We’re awash in selfies these days. (In fact, we may have hit peak selfie.) We love the selfie as much as anyone, but there are a lot of not-so-flattering self-portraits out there. We have our eyeballs on photos shared on social media all day long, and when we spot someone who clearly has a gift for self-portraiture, we stand up and take notice. Today, we’re profiling Marey Mercy (her nom de plume as a blogger and Flickr member), who takes very fun, very colorful photos. We chatted with her about self-portraiture and selfies….
You take a lot of very impressive self portraits. Why self-portraits?
First of all, thank you! Portraiture was my primary interest in the beginning, but I wasn’t confident in my ability to take decent photos or direct someone during a shoot, so I used myself as the model to solve that problem. Using myself freed me to learn because I didn’t have to worry about how anything turned out – if the photos were awful I hadn’t disappointed anyone, and if I decided to really mess with the results and go wild with the processing no one got bent out of shape about it. Also, I don’t like working on a schedule so using myself as the model means whenever I’m ready to shoot, I can shoot. I am also a bit of a loner and a homebody, so taking photos has become a pleasant way for me to spend the huge amount of private time I require to remain sane and still be productive. I’ve branched out into other types of photography as well as working with other models since I started, but the self-portraits have remained a nice little ritual in which I indulge quite often. It’s genuinely fun for me and one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday.
I think there’s a difference between selfies and self-portraits, although the term “selfie” seems to have taken over (at least temporarily). Do you see self-portraiture and selfies as fundamentally different?
I think a self-portrait attempts to communicate to the viewer, “This is who I am,” while a selfie just tries to say “Hey,” or, “This is what I’m wearing.” In that respect, my photographs are more in the selfie category than the self-portrait one. I’ve called my photos self-portraits in the past but it’s always felt like a half-truth; sure it’s me, but I’m not doing what a more traditional self-portrait does. I’m not using props or place or setting to communicate aspects of myself to others. In fact, I actually use costumes and makeup and movement to try and transform myself into someone — or something — else. It’s the opposite of a self-portrait. Perhaps I should start calling what I do “unselfies.”
You seem to love to dress up. Do you have a large cache of costumes that you rely on? Is part of your interest in photography based in this love of dressing up and capturing all of that in photos?
I was writing about this on my blog just the other day, that if my photos fit in any category, it’s most likely fashion photography, although I’m not sure it fits there either. I’ve always been one of those people who love clothes and tries to wear them creatively; the makeup and wigs are more recent interests but my current obsession with those things comes from the same part of me that is interested in presentation, transformation, and illusion. I have a huge admiration for drag queens for the same reasons and follow their makeup tutorials and tips more than anything when putting on a face for a shoot. Also, I have several different approaches I might take to a session, and most of those are based on aspects of fashion – a certain color or combination of colors, fabrics and how they flow when the wearer moves about, a wig that makes a real statement, some new makeup technique I want to try. And the way I use lighting tends to mimic that of fashion photography more than anything else, at least from what I can tell. As far as costumes, I’m always looking for interesting vintage pieces I can use in a shoot. I have an entire closet of costumes and I have wigs stashed in bins all over the house, but I don’t like to hang onto too much stuff because I get overwhelmed. So I’m constantly cycling things through – every time I buy something new, I make myself give something away.
Your photos are too good to be amateur. Do you have a background in photography? You must do some post-processing with some of these photos. What kind of editing tools do you use?
Oh dear, this is where it gets tricky. I am completely self-taught, and although I’ve tried to take courses both in a classroom and online, I’m afraid that nothing sticks with me until whatever technique I’m trying to learn is one I’m actually needing to know in the exact moment that I’m learning it. So I am a mish-mash of rudimentary knowledge spread out over a large area. What I mean is, I know a little bit about Photoshop, but only in relation to working with very specific aspects of portraits, then I have another program I use to sharpen a photo and add detail (Snapseed, which for a brief time offered a desktop version of the phone app for twenty bucks; I love it and if I ever lose my copy of it I will die). I use Photo Ninja to work with the photos in RAW, then Paint Shop Pro when I need to use layers and masks, and of course, I use Pixlr for overlays and borders. I’m just a ridiculous mess, really. My workflow is a nightmare. But I love post-processing and am completely addicted to it. When people say they don’t edit their photos I get twitchy, like, how do you live like that? When I was a kid, I used to get my mom’s magazines and use markers to improve all the models in the ads, so I’ve been into this for a really weird, long time. I often say post-processing to me is akin to coloring in coloring books when I was a kid – it’s the adult version of coloring, and that’s why I can spend so many hours doing it that my right arm practically falls off.
Who else — or what else do you usually photograph? Any subjects stand out for you?
I am currently obsessed with aviation photography. It’s funny because I’m known for the portraits and movement stuff, so this new desire to take pictures of jet airplanes throws people who’ve been following me for awhile. But when I think about, it has a lot of what I love about my other work – movement, and the desire to capture it accurately; you’re taking this thing that is moving incredibly fast and stopping it, suspending it in the air. And commercial jets are actually quite colorful and interesting visually. So really not that different from my usual stuff at all.
What would be an ideal photo vacation for you? If you could just go somewhere and leisurely take photos for two weeks, where would you go?
Oooh, the beach right by Sint Martaan Airport! Only, I would clear the beach for two weeks and it would just be me and my camera and some of my lovely friends, with lots of flowy dresses and wigs and airplanes landing directly over our heads. Have you ever seen footage of that beach? The planes fly so low I think you could stick out your tongue and lick those planes as they fly over. Dang, now that it’s in my head, I feel like I have to make that happen.
You seem to have a very creative bent. What else do you do besides take photos?
You know, I cannot state enough what discovering photography has done for my quality of life. I’ve always needed some form of creative outlet, and when I started taking pictures about four years ago I was between interests and very unhappy about it. I was definitely searching for something. I wrote poetry for a long time (about 15 years in fact), then grew bored with it and painted instead for a while. But I was horrible. Now, with a digital camera, there is literally not one reason for me to feel bored or unfulfilled anymore, ever. Perhaps the day will come when it no longer serves me, but I came to it late (I was 41 when I started) so maybe it will be my last creative love before I kick off. So far, any plateau I’ve reached has been easily overcome simply by looking around and discovering something else I’d like to photograph or try – be it a new subject, new lighting, or a new lens. It feels pretty limitless to me.
We’re huge fans of her work, and we definitely would recommend you follow her. She’s got some beautiful photos on Flickr, and she writes about photo shoots, airplanes, her massage therapist, and any other number of things on her blog. Her creative output runs the gamut from poetry to photography, and she even offers some of her work for sale on Getty Images. Marey Mercy, thank you for sharing all this wonderful stuff with us on our blog!