A Discussion Between Two Conceptual Self-Portrait Photographers
Two conceptual self-portrait photographers talk about their creative processes, how they find ideas and inspiration, and more.
If you’ve been following my series of posts about self-portrait photography, you’ll already know my tips for capturing authenticity, overcoming shyness and finding creative props on a tight budget (to name a few).
In this post, I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the process by introducing you to another conceptual self-portrait photographer and sharing a conversation we had about our work.
In it, we talk about what drives us, how we overcome creative blocks, finding meaning in our art, and more.
So, let’s jump in.
Veronika Lavey: Hi Charli, thanks for joining me and chatting about all things conceptual self-portraiture in photography!
Charli Savage: Thanks for having me.
VL: We’ve known each other for a while now. How long has it been?
CS: I think three and a bit years.
VL: Yeah, that’s right. I remember finding your Instagram account through a comment you made on someone else’s post and thinking, oooh, I like her work!
CS: Yes, that’s right. You sent me a message and we’ve spoken pretty much every day since.
VL: I think we were very lucky to have found each other. If there’s one piece of advice I could give anyone starting any form of art, it’s to find an art buddy. We give so much support to each other, both on the bad days and the good ones. I know I can always rely on you to be honest when I ask your opinion.
CS: Yeah, totally agree. I’m the same with you, in that I can trust you’ll be honest if I ask your opinion, not just in art, but anything. I feel very fortunate to have met you and to have your support.
VL: High fives all around!!
CS: Hell yeah!
VL: So, let’s dive into what drives the Charli boat forward in self-portrait photography. What is it about your work that makes you get up in the morning eager to create?
CS: It’s a very simple answer. It fills me with joy. It puts a smile on my face. It makes me excited, like the kind of excited where you want to jump up and down and shimmy all around. If you find something that makes you feel like that, then you’re doing what you’re meant to be doing.
VL: I remember trying out so many different avenues of creating but they all felt like a chore. I would collect all the books on “How to Write” for example, and I felt like I needed to read them all before I would put pen to paper. With conceptual self-portraiture though, I just jumped in.
CS: Absolutely. I come from an acting background, and in the end, I had to be honest with myself. Acting didn’t make me happy. That’s when I found conceptual photography and I haven’t looked back since.
VL: Do you think self-portrait artists capture different facets of vulnerability?
CS: Absolutely. I think there’s nothing more vulnerable in photography than putting yourself in front of the camera and taking on the role of photographer and subject. You’re exposing yourself in one way or another. What a courageous thing to do!
VL: It’s so powerful. And vulnerability is such a universal experience too, allowing a certain connection with viewers.
VL: It’s also important to say, I think, that vulnerability isn’t necessarily associated with exposing trauma or sadness. I think it embraces all sorts of emotions.
CS: Agreed! I don’t create from a place of trauma at all. I create from a place of curiosity for what interests and excites me.
VL: I think my previous work definitely had a sense of melancholy, with the aim to connect via a universally-felt resilience in hardship. My current work still has its foundation in that idea, but I’m leaning more towards exploring folk art in a dreamy kind of way.
CS: Which is totally fine. We change and grow as time goes on, so it makes sense our art would change and grow with us.
VL: I love that our art is changing with us, as we learn and grow. It makes it all so exciting. You never know what’s around the corner. So, how would you come up with a concept for one of your curious self-portraits?
CS: Sometimes, my ideas come from a place of random images that pop into my head, and sometimes they’re a little more thought out. Some of the best work I’ve created has been entirely unplanned and just made up as I went along. I’m currently working on a series that has more thought put into it.
VL: Do you want to tell a bit more about it, or is it a secret until it’s revealed?
CS: For the series? Sure. It’s called ‘Where the Lost Ones Hide,’ and it’s about a girl who loses her imagination and embarks on this grand adventure to find it. It’s representative of reconnecting with my inner child after a creative block and reigniting my imagination.
VL: And you’re exploring different mediums too, right? I love that you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s important not to get stagnant.
CS: I am. I’ve started sculpture and I really love it. I’m excited to incorporate 3-dimensional pieces into this series as well as the 2D artworks. It definitely played a role in overcoming the creative block as well.
VL: Oh yeah… the dreaded creative block!! My advice for fighting it off is to immerse yourself in visual stimulus that makes your skin all tingly. Watch the kind of films with the right aesthetics, visit art galleries, flick through art books… What would your advice be?
CS: We all get it, sadly. I think for me, it happened because I felt stagnant with my creativity. I felt myself getting bored with what I was creating. So my advice is to try something new. Learn a new medium, or do something different within your current medium that you haven’t done before. Or just take a break. There’s nothing wrong with doing that. Sometimes a bit of R&R is all that’s needed.
VL: So true. In 2021 I created 52 images. Then I hit a wall in 2022 and finished only 7. At the time, I thought I lost my mojo but in reality, and now with hindsight, I had new ideas simmering in the background that needed time and space to develop.
CS: I feel you there. In 2020, I created just shy of 100 images. In 2021 and 2022 I barely made 10. I had a very long break and felt quite lost creatively. Which is what ended up sparking the idea of ‘Where the Lost Ones Hide’ and this story of a girl losing her imagination, because that’s what it felt like for me. For me, it was also important to slow down and take a step back, to re-evaluate where I was at. And having that time off gave me the space to do that.
VL: And I think there’ll be plenty of people who can resonate with that idea. That’s what I find so fulfilling about self-portraiture and its constant evolution through our immediate experiences. It allows us to connect with others on all sorts of levels. Conversations are sparked as a result of the work and communities are formed around the stories, reminding us that we’re not alone in our journeys.
CS: It’s really an incredibly fulfilling thing. I love when someone connects with my art and they take the time to tell me what it means to them. It’s usually something different than what it meant to me. It’s what makes conceptual photography, and especially self-portraiture, so good for telling what could be several stories in one piece of art.
VL: I know what you mean! At one of my exhibitions, I had a particular piece on the wall that is full of symbolism but I couldn’t quite articulate what it was about exactly. I just made the piece because I had to. Then one of the visitors to the show told me their interpretation and I thought, “Yes, that’s it. That’s what it’s about!” The next person would have brought something completely different to the table, though.
VL: When viewers see themselves reflected in our work, Wow, that can be a transformative experience!
CS: Yes! Same for me. So much of my art has been created just because. And then I’ve gone on to find meaning in it after. I think it’s easy for artists to get caught up in needing it to have meaning. Sometimes, I just want to create for the sake of creating, purely because I think it’s visually interesting, or because it’s where my imagination took me. I’m so happy for my art to be interpreted however the viewer interprets it. In fact, I encourage it. My art means whatever you want it to mean.
VL: I wonder how many artists dislike the question, “So, what’s your art about?”
CS: Probably more than you’d think.
VL: Whatever the original intention, it definitely encourages others to embrace their own stories and emotions. Conceptual self-portrait photography can be so much more than mere aesthetics and engage on a deeper level.
CS: For sure.
VL: I’m so glad we had this conversation. It’s always hugely inspiring to talk to a fellow creative and I hope anyone reading this will feel that too. I love reading interviews with creatives for that very reason.
CS: Me too. I love reading it or hearing it from another artist’s perspective. I especially find it interesting when their perspective or thoughts are so different to mine.
VL: Fab opportunities to learn from each other and grow together. So let’s continue pushing boundaries of self-portrait photography, spark those conversations and create art that resonates with people, whether that’s one or many.
CS: Hear, hear!
VL: Thanks for the talk Charli. Take care till our next chat… which let’s be honest, is probably in a couple of hours.
CS: It’s been wild! Over and out.
Charli Savage is a UK-born, Australian-raised conceptual fine art photographer. She creates surreal photographic artworks where she explores her curiosity for the strange and peculiar. Her work stretches the realms of reality and pushes the boundaries of imagination. She resides in Sydney with her husband Chris, and their black cat, Damien.
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Veronika Lavey is a multi-cultural artist specialising in conceptual self-portraiture. She is recognised for her dark, thought-provoking fine art photography.
When Veronika doesn’t have a camera or a paint brush in her hands, she’s most likely walking her giant fluffy dog, Sonic in the woods, or hanging out with her family.