We are pleased to introduce you to Maayan Windmuller, the winner of our White on White / Black on Black challenge and feature of our current artist spotlight.
Maayan is an engineer and passionate photographer and family man from Germany. We are delighted that he was willing to answer some questions about his self portraiture and photography journey so far, as well as some tips and information, and hope you enjoy reading along with us.
How did you come up with the concept for your winning shot?
I knew I wanted to create a photo with both “colours” in it, not just white on white or black on black. My first idea was to shoot a portrait facing the camera, with my face painted half white and half black, a bit like the photo I currently use as profile picture, but with the background split in two too.
But it seemed to lack something… I wanted to evoke emotion, to draw the viewer in. So after a few iterations I had the idea of building on the theme of “good vs. evil”, “light vs. shadow”, while at the same time keeping it simple. I like to dress up and using props in my shots, so the idea evolved from the painted face to the matching suit/shirt and hat. I had just bought a top hat for a composite I created for the Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt on G+, so the logical consequence was to buy a white hat in addition.
Tell us how you put it all together – it looks quite involved.
My wife was kind enough to help me with the makeup. She painted only the white half at first and I took a few shots with various expressions and angles in front of a white background. I like to create as much as possible in front of the camera, so I used a white contact I bought for another Scavenger Hunt shot a while ago. Then she painted the black side and I shot the second series in front of a black background.
I then went through the dozens of shots, first narrowing down each colour on its own, then looking for two expressions that matched. I smiled on a few “white” photos (you know, the good side), but liked the combination best that ended up in the final image. I edited both images in Lightroom and exported them to Photoshop to create the transition between white and black background. I tried several effects and ended up with this dispersion look, with the shape hinting at the Yin and Yang symbol.
What type of lighting did you use to shoot the white on white and black on black photography in your self portrait?
I used a single off camera flash at roughly 45 degrees in front of my face. I used the same camera settings for both series (1/250s, f/8 and ISO 200), but increased the power of the flash for the “white” shots to brighten up the background.
What was your first self portrait, and how did it come about?
If I remember well, the first self portrait I created was for my very first Scavenger Hunt back in 2014. The word was “square” and I had the idea to portrait Albert Einstein working on his famous formula, only that he didn’t seem to get it quite right…
What is your inspiration for your self portrait photography?
Most of my self portraits were created for the Scavenger Hunt, which led to my participation in the Art of Self Portrait community. To me, it is a playing field where I can be whoever I want to be, let my imagination run wild, dress up, or simply be my true self.
What do you find to be your biggest challenge when creating a self portrait?
Coming up with the concept is the hardest part. Between work, the kids and everything else, I find it difficult to empty my mind and let creativity take over. Music helps, right now I am listening to “Big Calm” from Morcheeba. After that, going past the technical stuff and creating a photo that is compelling and tells a story can also be a big challenge at times!
In one word, what does self portrait mean to you?
What is your opinion on people suggesting narcissism is part of self portraiture?
Self portraiture as an art form (as opposed to selfies as a narcissistic self display) requires a willingness to take a good (and honest) look at yourself, discover hidden properties including one’s flaws and learn to live with them or ideally accept them. It requires to dive deep into the dark areas of your self and so is exactly the opposite of narcissism, which only aims at presenting the shiny surface.
Have you made any discoveries about yourself through self portraiture? If so, what are they?
I would say that I got to self portraiture because I have reached a certain maturity, which enables me to reflect on myself (not to be confused with age). In turn, creating self portraits has shown me that I am stronger than I usually tend to admit and given me more self confidence.
Do you mainly create self portraits? What other types of photos do you enjoy creating?
The conceptual photos I create are indeed mainly self portraits, but I also enjoy telling a story by capturing moments of life – mostly mine and that of my family, but when I have the opportunity also the life of others. Here, I often follow the principle of “less is more” and try to convey the story by showing only part of the scene, so that the viewer can fill in the rest. I am often drawn to shapes, patterns and light and shadow, which probably explains why a lot of my photos are in black and white…
Not including your winning image here, which of your works is your favorite, and why?
My mother and my elder son baking Christmas cookies. As of today, this photo is my absolute favourite! You only see their hands and a rolling pin, but your mind immediately fills in the rest. I call it “generations baking.”
My son sulking after my wife reprimanded him for biting into a ball. My younger son has such a variety of expressions and I love capturing them. I call it “Le Monsieur” because I took it during our holidays in France and, well, he looks so pretentious.
The girl on the plane. I don’t have a lot of opportunities to shoot street portraits, and when I do, I often shy away from getting too close. This was my first ever “street” portrait (even though it was taken in a plane) and it still is one of my favourites. The light falling on her face, her eyes gazing into the void, her dreamy look…
My favourite self portrait is probably me swimming in popcorn. I took it for the Scavenger Hunt, the word was (surprise…!) “popcorn”. I tried to come up with something out of the box. In that round, several scavengers were offering mentorships and Derek Kind helped me to perfect the shot. It was awarded a first place by Stefan Riss, which meant a lot for me!
Right behind it is another scavenger hunt entry, this time for the word „Wind“: My interpretation of the „Wind Goddess“
What is your typical workflow from idea to execution?
Most of the time I need a theme or subject to start with (like the AoSP challenges or the Scavenger Hunt). I do an initial brainstorming and then leave it alone for several days or weeks (depending on the deadline). From time to time, a new idea or a refinement of an existing one will float to the surface until I have the basic concept. Then I will go through my prop cabinet and complete it if necessary (a part I love).
Usually I shoot my self portraits when the kids are in bed, which means that I have to use artificial lighting – speedlights for the most part. As I don’t have a permanent studio, I’ll set up everything in the attic, living room or basement (depending on the topic, how much space I need and my wife’s tolerance limit) and take the shots. Quite often, I develop new ideas during the shoot itself, which sometimes changes the complete concept. I love this creative part of the process!
If it is a composite, I will then look through my photos for a matching background, or take a new one if needed and then put it together in Photoshop (which is another challenge I am trying to get better at).
Who has influenced your work?
I love the books of David DuChemin and enjoy watching his “vision is better” podcast. Ted Forbes’ “Art of Photography” channel, especially his artist series and the interviews, are very educating too.
What advice do you want to give someone who would like to try out artistic self portraiture, but doesn’t know where to start?
Nike said it best: “just do it!”. Don’t give it too much thought, don’t get too technical. You don’t need any fancy equipment or be a Photoshop crack, just set up your camera on a tripod (a table or cupboard works just as well!), set the timer and take a few shots. After all, you are the only one who will see them, unless you decide to share them with the world. If you get your first reluctance and still want to do it, the rest will follow.
Any tips or techniques about self portraiture or photography in general that you would be willing to share with our community and followers?
I am a big fan of “less is more” – a concept that can be applied to all areas of life, but is one of my leitmotifs in my photography.
Inspiring words from a creative talent! <3
If you’d like to connect with Maayan and follow his continued journey in art, use the links below:
Have questions for Maayan? Feel free to ask!