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This Australian photographer took a self-portrait every day during lockdown

PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEPH COMFORT

How one photographer’s daily project helped her maintain routine and creativity.

Like many of us, Melbourne-based photographer Steph Comfort realised that lockdown was the ideal time to start a personal project. Naturally, being a photographer, she decided to set herself a 30-day challenge to take self-portraits each day in the morning light.

It was her way of adapting to a new normal, as well as implementing a routine and motivating herself to be creative every day. We spoke to Steph about what the project taught her and whether or not she can now call herself a certified morning person.

Hi Steph! You’re a Melbourne photographer. Can you tell us a little more about yourself? 

Hello there! I’ve loved taking portraits since I was in high school, and at the moment I do some freelance work alongside too many passion projects. Five years ago I flew the nest from Canberra and went to film school in Melbourne, which then led to my current job as a full-time video editor.

I have a soft spot for dancers in films, and Anima by Paul Thomas Anderson is the film I wish I made. I also love free food, Friday nights in, and I own a black cat that looks like Toothless the dragon [from How to Train Your Dragon]. 

We love the project. Can you tell us a bit about it?

The Morning Shoot Project is a 30-day portrait challenge. I’m so lucky my apartment is filled with glorious morning light, so the goal is to use this light and create a new portrait every day. There are no other rules; it can be taken on your phone, through video chat, self-timer or even be a portrait of your pet. A couple of my portraits are looping videos.

I also reached out to some artists to do mixed media art on top of my photographs, which I’m excited to get back from them soon. That being said, the final portrait doesn’t have to be finished or uploaded the same day it was captured. As long as I am getting up every morning and getting inspired to create something at that moment, it counts.

What made you start it?

I found myself tired all the time! After lockdown started I was sleeping in a lot, which is great every once in a while but it was quickly having a negative impact on my mental health. I felt more tired even though I was sleeping more. And that made me grumpy day-to-day, and bottom line I just didn’t want to feel that way any more.

I needed something to transition into a new normal during lockdown, so this was born out of a need for routine and creative stimulation.

This project ticked all the boxes: I had to be up early to get the light, it is creatively stimulating, it is meditative, it got me moving and stretching, it is fun but also made me feel like I achieved something before the day had really started. Also, I’ve always wanted to be a morning person. It takes 30 days to change a habit right?

How early would you get up to shoot?

I started getting up between 7 – 7.30am. I know this is normal for a lot of people, but I knew it would be unrealistic for me to jump straight into 5am starts. This needs to be a gradual process for me. Yes, I’ve read all those tricks to becoming a 5am early riser but nothing has stuck yet.

I have also been kind to myself on the days I have gotten up later (around 9am) because there was no point beating myself up about it. I was still showing up for myself. Sometimes the light is even better at 9am than it was at 7am!

Did it work? Are you a morning person?

I am definitely better at motivating myself but I can’t say I’m a morning person just yet. I might have to do this challenge again once the first 30 days are up, and push myself a little bit harder. 

There were days when lying in bed listening to the heavy rain pound against the window outweighed the thought of trying to frame an image in a dark room with no pretty sunlight.

On good days I would smash out three different portraits and save them for bad days where I might wake up feeling sick, or just lazy. Ideally, I would be getting up consistently every day to create, which is more important than having 30 strong images.

It’s more about the journey than the final product. But the final product is what everyone sees, and I give in to the temptation often. I’m still working on turning that around.     

What did you learn throughout the project? 

I learnt to be more spontaneous. I told myself at the beginning that each morning would be a fresh start and to be inspired by what each individual morning brings. But I’m a perfectionist and I can’t help but plan.

And sometimes I get so attached to a vision, say, one that requires strong sunbeams coming through the blinds, that if I get up one morning and it’s overcast, it totally throws me off. But now I see it’s actually more fun to have no plan, and to feel the rush of putting something together in no time sure wakes me up.

I also learned not to take myself too seriously. There are a few images that I posted that felt ‘eh’, but no one really cares (in a good way). I’m learning to recognise when to let something go and just get on with it. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning or story. 

How did it challenge you creatively? 

I live in a very small apartment so there’s only so many spaces to set up a shot. It makes me view the same space in different ways and I try to see something new each time. My favourite spot to shoot is in front of my bedroom window, and I love that the image can have a totally different mood if it’s a cloudy morning instead of clear blue skies. 

I’m used to directing models, but being a model myself is challenging! I realise how hard it is to pull off poses that look effortless, especially a backbend. There’s one image where I’m holding my hand out in front of a bathroom mirror. It looks like the easiest pose ever but if you saw the whole scene, I was pulling a mad squat over a toilet seat trying not to crack the lid.  

What do you think the benefits are of diarising?

I believe keeping track of your progress is key to personal growth. Everyone is on their own journey, but it is easy to get caught up seeing others around you accomplish things that you have been trying to do for ages.

There’s this quote on success I read from artist Gemma Jones which has stuck with me for years: “When you’re measuring against other people’s expectations or larger social expectations, then perhaps your success isn’t really yours.” I couldn’t say it better myself. Keeping a diary is your measure of success.

What about the benefits of setting morning tasks?

Morning tasks are great for setting yourself on the right path for the rest of the day, and they don’t even have to be big tasks! I make myself a lemon tea, moisturise my face and comb my hair before starting my shoot. When you wake up your body is dehydrated, which contributes to fatigue, so drinking water or tea immediately perks you up.

I also love morning tasks because they are a transition from the resting state to the working state. I hate that rush in the morning when you’re running late, and you skip all the little things that would have eased you into the day and get you into the right frame of mind.

@stephcomfort.jpg

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