“I Could Kill For a Hug Some Days. And Would Die For a Kiss”: The Self Portraits of Meredith Farmer

March 6th, 2007 by Tim Barkow

* Slideshow includes 4:30 min. interview with Meredith Farmer (edited for time)
Take one self-portrait each day for a year. That’s the simple conceit behind Flickr’s 365 Days Project. More than 3,000 people have taken the self-portrait challenge, including Meredith Farmer, 26-year-old photographer who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, and now lives in Portland, Oregon, where by day she’s an inventory specialist for the downtown REI. Since joining the Flickr group, Farmer says she spends most of her daily photo time working on that one shot. “My portraits usually rely very heavily on how I am feeling that day,” she says. “It’s really all-consuming.”The thirty shots in this photo essay are her favorite self-portraits, some from the 365 pool, some not. “I shoot many images in my attempt to get the ‘right’ photo of the day, and often I end up liking an outtake or 365 reject better than the photo that I chose for the day. Sometimes the photos you don’t like as much as first grow on you.”What makes a good image to you?
Emotion is the main subject of most of my images. Though my aim is to produce a technically correct and aesthetically pleasing photograph, my ultimate goal is always to evoke feeling, whether it is sorrow, happiness, anger, love, or desire. I use my photos as catharsis–all are produced in direct response to some internal voice that needs to be heard. So, if a photograph assists me in understanding and overcoming problems, I define that image as good.

Who first inspired you to take pictures?
I can’t really say that I have a specific individual who inspired me. I only began taking photos in September 2006. Well, actually, I was using my crappy point-and-shoot film camera to take some outdoor pictures during the summer of ’06 (you can see them at the beginning of my Flickr stream) but I really got into it when my dad came to visit at the end of August. He saw some of my photos and bought me the most fantastic gift that I have ever received: my Canon S3-IS. Though some may regard it as another “crappy point-and-shoot,” I love it.

The self-portraits began when I joined the 365 days pool. But, if there’s anyone who inspired me, it was my father for encouraging my hobby and helping me believe that I could be good at something creative.

What’s the most important quality of a photo for you?
Evocation. Out of all of the aspects (lighting, composition, setting, etc.) the feelings behind the image are the most important. This more emotional approach is probably a result of my lack of technical training and studio. Without all worry regarding the actual “correctness” of the photo, I can shoot from a more intuitive place.

What do you consider off-limits?
I’d say images without feelings, then, would be a place I will not go. For example: in 365 days, we have to take one self-portrait per day for one year. Some members of the pool simply take the same “camera at arm’s length” photo day in and day out. I could not and will not do that. To me, the more socially or politically incorrect images often evoke the most feeling. So my definition of off-limits will probably differ widely from most.

What’s the fish that got away–the photo you saw but didn’t have a camera for?
I have not been photographing for too long, and I always have my camera with me. Of course, there’s always the gorgeous sunrise that got away. I remember one morning I was riding my bicycle across the bridge on the way to work, and there was the most amazing mist over the Willamette River. I almost stopped, but was so worried about being late that I told myself that surely it would be foggy another morning. I still regret not stopping.

More frequently, however, I am limited by the capabilities of my camera. Some images that I dream up will never come to fruition because they are more conceptual and fluid, and cannot be captured in one still frame.

From whom, what, or where do you derive inspiration?
Many of my captions contain lyrics to songs, as well. In a perfect world, each one of my photos would be viewed with the accompanying lyrics. Elliott Smith is a huge inspiration. Well, his music, at least. His songs are so rich and emotional—I empathize with many of his feelings of worthlessness, depression, and isolation and often keep his lyrics in mind when composing my images.

My depression is also another “inspiration,” if you can call it that. I can easily pinpoint the negative emotions and find it extremely therapeutic to express them through my photos. I hope that others find solace in the fact that they are not alone in their pain, and that it is not to be taken lightly or pushed under the rug.

What’s the picture you’d most like to take?
There are so many. Most days I think of three or four photos that never come to fruition. I love clone shots. Not getting too specific here, but I’d love to get even more conceptual with my images—surrealism is a subject that I find both daunting and fascinating.

Where are you happiest taking photographs?
My home. There I am not worried about strangers wondering what I am doing. I am not self-conscious. I can focus entirely on the subject at hand, which is usually myself. One of my goals is to become more comfortable taking public photos—for now I prefer to have an escort. When I’m with someone else, I feel almost validated, you know? But I’m working on it.

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