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Miss Aniela: “Give yourself time to figure out your style and your message”

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Miss Aniela started taking photographs as a hobby when she was still a student. Her passion and continuous work has led her to this very successful point in contemporary photography.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am a fine-art photographer residing in Sussex in the South the UK. I live with my partner Matthew, with whom I work on our photography business, our daughter Lilith and two cats. 

You began studying something different and then you found photography. How did this happen?
I had always been interested in photography since picking up a digital camera in Sixth Form College. I rediscovered it during a practical media session at University and then used my spare time to cultivate a collection of self-portraits. 

Why did you choose photography instead of anything else?
Photography became a channel for my creativity because it offered the reality of the captured image, and the immediacy and intrigue of post-production. Lacking patience and skill to paint or draw, it was an efficient way to manifest an artistic image. I have continued to use photography as that channel ever since, more so than for example writing, because I like that an image paints a thousand words. 

“Miss Aniela” consisted of you, Natalie Dybisz, but in the last years this name represents a duo, if I am not mistaken. Could you tell us more about it?
My partner Matthew began my helping me take self-portraits but quickly became more and more involved artistically. I joke that he can’t keep quiet and has always “interfered”. His interference went further in a big way in our photography duo and now plays mostly the producer role, plan the vast scale of our productions and generating lots of energy in forward thinking. Generally he is more technical, and I creative, but there are also overlaps. He is excellent at thinking of ideas on the spot for ad campaigns, for example, whilst I might be hazy and indecisive at moments. I take care mostly of the overall final “soul” of the creation of each piece. 

Could you share with us some information concerning the various projects you have completed? (surreal fashion, commercials, fine art, etc)
I can categorize my career into the following: “Self-Gazing”, which encompasses all my self-portraits from 2006 to 2011. This includes “Multiplicity” (my cloned self portraits that first got me noticed), “Tricks” (including levitation images like ‘The Smothering’ which became widely circulated), “Abandoned” in which we explored many derelict locations to further shoot images of myself including nudes, and then “Ecology”, which was a kind of in-between series stemming from “Abandoned” which went more into a topical, environmental satire but still retaining beauty of classical nudes. I call all of these “Phase 1” of my career. The highlights included having two commercial books published worldwide, being featured in art fairs and exhibitions in UK, Europe, North and South America, and media worldwide including Digital Photo Pro, La Repubblica, El Pais, The Metro, The Sun, NY Arts, BBC and more! “Phase 2” came when I began “Surreal Fashion” in 2011, overlapping for a while with the self-portraiture I was still creating, but eventually taking over into the single focus of my work. “Surreal Fashion” was no longer about myself in the picture, but picturing the fashion model, beautifully adorned in an image with the addition of surreal elements such as parts of paintings, stock photos and museum objects. Some of the most popular pieces include “Away with the Canaries”, “High and Hungry” and “White Witch Awakening”, a “Surreal Fashion” piece which was originally commissioned for a Nikon ad campaign. I shot many of the images on our Fashion Shoot Experience events in UK, US, France, Iceland and so on. Highlights have included being exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery, in a special exhibition at Waldermarsudde Museum in Sweden, and in shows in Bulgaria, London and now several pieces have been bought for the Crillon in Paris. The series has been featured by Yahoo, Elle Thailand, Normal Magazine, Vogue Italia, Plastik Magazine. And as for “Phase 3” of my career? I can never quite know exactly when a new phase will land, though it’s roughly every 6-7 years! “Surreal Fashion” has not yet finished, but for sure this year, the next phase has arrived.

How would you describe your personal style and how did you find it?
The way to find your style is simply to keep creating. You cannot sit down and figure out your style by looking at lots of things you like, nor must you set out to simply imitate something you’ve seen. You must take all those things you like and mix them into something new, like baking a cake. And the more you actually get into the “kitchen” to cook for real, only then will you see the style of how your cakes turn out. In my case, I have found that my style has a particular bold look, a lot of colour, limbs in the frame, I prefer richness over subtlety, and most always something slightly or overtly surreal. I love aesthetics almost to the point of excess. I have always been slightly ashamed of that perhaps. Until now. 

What are your artistic influences? Do you have any photographers whose work you admire?
I take much inspiration from outside the realm of photography: from paintings, cinema, children’s books, literature, my own interests. Within photography, I like the work of photographers like Gregory Crewdson, Mert and Marcus and most definitely Tim Walker ˗̵̵̶ whose breadth of work is unmatched ˗̵̵̶ and fused fine-art with fashion, which is very rare and hard to achieve. I also enjoy and appreciate photographers from other genres of photography whose work is very different from mine, such as Martin Parr. 

Where do you draw your inspiration from?
From all of the influences I mentioned, but interweaving those inspirations with bits of everything else. In my new work going forward, I am bringing in my deep intellectual interest in childbirth into my work, and fusing style with substance in a way I have never done till now. My work has always favoured style over substance, but the dream is to employ both satisfactorily, in the work I am doing now. 

Could you describe to us your whole creative process from coming up with an idea to realizing it?
I start with a hinge. It could be a location I want to shoot in and I’m drawn to for some reason (this happens a lot, for locations are my main inspiration). I will then cast the models, decide what model and styling I need, hair, makeup and props. Or sometimes, I start with a model who has an amazing ability I want to make use of. Other times I have a concept that I need to play out, and hunt down the necessary ingredients. I always start with one spark that compels me. It needs to excite me enough to get me out of bed. Even better, it should make me jump out. 

How did you learn photography techniques and editing?
I am self-taught, everything comes from finding my own way, watching some tutorials along the way, figuring it out. Back in 2007 Matthew, my partner, first taught me how to use the camera settings properly! 

Do you have any editing techniques you use mostly?
I like to do as much as I can with the lighting of the image and the raw stage of editing. I use fairly simple tools in Photoshop, even for intricate composites. It’s more a case of putting the right images together, taking care to cut and blend properly, and using judgment to see when something looks wrong. 

In your books (creative portrait photography and self-portrait photography) you suggest ways in order to evolve in these areas. Could you give us some tips?
Try as much as you can and don’t stay stuck in books or tutorials. Fuse inspirations, don’t just imitate a work of someone else. Go inside your head and ask what is important to you. Spend money on your own work, invest in it. Have another job if you need to. Give yourself time to figure out your style and your message. Much of the time I “feel” rather than “know” my way. For example, with my new series I knew for a while there was something in my heart that I wanted to express. I was seeing little things here and there that triggered desire, and they collected like scraps of paper in my mind. I did not push it, just waited, till this year it rose out of me almost overnight. 

Could you describe us what the Fashion Shoot Experience is about?
Back in 2010 we created an event, the Fashion Shoot Experience, that would be a bit more exciting and dynamic than a standard workshop, and allow amateurs and semi-pros to create more content for their portfolios. We lay everything on: models, hair, makeup, costume and location. It is like one big party or family! This year we are joined by 11 other photographers in Tuscany, Italy for partly nude and partly styled production with six models. It is exciting because we get to create our own images without trampling over each other as much in the conventional “paparazzi” style workshop. We have been to New York, LA, Iceland, France, the Canary Islands. We don’t have the time to do many events now, but we try to do at least one a year. 

What is your relationship with the social media?
I have always had a slightly confused relationship with social media. People may think I am very popular online since I launched my career through Flickr, but I don’t feel that popular! It is hard these days to know how to engage with my audience correctly. The heyday of Facebook appears to be ending, or at least, many people like myself find it hard to reach the audience we built. Instagram is the platform-du-jour, and I enjoy it most of all at the moment as I share both personal and professional life, and can connect with lots of people not just photographers but agencies, directors and all kinds of creatives. I think it is important to keep as much a healthy distance as an attachment to social media, and certainly keep in control of the direction of your work, not being guided by what you think your followers want. 

I have seen you have shared some really hard and intimate moments of yours. Do you use it as a means of expanding your self-expression? Being in contact with your followers has been helpful and if so, in what ways?
Again, this is a paradox for me. I love sharing, but I also hate sharing. It’s all about balance I guess. Part of me wants to be private, part of me wants to share my story and energy with the world to help or inspire others with their own chosen life direction. I have shared my story of the death of my first child and I really like that I stand tall with this story in order to help others with their different stories of pain. But I don’t like to have to check in with my followers every day. I haven’t got the commitment for that, I will disappear for a while and then come back. Especially now as a mother. 

What is your dream as an artist?
My dream is to do what I am doing now: create this series of new images that I hope will blow people away. Maybe I will also blow my remaining followers away! Ha ha ha. 

What are you working on right now?
This year I am working on a body of work that is quite different from anything I’ve done before. In fact, it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before in the world. It is a series which combines beauty and surrealism with something extremely raw ˗̵̵̶ and even controversial. I am tired of seeing women of the same kind of beauty, tall, young, thin, submissive, and so on. I am tired of the cliché of women “playing dead” in images, abstractified into anonymity, of being pictured erotically nude with big pert breasts and slim waists for a very particularly conventional male gaze. I want to see women’s power, for real, a raw natural power that can be threatening, sexual in her own right, and which acknowledges the yin and yang of the pain and pleasure of the human disposition. It is a series about childbirth. I want to see women take back what is theirs. I want to see flesh, roars, blood, cords, beautiful bloody babies held straight away in the mother’s arms! And for those people who find such a sight shocking, they will need to readdress their own insecurities, for I cannot think of what is more beautiful and powerful! The series will take a year or more to produce, bringing to life very specific premeditated visions in vivid technicolour but brought with the intellectual side of me that I’ve never brought into my work before. You will meet, perhaps, the “real me”. 

And how can people follow your work? How can someone purchase your art?
Instagram www.instagram.com
Missaniela Prints on Saatchi www.saatchiart.com
Email direct: contact@missaniela.com 

Interviewer: Georgia Kikou

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