I HYPE: Photographer Heather Noelle
By: Stephanie Leke
If you saw Heather Noelle on the street, a few words would probably come to mind. Young, stylish, and confident with an artistic air about her that provokes the question, what does she do?
Although a recent grad, she already has years behind her as an aspiring photographer. Combining her passion for psychology with her knack for creating captivating images from both behind and in front of the lens, Heather Noelle is surpassing many of her peers with a style unlike many her age. Her series of self-portraits are like no other, displaying bold, striking images that are both provocative and meaningful.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Heather (who also happens to be one of my best friends) about her photography.
Stephanie: First off, what led to your interest in photography and your decision to pursue it as a career?
Heather: The moment I knew I had a love affair with the camera was while watching the documentary “The Impassioned Eye” concerning the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. Ever since watching that documentary, the phrase “A velvet hand, a hawk’s eye; These we should all have” has never left my mind while using a camera. Watching Bresson’s kind and hawk-like eyes glance over his collection of photographs and recalling the memories he has collected with each snap of the shutter I realized how important and meaningful photography can be to someone’s life. After realizing this, I took every photography class available to me in order to educate myself enough to eventually pursue a career in educating others about photography. Hopefully someday I can be successful in this.
S: What or whom are some of the biggest influencers in you work?
H: Besides Bresson, some of my biggest influences currently are Alejandro Jodorowsky, Sally Mann and Richard Avedon. I find a lot of inspiration from the mystical psychedelia of the 1960s as seen in Jodorowsky and Avedon’s work and the strange and grotesque figure as seen in Mann’s series on death.
S: Where does a lot of your inspiration come from when developing your concepts?
H: Conceptually it varies depending on the project I’m working on. Sometimes I draw from past experiences where as other times I try to portray different psychological concepts that I’ve learned about. Sometimes the ideas seem to come out of nowhere and have to do with transforming someone’s body image for the sake of art. I like the idea of transformations in photography. When I take portraits of an individual I am not trying to capture the essence of that person but rather trying to create a work of art and express myself by painting them, dressing them, posing them, coaching them etc; keeping my hand in the process.
S: You have a vast collection of self-portraits. Where do your ideas for them stem from?
H: Most of my self-portraits stem from personal feelings, reflections and commentary that I wish to convey to others when it is impossible to explain them otherwise. I feel as though self-portraits are important for every photographer to take since it is a permanent reflection on someone’s temporariness. Everyone only gets one body and I like the idea of capturing it and preserving it in the form of a photograph that will last longer than the subject. Everyone wants to be remembered.
S: There is a certain level of convenience in taking self-portraits, one major one being the ease in creating the desired end result without worrying about having to mold a model to do so. That being said, would you say that you prefer the ease of shooting yourself or do you enjoy working with models more?
H: I enjoy taking self-portraits more so than using a model. Maybe this is because the models I’ve worked with haven’t had much experience in modeling and were difficult to work with. However, I feel as though when using myself I can easily convey the emotion that I want the viewer to see. In taking self-portraits it is not a vain act, rather it’s using your personal body and face as a way to express yourself. I think a lot speaks through an image about the photographer whether the picture is of them or of somebody else. I think there’s more a sense of vulnerability when the photographer turns the camera around on themselves and this captured vulnerability can be quite captivating.
S: You currently shoot predominantly digitally but also use film a lot as well. There are a number of photographers out there who have made successful careers sticking to traditional photographic methods. For example, Paolo Roversi is known for using Polaroid film to create the dreamlike or ghostly quality to his work. What is your take on the debate over digital versus film?
H: This is a debate that I feel very conflicted about. Actually, the majority of what I consider my work is done in a dark room using medium and large format film. Yes, I shoot mostly digital for fun and for the majority of my portraiture lately but this is due to lack of funds. If I had all of the money in the world I would predominantly use film. The convenience of digital is taking over, especially with the state of the economy, it’s easier to take 100 pictures for free and upload them to a computer than to spend $200 on 100 pieces of sheet film and hundreds of dollars on fiber paper, photo chemicals, lab fees etc. I love analog cameras much more than digital and there’s a certain ethereal quality to dark room black and white fiber based prints that you just can’t get with digital black and white. This is why I’m conflicted, there’s the convenience and cost effective digital photography versus the classic but time consuming and expensive film photography. From an artistic standpoint I vote film all the way, from a poor college student standpoint I vote digital.
S: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
H: I would collaborate with Alejandro Jodorowsky. Jodorowsky’s films are brilliantly absurd where almost every frame could be a photograph. His work with The Holy Mountain and El Topo has given me inspiration for some projects over the years. I would love to work on a film with him or pick his brain for artistic purposes. As far as models go I would love to work with Sasha Pivovarova, her facial structure would be perfect for some of the ideas I currently have brewing.
S: What can we expect from you in the future as your work evolves?
H: In the future you can expect a lot of work with emulsion lifts, cyanotype and van dyke printing and more dark room printing, bleaching and collage work (hopefully).
S: As young and hyp individuals, we have the ability to influence so many people in many different capacities. That being said, what type of legacy do you hope to leave through your work?
H: In a time of recession and a movement towards the convenience of digital photography I hope to leave behind my love and appreciation for darkroom printing and film photography. I hope to influence others to pick up analog cameras, buy film and experiment with different methods in the darkroom to create their own unique style. It seems ambitious, but personally I would like to be remembered for my bleaching/collaging black and white fiber based prints technique that can be seen in a lot of my work.
To see more of her work, be sure to visit her HERE.