A year ago I went to the desert to participate in the retreat “Women, Moon cycles and Yoga. A Desert Retreat” organized by Ashley Szlachta, a wonderful multifaceted professional. She is yoga teacher, massage therapist and a freelance artist. A beautiful person:

I went to the retreat both as a photographer and as participant. It was a great experience for several reasons. Besides practicing yoga (which is always a good point for me), I learned about moon cycles, shared stories and feelings, did some art activities and got to meet a wonderful group of women. I took a lot of photos of the event. Here you have a selection of them:

As a photographer, I started my first project: “Women of many Facets”. My first intention was to take photos of the participants in the retreat to show how they express their emotions. At first it seemed to me very simple, but I have learned that it is in fact quite complex. Before the retreat I have been doing photo sessions and some events such as weddings. But on that weekend, I started a different thing. This was my first long term project and after a year of working on it I am happy to share with you today  “Women of many facets”.

The story

I recognize the importance of emotions in visual communication. To capture emotions to convey what I want to express is one of my goals. As in many other things in life, although you can read a lot about emotions (and there are some really good books out there),  theory can only take you so far, at some point you have to experience things first hand.

I had this undefined idea brewing in my mind for some time, to do some photo sessions related with emotions. However, in my every day routine, I needed to tend to my obligations which left me with very little time to develop my thoughts any further. Then Ashley´s workshop provided me what I needed: a weekend off in the middle of nowhere (desert) in a workshop that was created to be a safe place (judgment free area) and a group of women that were feeling free for creating, sharing and feeling. The perfect conditions for my project to take form.

Taking the photos

Armed with my camera and with the help of my friend Priscila, I set up a designated corner: I hung a black cloth on a wall to use as background, placed a chair and made a list of 16 emotions.

The girls were able to come to the corner during breaks to have their photos taken. The concept was simple: Priscila (and later on Shira, that also joined us) read out the list of emotions to the girls one by one and they needed to demonstrate the first facial expression that came to their mind. The list was read out fast, not allowing much time to think about it. The activity was fun. Although people were feeling awkward at first, thanks to the accepting environment, pretty soon everyone opened up and hesitation was replaced with laughter.

This project was inspired by Mike Larremore’s “Faceboard project”. I even contacted Larremore to tell him about our activity, he was happy to hear about the idea and curious about the results.

I tried to approach the project and the individual photos in the most naïve way, without presuming or judging anything.

The strength of your emotions

After the retreat, I started to classify, select and edit the images. I went through all the photos one by one. I decided to make the background even blacker so that anyone looking at the images will focus solely on the the girls and their expressions. Although I tried very hard to stay impartial, I found myself moved by the photos. These women made me smile with their happiness and empathize with their sadness. I felt their pride and I boiled with their anger. I experienced the strength and the power of your emotions and I want to thank you, “my models”, for that.

Here you have the Emotion Mosaics!! (Check the emotions board above to know the order the photos were placed in the mosaic)

Ashley

 Contessa

Danya

Deva

 Gemma

 Ilana

Inna

Nili

Priscila

Shira S.

 Shira T.

Stephanie

Tal

Tamara

Tressa

Zena

 Zohar

Things I learned

I don´t see emotions in the same way I used to before the project. I am really aware of the role emotions have in visual communication, not because I read it in a book, but because I felt it. I saw how important can emotions be in order to communicate and relate to others. I am still working on the images from the retreat; grouping them, comparing, and combining in different ways. I also started researching about emotions in reliable sources. Still at the beginning of my research, I already see that visual communication is a broad subject. I am happy I got into it and I want to share some of what I learned so far:

#Today there is a tendency to divide emotions into two categories; socially based (those are emotions we learn from our surroundings) and biologically based (these are innate emotions that we all share). In the 20th century, Paul Ekman claimed that there are six biological emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise), although recently, studies by Glasgow University claim that all human behaviors can be reduced to four: joy (Happiness), sadness, fear/surprise and anger/disgust.

#I saw that some expressions were easy to show (the basic ones especially), but others were a bit hard and it took the girls longer to show them. An specially confusing one was “Malicious”. Here you can see a photo of Tamara wondering what to do! 🙂

#Pride was fun because a lot of us do the same Che Guevara’s famous pose. Maybe it is for that reason that the photo is so powerful? Because we relate easily to it?

#Although we were working with universal expressions, there is some uniqueness in all of us. The example below is about “Relieve”. The expressions might look similar but they are not the same.

#Making the emotions sequence was a fun exercise. The fast pace of the photo shoot made it easy for the girls to focus on the emotions and forget about the camera. Now I use this trick in other photo sessions, to make people laugh and lose the camera shyness. In between the emotions I got some of my favorite photos of the girls:

#Another thing that I realized was about myself. I actually managed to do a photography project! True, it took me a whole year to build the emotional collages, but I did it! During this year I went through many things that required my attention and forced me to put this project aside; I relocated twice, I had to search for a new job (and I found one), moved back to my home country and that’s not even the half of it all. Despite all of that, I did not forego the project and now here it is!!! I am really happy about it!

I hope you enjoy this project as much as I did! Looking forward for the next one!! 🙂

Sarah