In this new era that we are in where the young generation is becoming reliant on technology like never before, the aesthetic of the self-portrait is changing. Now, it’s been named a “selfie” pertaining to the connection with a mobile phone and front camera. The age of the self portrait is still not lost to some of the millennial generation.
Enter Milly Cope and her series exploring herself through film photography. I had to get her insight into her journey of self expression through an analog process.
Where are you based, age?
Hello ! I am Milly, I am seventeen and I am from Oxfordshire, England.
How did you discover photography?
I wouldn’t say my discovery to photography was something sudden. There was no moment where I just suddenly picked up an old family camera and found a passion for taking photos. It was very gradual process. I wish I had an interesting story to how I discovered photography. My earliest memory to do with photography was a school trip to the English town of Bath when I was around the age of 9; I had a disposable with me – the photos were terrible – I think I might see if I can find them at some point. I remember getting my first little digital compact camera for Christmas one year (I think I have must have been 13 or something).. I used that camera to take photos when I went into town with friends, I would annoy people and take photos constantly. I think I went though quite a few compact cameras – they would always break. When I was younger I was obsessed with horses and I used to make these terrible videos of me and my friends horse riding – this is what introduced me to using cameras and experimenting with documentation. Even though the videos were horrifically embarrassing I feel that they lead me onto discovering photography. But only recently have I really started to establish a passion. I got my first SLR in 2013 – this is the same digital camera I still use now – it took me a good year of messing around with the camera before I created anything that looked half decent. I created Flickr account in July 2013 and this led to me becoming much more aware of the freedom of art forms and in particular how emotionally expressive photography could be. On February the first 2014 I took my first ever set of self portraits. I feel that if I have to pick a significant point in which I discovered photography – I feel that that would be it. I guess you could say that my discovery for self portraiture was also my discovery of photography.
In this age of more public self acceptance, what do you think this culture brings to young girls?
I really think self acceptance is so important and should have even more emphasis than it does currently. I think it is something that is important to everyone, not just those that identify as a girl. But when discussing girlhood in particular I think that this culture brings great comfort. It tells young girls that they should be happy with themselves, they should love their bodies and they should love themselves. This is something naturally difficult for young girls to do when they grow up in such a misogynistic and patriarchal society. Young girls grow up observing the way women’s bodies are constantly ridiculed. They will walk down the magazine isles at the supermarket and see how women’s magazines are covered with themes such as: ‘weight loss’, ‘how to please a man’ and ‘looking good’, They will observe how women’s hypersexualised bodies are used to sell anything from men’s deodorant to yoghurt. They will watch how women in the film industry are almost invisible and how men are almost always the protagonist. Young girls will be damaged by the fact that only representation of women they get to see are are white, conventionally attractive, slim and heterosexual. Quite simply, young girls are being brought up in a society which teaches them to constantly ridicule themselves. There is so much pressure on young people and I feel that it should become normality for parents/carers/guardians to make sure they tell their daughter that they are perfect and self love is something they should participate in. However, society is not just having a negative impact. There is also the steady emergence of positive culture (aka the feminist movement) – I am thankful for this and we need more of it. Young girls need to be a part of a culture and a society which teaches them that they should love who they are regardless to the influences around them.
What inspires you when taking self portraits?
So much inspires me. But surprisingly, other peoples photographs and art are not often a source of inspiration for me. Of course, I hugely appreciate other people’s work and I admire it greatly but not often do I take inspiration from it. The kind of thing that inspires me are things like the beauty of natural lighting, places, incredible pieces of clothing, personal experiences and colours. I find vintage shopping a really inspiring experience. I am constantly thinking of the endless possibilities of photographs, clothing is a key part of this. Places and scenery are also important and even though I have only once had the courage to shoot in an outside space where I could (and did) come in contact with other people. I find taking self portraits an incredibly personal experience and the thought of coming across other people who would see what I was doing could possibly be quite off putting and distracting for me. But regardless to this I endlessly find myself wanting to shoot outside in interesting places. Watching other people is also another source of inspiration, sometimes something as particular as the way in which people naturally place their bodies in a space massively inspires me. Today I was inspired by the weather. This led me to take myself out into my garden (with my tripod and my film camera and my digital camera round my neck) to take some self portraits in the occasionally violent wind – It was difficult because the weather and the lighting would dramatically change; it was one of those days where it is really bright and sunny one second and the next it is a dull sullen grey as the sun disappears behind a cloud. Practically this made things extremely difficult for me. But the way the wind carried so much power was very artistically enlightening.
Have you discovered new area of yourself through these self portraits?
Naturally I feel that I am endlessly discovering more about myself. Sometimes I am unable to exactly or precisely describe what the discovery is but I feel that I have grown up a lot since I started taking self portraits. I find that I have found a new way to be openly expressive but in a way which I feel completely comfortable with. Self portraiture is a way of capturing myself as I want to be captured. I don’t have to be anyone I don’t want to be, I have the freedom and control to present myself. I have found a way which allows me to silently be confident. Often I find it difficult to speak in front of larger groups of people, I mess up my words and I get extremely nervous. Self portraiture, photography and art is my way of speaking to large amounts of people without having to undergo the stress of physically speaking. I can present myself, even if what I am presenting about myself is very vague and ambiguous. I feel that I am capturing a fragment of myself to an audience. Through this process I have discovered that I have passion for photography and that discovery itself feels like more than enough to me.
Your decision to shoot your portraits in film is interesting, is there any particular reason?
I started off only taking self portraits with my digital camera, I feel that this helped me a lot when I discovered film photography. But I actively choose to shoot a lot in film now as I have acquired a film camera which has a 10 second timer. My first film camera (my uncles old Olympus trip 35) didn’t have the wonders of a timer, but I still wanted to take self portraits – so I would hold the camera out with my arm (how you take selfies with a phone that doesn’t have a front facing camera) and blindly try my best to frame my face in the shot. The results were occasionally surprising and I really enjoyed using film to capture myself in a moment. This enjoyment continued and grew when I got my second film camera – this time I could work more similarly to the way I used digital except it was more natural than digitally produced images. The moment couldn’t be deleted, unlike the way it could when using digital. I also couldn’t look back on previous images and then attempt to perfect the next one I took. With film it feels so real. For me, it feels much more truthful. It feels like I am confessing something when using film. Its less about achieving perfection and more about capturing emotion. I can’t hide from the moment and then the moment cannot be taken back – this idea of permanence, fixture and realism massively appeals to me. When using film I naturally feel myself caring less about my appearance. With digital I can see myself in the screen whilst I am taking an image and therefore there is the emphasis on how I look – whereas with film I have no idea how I look whilst I am taking an image – I like this. It allows me to experiment with elements such a light and colour in a way I don’t with digitally taken images. I like the realism and the act of capturing something entirely momentarily.
See more of Milly’s work: Flickr | Tumblr | Instagram