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!


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I’m not a person who makes New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not interested in creating a set of false hopes only to be dashed in days or weeks of broken self-resolve and lost plans and exasperated dreams. I never have been.

I am, however, into making declarations. These are always personal, and entirely based on things I can do and accomplish. I’m not usually one to share these declarations. But this year, based on my amazing experience in Mondo Beyondo last year, I am breaking through my own fear and self-doubt and sharing my goals and declarations for 2011 here, with all of you.

But first, an admission. My word for 2011? ADVENTURE.

My goals for 2011:

* A daily yoga and meditation practice.
* My own safe “home base” – a place I can find solitude, comfort, and safety.
* Self-sustaining employment {nourishes my soul, provides for my needs, is tied to and follows my passions}.
* LOVE. Self love. Partner love.
* Yoga conferences {San Francisco, Lake Geneva} and regular yoga classes {Perfect Knot, Mound Street}.
* Investigate a yoga teacher training that fits my needs and passion.
* Teach 2 in-person and 3 online workshops.
* At least 6 pieces of writing accepted for publication.
* At least 2 new individual writing clients {long-term projects and includes editing work}
* Having everything I need to soar at my writing workshop in Wellfleet with Marge Piercy.
* Spend a long weekend with my Canadian friends.
* Spend a week in England.
* Spend 10 days in Wellington.
* Spend 10 days in India/Nepal.
* Attend the European Summit for Global Transformation in Amsterdam.
* A high-quality DSLR and good lenses for documenting stories around the world.
* Photoshop and InDesign for my MacBook Pro.
* An external hard drive for music and photography.
* The ability to develop and scan my own black and white film negatives.
* A small side business selling body-care products.

My declarations for 2011:

* This year, I will have a DSLR I can travel with, shoot video with, adventure with, record stories with, and document my journey with.

* This year, I will USE the passport I possess to travel to Canada, New Zealand, Amsterdam, England, and Nepal. I will learn how to pack for a month of travel in only one bag. I will not be afraid of leaving the safety of what I know for an adventure into the unknown.

* This year, I will love myself above all else. I will respect my own boundaries and needs. I will only be open to romantic love when I am secure in the love I have for myself.

* This year, I will meet at least 6 virtual friends in real life. At least six, but hopefully many, many more.

* This year, I make my dream of nurturing and witness women to discover their true voices and write their true stories a reality, earning more than half of my income from this endeavor, and moving toward a full income from storytelling, story-coaching, and writing.

* This year, I practice yoga every day. I meditate daily. I eat well. I return to my japa practice.

* This year, I begin learning both French and Hindi. I practice my language skills regularly. I am a language-learning fiend.

* This year, I develop my eye as a photographer and find my way with both digital and film images. I develop my own negatives. I print my own black and white images. I create amazing, real images of women and girls from around the world.

* This year, I don’t run away from my destiny. I embrace it fully.

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This post is almost entirely for my pleasure.

Really. I don’t expect you to get much from it, except for an excellent picture of how one tiny thought may turn into an obsession.

This is my list of dream cameras:

* Diana F+ with (some) accessories: Well, come on. It’s the Diana. She’s like the lover I have sought my entire life. Small, light, and incredibly versatile, the Diana F+ is my dream, go-to film camera. And, given that I’ve been dreaming of having darkroom time and developing my own film (especially 120 medium format film), this seems like a perfect darling.

* Canon Rebel T1i: I have done research. I have read reviews. I have even played with the Rebel series at the local camera shop. Even though this one is discontinued now (due to the release of the T2i), this is DEFINITELY the DSLR for me. Also lightweight and easy to transport, paired with a 50mm 1.8 lens for portrait work and an adapter for using Diana lenses on a Canon body, this truly is the Dream of All Dream cameras for me.

* Lubitel 166: It’s funny. I’ve always been intrigued by TLR cameras, but I’ve never looked through the lens of one. In fact, I only just touched my first (an 80+ year old Rolleiflex) on Saturday. But I am SO hooked. There was something incredibly familiar about holding a TLR, about the thought of a waist viewfinder, of looking down and out into the world.

* Blackbird, Fly: Because 120 film is NOT always available, and I know that once I start shooting TLR, like all other cameras I have touched, I will want to shoot it often, I love this “plastic fantastic,” 35mm TLR. It’s lightweight, matches the Diana F+ color scheme, and has a tiny bird on the top. What’s not to love?

* Polaroid SX-70: I had a Polaroid growing up. It wasn’t a land camera, but that’s okay. I forgive it. This is the COOLEST Polaroid I have ever seen. In my LIFE. And, with the Impossible Project now producing film for the SX-70, I just need to win the eBay bidding war and get myself one.

And lastly, while not specifically a camera, I want a darkroom. In my basement. No, really. I want a darkroom. Magic happens in the darkroom. And, I would be cool. (At least, I would feel cool. And it would satisfy my inner control freak.)

There you have it. My full confessions to being a camera whore. I admit, I am so excited by the endless photographic possibilities of a few good bodies, it’s unbelievable. CAMERA bodies. Come on, I’m not THAT naughty.

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This week’s Monday Me post is a video for National Coming Out Day 2010. I hope it reaches you and someone you know and someone you don’t know who needs to hear these words. Please take some time of your own to come out as queer or a queer ally. The world needs more allies. Namaste.

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For this week’s Monday Me, I’m posting a list of things you may not already know about me. If you want to know more, check out my post today on the Freak Revolution, my entry for the World-Changing Writing Workshop, which I participated in earlier this summer!

1. I am trained as a poet and essayist. I love these genres, but I find myself fighting against my intuitive nature as a writer to listen to the voices of my past, the voices telling me I’ll never succeed as a writer.

2. Generally, I tell these voices to fuck off. Often out loud. Preferably not in public, though it does happen on occasion.

3. I feel a bit empty when I don’t have a camera near by. Like there’s a piece of me missing, something I’m forgetting and cannot quite remember.

4. For me, travel is not about escape, it is about expansion. It’s about expanding my mind, my spirit, my experiences. It’s about expanding my world. And I cannot WAIT to do more travel.

5. My cat is great, she’s a fantastic companion. But for me, nothing compares to the warmth and intimacy of snuggling in with another human. It nourishes my soul and feeds a hunger I didn’t know could exist.

6. I love being in women’s space. I love creating women’s space. I dream of hosting women’s writing retreats in the near future.

7. Every day I wake up longing for the Pacific Northwest, for the tiny island I lived on for 9 months. I make the wish, before I open my eyes, that there will be mountains outside my window. There never are, but I keep wishing.

8. I do not miss the lovers I have had who hurt me. This is new. Strange to say, considering how much physical and emotional harm they have caused. I missed them for years. Now, now I understand the toll that abuse can take on a person and I am grateful to be learning my own healthy boundaries.

9. I have been doing yoga since I was 13 years old. I started doing it because it was unlike anything I had tried. I continue doing it because it nourishes my cells. And because I like to be bendy. {Consider signing up for the next round of 30 Days of Yoga with Marianne Elliott — I’m doing it this month and am SO excited!}

10. My favorite color is purple. In the whole world, my favorite is purple. I’m not difficult to please in this way. But it’s important to know: If I’m not wearing at least one thing purple, something may be wrong.

11. I believe fully in the power of dreams. I believe that anything we imagine is possible with effort, determination, and the help of the Divine. I believe that our words and actions hold power, and our thoughts may hold even more power. I believe that you MUST believe a thing is possible for it to occur; the slightest hint of doubt will turn the whole thing sour.

12. I believe in love. I believe that love will heal us, love will sustain us, love feeds our being. Love is what makes the whole adventure worth having. And I will never, ever shy away from love.

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So, this is the vlog I made last week for Monday Me. It took ages for it to compress, and then to upload. I think it’s been in the queue on Vimeo for three days or more. Anyone have suggestions on a cost-free alternative?

This week’s Monday Me will be posted on Monday, as planned.

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I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect when I turned over this roll of black and white film for processing. But with a little love and some digitization, these photos blow my mind. I actually can’t believe I took them. Here are a few for your enjoyment, and check out the entire set here.

Raging Grannies, March for Marriage Equality

We Rally Together, March for Marriage Equality

Ladies Liberty & Justice, March for Marriage Equality

Bleeding Heart, my front yard

Lilac, my back yard

Welsh Onion, my back yard

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