Tag Archives: self-exploration

Semester Culmination

As a graduate student, my class schedule is a lot more flexible than it was during undergrad–especially this year. Since I’m so close to having all I need to graduate (just gotta bang out that THESIS!) I was able to schedule a “for fun” class this fall semester in order to reach my full-time financial aid status.

I chose a photography class–partly because it fit with my schedule, partly because it’s related to the work my social neuroendocrinology lab does (we take photos for face-mapping purposes), but mostly because LET’S FACE IT, I am me, and I love to take photos.

Although I’ve already spent years of my time and significant amounts of creative efforts learning about photography, there is always more to learn, and I especially love being challenged to create projects with a deadline and within the confines of specific assignment criteria. It’s a good practice!

I haven’t been shooting film at all this semester. All of these images were taken with MY TRUSTY OLD CANON REBEL XSi, which was purchased with the monetary gifts I got when I graduated high school over eight years ago. She’s traveled the world with me; she’s taken thousands upon thousands of photos; she is my better set of eyes.

And she’s still kickin! I’ve never had enough extra money in eight years to buy a new/better camera! Fuck poverty! Fuck technological rat races! You can still make art with limited tools!

Ahem.

Anyway, I wanted to share/preserve the work I did this semester on the ol’ blogerooni…

Time of day

So, for our first assignment, we were instructed to set up a camera on a tripod in one place, and then photograph the exact same scene many times at different hours of the day, with different lighting conditions.

I put up a tripod with a note on it in my backyard, and shot a whole bunch of images of our yard and the neighbor’s house. We only edited two to turn in for the assignment, so I chose these ones, since they show a strong contrast between lighting/time, and because they include several of my roommates, whom I love ❤

I made it into a gif because I really enjoyed flipping back and forth between the photos and wanted to create that experience for YOU, the viewer.ezgif.com-gif-maker

Color Theory

Our second assignment was all about colors. Specifically, we were instructed to shoot images that conveyed monochromatic, analogous, and complementary color palettes.

I really enjoyed the way this assignment changed my perspective. To be honest, I think sometimes my own perceptual experience is dominated by sound rather than vision (because this is the kind of shit I think about and evaluate as a neuroscientist…). I learn best through auditory means, and I tend to process/remember auditory information much better than visual information. My memory for sounds, for words especially, is almost perfect.

But Christ on a cracker, I have to meet you like five times or at least twice in a meaningful context to recognize your face at a glance. It’s an attention problem more than anything–I can remember visual information very clearly if I have taken the time to process it fully, but I often simply pay less attention to images than sounds.

Photography has always been a form of assistance for my visual inadequacies. A camera viewfinder includes and excludes parts of the scene, and being purposeful about inclusion/exclusion helps me to more clearly process the visual stimuli in my environment.

I was so out of practice with deliberate photography (if you’ve noticed, my photos over the past couple years have been almost exclusively “diary” photos, meant to be spontaneous rather than purposeful) that I felt really blocked up before beginning this assignment.

But finally (by working, as always) I was able to push through that block, and once again entered the blissful realm of creative play. I started processing the visual information around me in terms of aesthetic color interplay rather than as factual objects.

I’ve been enjoying this renewed sense of vision ever since–this ability to appreciate the rich orchestra of colors all around me.

These three shots were the ones that became prints:

Color theory 1
Analogous (Green-Yellow)
color theory 2
Complementary (Red-Green)
color theory 3
Monochromatic (Blue)

Alternative Light

The criteria for this assignment were to shoot photos using “unusual” light sources rather than normal lamps/lights in an environment.

This assignment was an “I need to get this done” more than anything else. I really liked the concept, but I was lacking in availability of alternative lights, models, and ideas that week.

I’m not psyched with any of these images, really, but here they are: a lightbox I use to snip my negatives, a sewing machine to see my pins, and a campfire to illuminate my wine glass and my friends.

alternative light 1alternative light 2

alternative light 3alternative light 4

Color and Narrative

This assignment expounded upon the use of color and light in terms of storytelling.

When it comes to art theory, I must admit I’m sort of a fanatic about using a medium to its fullest potential, with well-formed intentions behind an artist’s choices. That’s certainly not everyone’s style or philosophy about art-making, but it’s the way I generally tend to make art, and also a basis for defining a lot of the art I really enjoy.

Abstraction is cool! But if there is no strong sense of intention behind the abstraction in a work apart from its aesthetic value, I don’t engage with it for long. It feeds my eyes or ears, but not my mind or heart.

Cinema, to me, is almost the ~ultimate~ medium (apart from lucid dreaming) in the sense that you have the ability to choose auditory information and motion in addition to images. WHAT A PALETTE. And for our class examples, we watched a lot of videos about the use of color in cinema, which GOT ME ALL EXCITED AGAIN ABOUT COLOR AND STORYTELLING, damn.

But our assignment was more modest: In four images, we needed to tell a story from our lives using a specific color palette to do so.

And it was more specific: One image needed to be a still life, another needed to be an environment without people, another needed to include a body part but not a full portrait, and the last one was a free choice.

Orange is a color that I have a difficult relationship with. As I’ve grown and learned more about colors this semester, I’ve understood the nature of that difficulty much better, and have begun to accept orange into my being a lot more.

When I made the photos for this assignment, I chose orange as my color palette because of how strongly I associate orange with anxiety. My anxiety has always been orange, and I wanted this narrative to carry a sense of anxiety with it.

The narrative’s focus is a fever I suffered when I was a child. I was very sick; I was given medicine I was allergic to; I hallucinated; I had to be thrown into a cold bath.

The last two images were not ones I printed for the assignment (since I had to stick to the four-image criteria), but I wanted to try to create a visual metaphor for the fever breaking. I used an umbrella opening and being left in the water with the orange coloration removed from the whole of the scene.

I don’t actually think this was a success–because, like, where did the umbrella come from all of a sudden? What the hell does that represent?

I included the photos anyway because I was striving for SOMETHING and even if I didn’t reach it, maybe the lesson learned from trying will help me some other time when I’m stuck.

(Thanks to my roommate Sasha for playing the part of young me)

Narrative still lifeNarrative free 2Narrative environment 2Narrative body 2Narrative FEVEERBREAKNarrative environment

One-light Studio Portraits

For this assignment, we used the university’s lighting studio to take portraits.

As mentioned previously, my art-making is often quite limited by my available resources. As much as I stubbornly love my old camera and shitty pens, it’s also a nice luxury to be able to use BETTER equipment when it’s available to me.

Unfortunately, I was sick on the day I took these pictures. I was cranky and sleepy and not feeling very inspired. I came into the studio with not much of an idea.

FORTUNATELY, my model, Jordan, is amazing enough that these photos still came out great. I barely even directed her. If anything, I mostly just apologized for how cranky I was throughout the whole shoot.

I really enjoy when other people let me take their photos! I find it a fun challenge to try to convey someone’s personality through the limited media of images. The hardest part, the real difficulty of accomplishing that, is that people often want to pose for me, want to please me, and in the process of trying to please me, they do the exact opposite–I get a picture of a person with no soul, a front, an image of a person projecting an image.

But Jordan is not like that. Her personality is strong, her mannerisms are clear, and she isn’t going to pose to try to impress me or anyone.

So these pictures look awesome, but the credit belongs to her–not to me. I just turned on a light and pressed a damn button.

Jordan rim lightJordan soft boxJordan honeycombJordan rim light 2

Oh yeah, and to fulfill the criteria for the assignment (different types of lights we used) I also took this photo of myself and my classmate Nick, when I noticed that we look so similar from behind. I thought it was funny. WHO’S WHO?Nick and I umbrella

Portable lights

For this assignment, we used portable strobes to photograph a model in an environment rather than in the studio. I chose to photograph my roommate Serena in our house/her room for this assignment.

Serena is just an all-around beautiful person, and it shows in her bedroom space, in the clothes she wears, in the way she interacts with the world.

Consequently, I feel like these photos are some of the most aesthetically-pleasing I took during the semester. The textures and patterns of her room, all the flowers and shapes, and the warm light (gold umbrella!) really came together quite nicely.

Again, I love having the opportunity to capture a person’s ~essence~ through imagery, and this time I feel like it was much more of a collaboration between the two of us–her providing the beauty, and me choosing the best ways to showcase it.

Serena mirrorSerena roomSerena pensive

Also, another outtake for the assignment because I thought it was funny and cute: Sasha receiving some disquieting news on a banana phone.sasha banana

Tig

The next assignment was to go further with either the studio lights or the portable lights to create another series of photos.

I was, again, having a week of limited resources–specifically, models. I had wanted to photograph my roommate Brian with his pet lizard, but his work schedule made it impossible. I was telling my co-worker Lenore about this dilemma, and she was like, “Well, you can always come take pictures of my cat!”

I like the idea of pet portraits. I wanted to take more of her AND her cat, but she just wanted pictures of him alone.

Tig is a Bengal cat, and he’s SUPER smart. He responds to commands and was a great model for this shoot. He looks so handsome and regal in these pictures.

He’s also potty-trained–which was something I’d never personally witnessed before.

Fortune smiled upon me: Tig took a dump while I was there.

I hadn’t planned it; I hadn’t expected it. But if you think I was about to miss the opportunity to take a photo of a cat on a toilet, YA DEAD WRONG.

tig so cuteTig cat modelTig poopin

Me & My Rhythm Box

So, I actually ended up doing two series of photographs for the same assignment–Tig and these ones.

Although this series was “for the class,” it was truly, mostly, “for me.”

I was, at this time, feeling FULL OF ANGST. My sense of routine had been shaken and my feelings were sort of running wild (blahblahblah heart feelings are weird) and as per usual, I responded by hiding away and spending time with myself in order to gain a centered perspective again.

I can get swept up and knocked over by my own feelings sometimes. I don’t like to take action during those times, because I tend to make poor choices when I do. Instead, I retreat and dive deep into myself in order to return to a place of peace.

So I do “me things.” I read. I do jigsaw puzzles. I draw pictures. I listen to music I know I always love and watch films that always move me.

I am also adamant about making my spaces into “MY SPACES” and I feel like my personality oozes from every corner. Mostly, I am chaotic but force external organization onto my chaos in order to function–and my space always has a look of just-contained chaos. Organized but overwhelming.

I wanted to take honest pictures of myself. Not posed, pretty pictures. I rolled out of bed, grabbed some coffee, sleepily set up my lights, and just shot these. I didn’t get dressed or put makeup on or even brush my hair. I didn’t clean my room. I just wanted honesty.

To me, it was also necessary to include my guitar. I love waking up and playing my guitar first thing in the morning on my days off. My voice smoothes out as I drink my coffee; I find myself falling into hours of song. The guitar responds to me–she is consistent and predictable in her responses in a way another human being can never be. I get out precisely what I put in, and I put in my heart and soul.

“Me & My Rhythm Box” is a title spontaneously plucked out of my brain from the very strange film “Liquid Sky,” a 1980s New Wave scene-focused sci-fi movie, which I’m not suggesting you watch. It’s not a particularly GOOD film, but it has curiously stuck with me in the form of several sounds and images, for some reason. At the beginning of the film, a character performs a strange musical piece she calls “Me & My Rhythm Box,” and it’s weird, but it’s ANGSTY and it’s about a connection between a human and a device to create sounds.

Me sleepinMe playin geetarsqueeezeme in mirrorPhotomerge

This was an assignment that involved taking lots of small pictures of parts of a scene, then stitching them together to make one huuuge picture.

I took a photo of this place down my street, with Sasha, while we were out walking. That’s all.

The file was huge and I did not enjoy working with that clunky behemoth. There are lots of glaring errors in this, to me, but it’s good to know how to do this in case I ever need to capture a scene in this manner.

Motter photostitch print file.jpg

Bastard child

For our final assignment, we were allowed to shoot anything we wanted, but we had to either use the studio, the portable lights, or do a photomerge.

Not a problem!

But as part of the assignment, we had to also turn in a “work in progress” the week before the deadline to show the class what we were doing and to get feedback.

A problem!

That’s just… not how I function.

I used to beat myself up a lot about my way of functioning. But I’ve decided over the past couple years that there’s nothing wrong with how I function–it’s just different, and requires different tactics to accomplish all my goals.

I have a LOT of energy–and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I certainly have attention issues. I really have a LOT of difficulty doing things according to other people’s rules or schedules–I’m often late, and my workflow is eccentric compared to many people.

But it WORKS for me (and the parts that don’t work, I address), and for the most part, the people around me recognize that I am totally capable of producing good things but that I often get there in a different way. Actually, most of my life has involved people either bending or ignoring rules for me because they recognize this. Seriously, if my academic or workplace performance was judged upon my PUNCTUALITY, I would have been kicked out of school and fired many times over.

I tend to work in one fell swoop. I don’t start projects a week before they’re due and gradually work on them–I procrastinate and do it all the night before. More than that–I often CAN’T DO WORK AT ALL until there’s a sense of pressure or deadline.

But it WORKS for me, and it has always worked for me. I sit down and write 23 pages in four hours. I complete projects the day they’re due. I pull off incredible feats. IT FEELS GREAT.

Butttt… sometimes there are situations in which, for one reason or another, I am demanded to work in a way that’s unnatural to me. And I really struggle with it.

This isn’t the first “bastard child” I’ve made in my life and I’m sure it won’t be my last.

I knew I wanted to do a project exploring the chakras (been reading the Bhagavad Gita, been thinking about colors, always working on spiritual stuff, etc.) but I wasn’t ready to make the work yet.

I shot these the morning before class with zero plan. I didn’t want to show my face. I was running late. I had a weird stomachache. My room was a mess. It was painful.

I just took pictures of myself as I got ready for my day, using colors to move through the process but like, man, I just threw a blanket over my closet door for a backdrop… and I happened to have a bunch of bags scattered on the floor so I used one to cover my face… it was a shitshow but somewhere in the middle I just laughed about it and was like “THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING NOW; THIS IS WHAT’S HAPPENING; I WILL NOT LOSE 100 POINTS FROM THIS ASSIGNMENT!”

These photos are absurd. They’re stupid.

I could try to tack on something about “women are expected to go through all these steps to get ready in the morning and your face isn’t considered worth seeing until you’re done” blahblahblah, but first of all I don’t care about expressing that through my work, and second of all, truly, these are just crap.

Bastard child. It happens. They’re kinda funny, though.

Motter 1Motter 2Motter 3Motter 4Motter 5Motter 6Motter 7Chakras

For my final assignment, I DID what I had been planning to do.

And I didn’t start it until 10 pm on Saturday when the prints were due at 3 pm on Tuesday (and I worked Sunday-Monday).

This is my workflow at its finest. I leave you with the images, and my artist’s statement to accompany them.

According to Hindu mysticism, humans must balance the forces of energy within us in order to achieve the highest levels of spiritual consciousness. It is believed that human energy is concentrated in seven different regions of the body, called chakras. Each chakra corresponds to a color and a species of energy, which dictates the extent of our ability to act with both power and love in the world.

red print file.jpg

The first chakra, Muladhara, is ruled by the color red and is associated with survival and security. It is blocked by fear, and opened by joy–by dancing through life, rather than hiding away.

orange print file.jpgThe second chakra, Svadhisthana, is ruled by the color orange and associated with sensuality and the right to feel. It is blocked by guilt, and opened by embracing feelings of pleasure.

yellow print file.jpgThe third chakra, Manipura, is ruled by the color yellow and associated with personal power and intellect. It is blocked by shame, and opened by recognizing one’s purpose and abilities in life.

green print file.jpgThe fourth chakra, Anahata, is ruled by the color green and associated with love. It is blocked by grief, and opened by allowing new love to flow within oneself.

blue print file.jpgThe fifth chakra, Vishuddha, is ruled by the color blue and associated with the right to speak one’s truth. It is blocked by self-silencing or deception, and opened by finding one’s voice.purple print file.jpg

The sixth chakra, Ajna, is ruled by the color purple and associated with intuitive vision. It is blocked by a lack of trust in one’s own vision, and opened by looking upon one’s intuition with clarity.

white print file.jpg

Finally, the seventh chakra, Sahasrara, is ruled by the color white and associated with a total transcendence of the physical form. It is blocked by attachment to the ego, and opened by letting go of this attachment. When all the chakras are aligned, enlightenment is allowed to reign, and we act with our full potential.

In this series of photos, I attempt to illustrate the transcendence of each chakra through the use of color and poses. I start with Muladhara and work my way up to Sahasrara, demonstrating the emotions that must be overcome along each step of the journey. In each photo, my gray-clothed figure represents the obstacle in place of opening each chakra, while my color-clothed figure represents the successful opening of a chakra.

My personal belief is that the creation of any piece of art is itself a journey, and that the process of the creation is much more valuable than the product. While I am happy with the final images that came out of this project, I must say that the completion of this project in itself provided me with the challenge of approaching and transcending each chakra. I truly danced, ate oranges, drew, and sang while I was creating this project, and the enjoyment of creating was satisfying in itself. These images merely serve as a souvenir of the journey I took.

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WRITE

I lay curled up on my yoga mat the other day, trying to meditate. It’s a new activity for me–normally my brain is a jumble, with fast-moving thoughts and fleeting impressions. Trying to calm it down always seemed futile. Before, I could only ever meditate by tricking my mind into focusing on something else intensely, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle or playing a musical instrument, allowing my self-exploratory thoughts to hum forth in parallel to the engaging activity.

But I need to learn how to find a clear mind for myself. My life has gotten mixed up, and I’ve lost my sense of direction. For a while, peace has been utterly impossible.

***

I set a goal to move to California. I set a goal to go to graduate school. I have achieved both of those goals. There have been some clear things I’ve always wanted, and I’ve managed to claw my way up to them. Along the way, some of my long-term aspirations truly have changed–but others I’ve simply ignored, or tried to replace.

I am not a scientist. At least, I’m not the kind who works in a lab. I’m not neat; I’m not precise. Rules and safety procedures bore me. Math equations, writing everything down–it’s tedious.

The pissing contest of academia makes my eyes roll. I can best describe its culture by making a jerk-off motion with my hand. I love learning, and I love experimenting, but I’m not cut out to do science the “proper way.”

I am not a doctor, and perhaps I’ll never be one. I still like the idea of being a psychiatrist, but mostly because in that role I would be able to use my own expertise and care to help soothe the hurts of others, to bring peace. I want others to feel supported and connected. I want people to understand themselves and their own minds. I want to heal the wounds of society by starting with individuals.

***

I am a writer.

I hesitate to call myself by titles, because I feel I need to earn them. “Writer” has always been a coveted position for me, the only thing I’ve ever wanted to call myself.

For some reason, whether bred by humility or self-doubt, I’ve often avoided acknowledging my own skill as a writer. Mostly, it’s like “I haven’t written a novel yet, how can I ever call myself a writer?”

But I write. I will always write. I have always written. I “write as I breathe.” I have a portfolio full of published articles, and more pages of personal writing than I could ever even collect in one place.

It is the one thing, above all other things, that I’ve always done without outside prompting. It flows from me joyfully, automatically.

***

Recently, I’ve been metamorphosing. It hurts. It feels great. It’s bewildering.

I have the luck of being surrounded by the most wonderful people. I live in a beautiful old house with a big magnolia tree in the yard. I see the ocean every day. Wise old redwoods tower over me, always moist and green, smelling like the earth.

And yet, I’ve been flailing. I’ve been lost, confused. I failed a chemistry exam. I’ve gotten terrible grades on each of my genetics exams. I have a paper overdue by three weeks in my Research Methods class. My car is broken and the repairs are too expensive, but I still have to make payments on it. I’ve been working 20+ hours a week in a minimum wage retail job. I switched thesis advisors but I still don’t have a solid topic, and it’s already my second semester.

Most importantly, I haven’t been enjoying my life. I’ve been waking up with a feeling of dread, sinking into hopelessness, and having very bleak thoughts. A few weeks ago I was crying and upset so often that professors took notice–I met with the dean of students to explain my financial situation and emotional issues, and an official email was sent to my professors to grant me leniency in my classwork.

Something had to change. The past couple weeks, after I admitted to everyone how much I needed help, have been a process of assessment, rebuilding, and self-care.

This past week was spring break, an absolutely necessary reprieve from my brutal schedule. When thinking ahead to it, I imagined being productive and working to catch up on things the whole time. Instead, I’ve been relaxing and reflecting–and finding peace.

***

“Yield–don’t keep pushing against things that won’t move.”

As much as I thought medical school should be my next goal, it seems like every effort towards it has been frustrating and miserable. It was a goal I picked up only last semester, but decided to run with, in light of knowing that I didn’t want to be a laboratory researcher.

While I find the material in my science classes to be interesting, the fuss required to learn and practice it feels unnaturally difficult. Schoolwork always came naturally to me before–effortless. It’s not that I don’t want to do hard work, it’s that I am usually capable of doing hard work and feeling a sense of joyful fulfillment when I do it. I don’t feel that in these classes. It feels like drudgery.

On top of that, the time required for me to succeed in these classes while also working and taking care of my life has made it nearly impossible for me to do the things I LOVE–making art, making photos, making music, writing. Creating, beautifying. Reading books, watching films, seeing art.

I made a motto for myself many years ago: “To pursue and create beauty.”

The other day on the phone, Tim said to me, “Stop getting distracted by all these side-bitches in life. Do what you’ve always wanted to do.”

***

I lay on my yoga mat and I asked myself what I want. What do I dream about? What do I love?

I get phrases stuck in my head, often. They come from somewhere inside of me–either as the product of a linguistic equation I’ve been silently working out in the background of my mind, or drawn from some collective human unconsciousness that I access in my sleep.

I don’t know what produces them, but they jump up in front of me and I write them down. I try to apply them, to test them against reality and see what meaning they have.

Recently, one phrase was, “mundanity is an illusion.”

It is easy to feel like each day doesn’t matter. It’s easy to feel a sense of routine, a boring gray sense of “grinding away” at things. I think we surrender to this illusion because feeling things can often be intense. If we pay attention to our senses and feelings fully each day, they can reveal truths to us that may conflict with our everyday lives, threatening our senses of security. We don’t want to be confronted with the realization of our own freedom, because it presents us with the opportunity to either make use of our courage and seize it, or to squander it.

“Timshel”–the word that holds the potential of a man’s greatness, if he wishes to make use of it.

We squander our freedom every day under the illusion of mundanity. Wasting our lives is easy if we tell ourselves that today is not important, if we ignore our senses and subscribe to some sort of defined path just for the sake of security. We anesthetize ourselves because we are afraid of our own freedom, our own limitless potential. Making use of our freedom is terrifying, but exhilarating–many people only experience it in discrete episodes of their lives.

***

A few of my housemates and I have formed a “lucid dreaming” club. It’s pretty informal–mostly we just tend to be outside smoking around the same time of night, so we talk about our dreams and what they mean. I have lucid dreams sometimes, but my one roommate Sasha is basically A DREAMWALKER, and lucid dreams on an advanced level.

“You can do anything,” she said. “Anything you want.”

She related stories about dreams in which she’s flown up above the sky, through the ozone layer into space, and traveled to whatever planets she wished to visit. She’s talked about times she’s approached people in her dreams and asked them anything she felt like having an answer to.

The important part of becoming lucid is to realize that YOU are the dreamer. Everything around you is a product of your mind–so it is malleable. You can create anything, mold anything to be what you want it to be, as soon as you recognize your freedom to do so.

***

I lay on my yoga mat exploring myself, venturing inside my mind. I chose to lie on my back, my knees drawn into my chest, my arms wrapped around them. In this position, I feel my own potential energy–I am coiled like a spring, waiting to act.

Something strange happened. Suddenly, I became a part of the air around me.

I thought about old philosophers who used to talk about the “ether” to describe the “empty space” around us–they knew it wasn’t empty, but didn’t yet have the scientific knowledge to talk about air molecules or invisible gases.

I felt that I was not an object sitting in empty space–all of my surface area was interfacing with a thick substance all around me. I recognized that this substance was touching everything else, too, by proxy. I melted into the substance and let myself feel submerged in it, dissolved in it. I could feel that distance is an illusion, that everything is connected.

The most hippy-dippy feeling of “oneness with the universe”–and I understand what that means, now.

Albert Einstein said that the most important question for us ask is, “Is this a friendly universe?”

Yes, I believe this is a friendly universe.

And as soon as I chose to believe this, I knew the answers.

***

The universe has confirmed it to me, has begun clearing a path for me. I am stepping along it lightly, joyfully. My worries are melting away because I trust the universe and by proxy, I trust myself.

The day after I meditated, I walked out of a store and the first thing I saw was someone’s vanity license plate.

It said, “WRITE.”

I guess I’ve known it all along.