence in self-portraiture has been my pal Kristin Sweetland, who has been on a self-portraiture journey for over a decade.  She’s a traveling musician and shoots self-portraits in the most fun and fabulous places along her way.  She never ceases to amaze me and her playfulness makes you totally want to join in on the fun.

A big influence lately, especially influencing the way I layer is the lovely Misty Mawn.  Along with being an incredible artist she also takes seriously stunning and powerful self-portraits.

My favourite photographers these days are the incredible people I’ve gotten to meet through my classes.  These images by Deb, Nikki, Cecily, Krista or Kat are just a sampling of the incredible inspiration I get to witness.  Each person in my class is my new favourite photographer.

What about courses you've taken or books you've read that have helped improve your skills?

Honestly, Flickr is my encyclopedia of all things photography.  It is better than the best book!  Joining groups and watching what my contacts create is the biggest resource I have come across!  Often I’ll get inspired by someone there and then try to figure out how they do something…and the answers can always be found by searching Flickr!

Thank you Vivienne for sharing your love of Photography with us here today.  I cannot wait to begin Light Hunting with you later this summer.

Vivienne McMaster is a photographer with a great love for capturing diverse and authentic beauty and the healing potential of telling our stories through self-portraiture.  She runs a number of online classes called the You are Your Own Muse Workshops about both self-portraiture and finding our voice as photographers.  She tells her story through images and words at her blog.


urban muser said...

wonderful interview. i am looking forward to the next cycle of "you are your own muse"--couldn't make this current one.

Karen D said...

great interview Viv.. thanks for sharing it here Bella..

kristen said...

love everything about this. xo

Donna Wynn (Yogiknitgirl) said...

Wonderful post Bella . . . I have been so inspired by your 52 Photos Project that I enrolled and am taking the current You are Your Own Muse course right now! I am loving both experiences! Great interview!
Donna xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

This is an incredible interview. I loved to read more about you Vivienne. It is amazing to have a person tell bits of their story and to see what crystalizes out.
The sentence that struck me the most was: "...there is also a really grounded element to it that is just a girl and her camera, looking herself in the eye." I can so relate to this sentence.
Thank you for your openess. It makes me somehow a happier person in the world, when people tell the truth about about their pain and joy.
love from Eva