Vivienne McMaster is photographer and self-portrait artist based in Vancouver. She captures the power of raw emotion and real experience in all of her images, and leads others to discover this emotion and realness through her online workshops and in-person immersions. Her work has inspired many, and has encouraged me to consider turning the camera onto myself now and then. I am SO excited to share her words with you in this interview. The next round of You Are Your Own Muse begins on February 14th (not by chance), and there are a few spots still available! If you want more information about Vivienne, her blog, or with any other questions, don’t hesitate to contact her. She’s extra-friendly.
You are a self-confessed “late bloomer” to photography. How did you get your start and what initially drew you to self-portrait work (the topic of your 2 e-courses, Wading In and You Are Your Own Muse)?
It is true. I had little interest in photography before I neared the age of 30. I hear of so many people say that they picked up their first camera at age 5 and never turned back but that isn’t my case at all. I have been creative in some way for most of my life: art journaling, theatre, songwriting and singing but photography wasn’t even in my radar.
The truth of how I got started with photography is that I was really depressed. I was going through a major funk. It was much this quote:
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
— Lao Tzu
Sure, that quote sounds pretty good but in reality it was a pretty intense process. When I emerged from my 6 months of crying I felt like a totally blank canvas. I knew what I had let go of but I had no clue that I was anymore. I also didn’t want to be around anyone yet. It was around the time that cell phone cameras were starting to become common and I had one. I would go on walks alone just starting to notice the beauty around me. I soon moved to a point and shoot and then a big camera (and way too many other film & Polaroid cameras). It took my life by storm.
Self-portraiture came from this same place. At first to document my sadness and then it shifted as I was trying to figure out who I was again and to reclaim Joy. It began with taking photos of my feet, then to my face in the sun and then into putting the camera down and taking my photo in different contexts. It was really a documenting of my return to a place of happiness.
I’m someone who is interested in self-portrait work and deepening my photography. Can you tell me briefly the difference between your two courses and who might be drawn to each?
The way I approach teaching both courses is that they intertwine self-portraiture with finding or deepening our voices as photographers.
The main difference between the 2 courses is the depth to which they delve. Wading In: Dipping our Toes into Self-Portraiture stays in a really light, playful place but still invites participants to do some powerful exploration.
You are Your Own Muse is a bit more of a dive into self-portraiture. We dig deeper into the potential of self-portraiture for healing and for shifting our self-image to a positive place. So we look inward while we are also doing the outward work of taking self-portraits. It too is packed full of fun though!
In your experience, what is the most powerful aspect of self-portrait photography?
I think the most powerful thing about it for me, and I’ve heard this from my students too: is seeing ourselves. We all know how good it feels to make a friend or meet someone that we feel ‘sees us’ for who we really are. I have found that self-portraits can allow us to do that for ourselves. When we take photos that feel like our true selves shine through, photos in which we see ourselves as beautiful or in which we are capturing our truth (whether it be messy or shiny).
I also think that seeing ourselves as deeply and truly beautiful, in this present moment, is a revolutionary act!
You’re currently running a series on your blog, 14 Days of Self-Love. What inspired this series? Tell us about your favorite day (thus far).
The 14 Days of Self-Love project appeared as I chose my ‘word of the year’ to be Love. I wanted to create something that anyone could relate to whether they are in a relationship or not. Because the only constant in all of our lives is ourselves and why not treat that person as best as we can.
My favorite day so far is day 2, when I share ideas about writing our selves love notes. Some of them are kind of unconventional ideas and I had a lot of fun collecting these ideas. I hope there is a lot of love note writing out there this valentine’s day!
What keeps you doing the work of self-portraiture (and photography) with joy and gratitude?
Joy is integral in my relationship to photography, as my story of how I found photography explains. With each photo I take I feel like I am documenting my gratitude for this return to a place of happiness. As well, whether it is self-portraiture or photography in general, when we document the beauty around us we strengthen our ability to see the beauty within us. This is what keeps me doing this work.
As well, now that I’m teaching classes I’m seriously smitten each and every participant that takes my classes. Their ability to embrace bravery, joy, playfulness and to show up in this process is just stunning. They are my teachers too.
I feel like each time someone takes a self-portrait and proudly shares their unique self it has the potential to empower someone else to look more kindly at themselves. That is powerful!
If you could suggest one thing that women can do to move forward in their personal journey with integrity and wholeness, what would that be?
Don’t forget to be playful. When we keep joy, playfulness and an openness to adventure at the forefront they help us to move forward with wholeness, plus they are a great antidote to fear!