Sasha O’s Surreal 365 Self Portrait Project

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All images by Sasha O. Used with permission

Sasha O is one of the winners of our Phottix Portrait contest, and her work inspired and captivated us due to her sense of the surreal, creativity and her self expression. What made this even tougher is the fact that Sasha pushed herself to shoot a single portrait each day in a 365 project.

Like many other surreal photographers, Sasha tries to express a feeling or emotion in images and is fueled by the world around her and the feelings she has inside.

We talked to her about the commitment to a 365 project and her inspiration.

Phoblographer: Tell us about how you got started in photography.

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Sasha: Well, I don’t have any childhood story, where I can tell how I was shooting since I was 5. There is no one in my family who was doing photography either. I only remember how I found at home old Zenit camera and I really liked the sound of the shutter. I was just pressing a button again and again, without even a film roll in it.

Only when I was 19 I bought my first camera (Nikon 40), just to photograph everything around me. I had no idea what I want to shoot or that I want to be a photographer. I was studying law and my head was busy with books. At that time I was taking pictures of nature, streets, concerts, friends and some girls that wanted to have pictures.

After few years I realized that being a lawyer is too boring for me. But I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with photography. And only last year I felt like portraits is what I like the most.

It’s much easier to move somewhere and grow if you know what you want. For some people it takes short time to realize their goal, but for me it took 5 years.

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Phoblographer: Folks have lots of different ideas for 365 projects, but what made you want to do self portraits?

Sasha: Since I realized that portraits are something close to me, I knew that I need to improve in this direction and to photograph more. 365 is very good stimulant for that. But to find some models or just friends for everyday pictures are a bit tricky. I’m always available for myself so I started doing self portraits. It’s also easier to express on pictures what you want and you don’t need to explain this to models.

Sometimes ideas come spontaneously and there is no time to look for some person to put in front of the camera. And after some self portraits I realized that I wouldn’t dare to ask someone to do such stuff for a picture, like: to put honey and feathers or hot wax on their body, to lie down in a cold puddle in October, to stand in the fog in the morning when it’s super cold. But when you do it for yourself, you just think about picture and you want to get it no matter what.

Phoblographer: Where did some of the ideas for your more surreal images come from?

Sasha: Sometimes it’s about how I feel at some moment. Because of hours of retouching everyday my back hurts often and it feels like nails in my back, or cracked ground. When I had a period of crying days, I felt like I had waterfalls on my face. When I hadn’t been at home for two years, I felt homesick (I’m from Ukraine, but live in Belgium). So that’s what I showed on my pictures.

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But sometimes it’s just pure experimentation and you add some details to make image complete.

Phoblographer: Where do you think you found most of your inspiration for these images?

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Sasha: As most of my pictures I made indoors, at home, I used a lot of things that were available to me and that inspired me. With a simple piece of fabric you can do a lot. Or I look on a rope and think what can I do with it. Sometimes I go to a second hand store and look for some props. I found there a decorative fish net, which I used for few of my images, also glass jars, vinyl, feathers, paint, some white bubbles that I shot as fake snow.

Once my friend challenged me to make a picture with eggplant. That’s how vegetables series was created.

I also like when music inspires me. Usually it comes out something simple, but dreamy. Nature, location, light helps too.

Sometimes I get ideas right before to fall asleep. When your brain is relaxed, ideas just come to you naturally. Then I see a full image. I just need not to forget it till morning.

Phoblographer: Talk to us about the gear and lighting that you use.

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Sasha: I use Canon 5d Mark III, Canon 50mm f1.4, Tamron 90mm f2.8, Speedlight Yongnuo yn-468 ii, Yongnuo RF-603C trigger, umbrella. Now I prefer natural light, as I still need to work a lot on my studio light skills.

Phoblographer: Most surreal photographers tend to create the images they do out of self-expression. What are you trying to express in your images?

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Sasha: With my 365 project I saw that images always come out more interesting and special when I put my mood, my emotions into them. Even if not everyone understands the idea, they still mean more to me. But sometimes it’s not that easy to put your personal feelings into a picture. It’s like to give away some piece of you, or to open up to strangers. What is even more difficult, it’s to expose those pictures to public, not knowing how they will accept it. But I try to create images first of all for myself, as it’s not possible to satisfy each and everyone.

But sometimes a nice picture is just a nice picture, without a deep meaning. Everyone looking at it can find their own understanding of it.

Phoblographer: How do you feel your work progressed from the start to finish? It seems like some phases are darker than others.

Sasha: My works are technically way better than at the beginning, but also more expressive, more conceptual. I learnt how much emotions and face expressions mean, or how important perfect light or location are to create right mood. Some people think that a pretty face is enough for a good picture, but it’s far not true. You really need to put all things together and pay attention for details to get a good result.

Some of my works are really dark and dramatic, some are bright and funny. During a year I can’t stay in the same mood, and sometimes dark moody image is what I need.

Phoblographer: How are you a better photographer at the end of the project than you were when you started?

Sasha: I think I started to look on things around me as a photographer, to notice details, interesting light, shadows, colors, texture. I learnt more how to use colors with each other, or natural light from our windows at home and how many opportunities they give. I’m not afraid to try something new and experiment, as a result may surprise you. Also that I shouldn’t stop if I fail, I just need to try again.

This project gave me confidence that I can get even better if I work hard, but need not to forget about patience.

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