My eight-week-old daughter has a pacifier with a pink flower on it. When I look at her angelic face as she sleeps peacefully with this flowered pacifier in her mouth, the whole world stops.
After I created this self-portrait I realized that the inspiration for the idea came from my daughter! On the conscious level I was experiencing what I call artistic hunger - not having an outlet for my creativity due to not having shot in over a month. My husband had given me a dozen red roses for our fourth-year anniversary and I made up my mind to photograph them. Since I am not as keen on photographing objects as opposed to people, it struck me as a brilliant idea to do a self-portrait. No makeup, but luckily, freshly washed hair, a nursing bra stained with breastmilk, I set up a tripod while my daughter was napping in a swing. I threw wide open the blinds of the window and set up the camera to shoot in natural light as the sun was slowly making its way toward the horizon. To be honest, I hate doing self-portraits because a). it is hard to be the model and photographer at the same time; b). modeling is really hard despite all the confident posing instructions I give when shooting; c). my face is extremely asymmetrical and even though I find its reflection in the mirror to be pleasing, I become highly aware of this asymmetry when looking at photos of myself. Despite all of these obstacles, I was resolute on getting a shot with which I could further play around in post-editing and create into something magical. That was the goal. I used a 50 mm lens, my go-to lens for portraiture. Taking a self-portrait is hard not only in terms of getting the right expression on your face since you cannot see yourself (some recommend using a mirror for that), but also from the technical standpoint - getting a sharp, focused image. I set up the chair on which I would be sitting, placed a floor lamp at the level and distance from the camera where my face would be, auto focused on it and then switched to manual focus. Despite the fact that I did not have a lot of natural light available, in order to make my face and the rose look in focus, I had to use a higher depth of field, so I set my aperture at f7.1, and to compensate for small aperture I set my shutter speed at 1/40 and ISO at 1600. It took a lot of running back and forth from my "stage" to the camera and minor adjustments in where I sat to get a clear focused shot. After experimenting with different positions of the rose (the original idea was to have two roses instead of the eyes) and adjustments in the camera, I came up with this shot. Then some Photoshop magic and, voila, here you have it.
The more I look at my portrait, the more I like it. First of all, I like it because I look good :) Though I am not perfect: the asymmetry of my face is quite evident in this photograph (even though I made my left eye longer (l heart Photoshop), it is still shorter than the right one); the crease on my right eyelid is the result of sleep deprivation (how much sleep can you get with a new baby?); and my nose is not symmetrical either but the rose partially hides it. Someone told me once that when a person dies, his face becomes completely symmetrical. I don't even know if it true, but if it is, I have a very long life ahead of me! In any case, I did not make my face look perfect in Photoshop because I don't believe in making people look like perfect dolls, but prefer to preserve the natural imperfections that make each and every one of us unique.
Now, the coolest part about this self-portrait is how meaningful it is to me. First, it was inspired by those I love deeply and my love for them defines, in part, who I am. A vibrant red rose in place of my mouth symbolizes communicating not by means of words, but by means of imagery. My eyes closed yet I can see - I am witness to a beautiful dream that I myself create. No makeup, no fancy hair or clothes - simplicity - just the essential. And like my daughter, sucking on her pacifier for the calming and soothing it provides, I am tranquil and at peace with all. This is who I am. This is MY dream. My life is a DREAM...
Originally published on June 4, 2015