Selfie Series

Chew, Lens Flare, Rain, Ritual, and Plenty.

Photography, Mouth Shapes, F l a i r, Puddle Break, Tweezers, and Unnecessary Plenty – Selfie Series 4, Dec 2021

Creator: Kay Slater
Exhibition: Selfie Series #4
Published: December 2021
Format: Digital Photography
Content Advisories: N/A

Mouth Shapes, Kay Slater, 2021

Photograph, artist work titled "Mouth Shapes"
Black and white image made up of 8 square portraits of the same face, a white person in lipstick, with salt and pepper, shoulder length hair and dark eyebrows. Their nose is pierced twice with hoops on the left, and their lower lip is studded twice on the right. Each portrait is a different expression captured through a chew.

F l a i r, Kay Slater, 2021

Photograph, artist work titled "f l a i r"
Image Description: A colour image close up of a white person’s face squinting at a light shone into their face. A few lines of shadow from a hand blocks the light in stripes across their face. They wear black fabric wrapped around their head and neck, and the background is black shadow. Where the light hits their nose and lip piercing, a hot white light flare creates a bounce of coloured circles that expand out across the darkness.

Puddle Break, Kay Slater, 2021

Photograph, artist work titled "Puddle Break"
Image Description: A colour image of pavement where the street gutter meets a shallow sidewalk curb, shot from above showing the photographer’s view. The photographer straddles a vertical puddle collected in the gutter, their boots attached to their body’s shadow, fully reflected in the water. The figure wears a hooded raincoat with tassels showing at the bottom of their’s torso’s shadow which spreads into the triangular shape of their legs and into booted feet legged in blue jeans, which are cut off at the bottom of the photo.

Tweezers, Kay Slater, 2021

Photograph, artist work titled "Tweezers"
Image Description: A heavily shadowed, desaturated colour image of a washroom shelf. It features a stone cup at it’s centre from which a whisp of smoke rises up to move through a mirror directly above it, and into the reflected nostrils of a towel-wrapped figure whose eyes are closed as they bow their head above the shelf. The mirrored figure has a reddish hue and is surrounded by a white, cloudy smoke that does not appear in the shelf space of the foreground. To the left of the stone cup is a set of mismatched candles and incense, and to the right a bunch of beauty and health care products such as deodorant, toothpaste, and floss stand together. In front of the stone cup, is a pair of black tweezers.

Unnecessary Plenty, Kay Slater, 2021

Photograph, artist work titled "Unnecessary Plenty"
Image Description: A portrait shot of a white adult standing in a wood-lined change room in front of a grey door. They wear a red mask, and in their left hand, they hold a long sleeved grey shirt on a black hanger up over their torso. In their right they hold up their iPhone to take the shot reflected in a mirror. To the left and right, clothing is stacked in piles and hung on hooks.

Description of the Work

For this year’s work, Kay continues their exploration of self portrait photography with an open and inquisitive approach to image making as an amateur photographer. Kay’s artistic practice explores value as it relates to process and expectations. As a multi-media artist, their goals in self portraits are more about the storytelling and ideas than a perfect image especially as they inexpertly wield a camera more as a frame and viewfinder than a complex and nuanced tool.

Kay’s previous Selfie Series photographs can be seen ontheir instagram account at @kdotca.

Artist Statement

A video essay introducing and exploring the short film; Looking For a Clue as to Why…, by Kay Slater, 2021. Video streams from YouTube in English with English captions. Transcript can be found here on Google Docs / PDF transcript here.
Artist Response

Chew / Mouth Shapes

Artist Statement, Mouth Shapes

I wanted to take a photo in black and white that allowed me to focus less on my hair and appearance, and instead focus on the act of chewing. There is something beautiful about a well done black and white photo and I hoped that this would create a satisfying balance as I struggled to capture myself chewing. I both knew that I was unlikely to take an attractive picture and that I have hang ups around eating in front of other people, so I pushed my limits by adding 26 pieces of gum before I even started to shoot. I never eat gum, and my jaw hurt so much after this series. 

Process and format, Mouth Shapes

I had always intended for this image to be in black and white, so I really caked on the lipstick. I also did a trial where I brushed my teeth and left the toothpaste collect in my mouth, hoping to add some foaming spittle to the image series, but it ended up being too much work to get from the washroom to my backdrop and then start to chew the wad of gum. The toothpaste started to burn in my mouth and I decided that I didn’t need to accidentally swallow a large quantity of toothpaste to get this shot. 

I took hundreds of photos for this shot, hitting my remote trigger every few seconds as I chewed, but I tended to stop shooting when I struggled to get my mouth around the wad of gum. It wasn’t until I had shot a good 50 or so that I got a rhythm and was able to capture the full range of chewing. 

The format of this picture has been edited to show on the web, but if I was to show this in person, I would want it to be in a long strip so that the sequence of motion was more clear. I decided to choose similar expressions for image 4 (top far right) and image 5 (bottom far left) so that it would be clearer that they followed each other, but even in a long strip, I really like this duo of images.

Lens Flare / F l a i r

Artist Statement, F l a i r

My response to this prompt was really about control. Control of the light, the effect, and a focus on what I can control in my life. 

I had process goals going into this image – I really wanted to get a light flare to bounce from my facial piercings. I have been struggling to like my face recently as age, a fresh bought of depression, hormonal acne, and a unwanted weight gain has caused a change to what I expect to see in the mirror. In an attempt to like what I saw reflected, I decided to go and pierce my lip this past year. 

I love it – I thought about it for some time, and after 2 years of mask wearing in public during the COVID-19 pandemic, I realized I could have done it at any time in the past year without it being anyone’s business but my own. 

They make me smile when I look at them, and I like how they balance the pair of piercings in my nose. Light flares are often undesirable in photography and I know that glasses are often a major cause of frustration in portraiture. Rather than trying to avoid an interruption, I wanted this modification to cause the camera issues. I wanted my piercings to be the focus, to potentially be a problem, to be unavoidable and very noticeable. I can’t stop aging, which is part of the cause of my recent acne. And while I’m on medication and am working to get a handle on this newest wave of depression and weight gain, the only thing I can really control are the things that I add to my body. 

Process and format, F l a i r

I set up my space to be as dark as possible, playing with different light sources. Because of my inexperience, I really had to test and trial a lot of different light sources, and after a half hour, I was seeing light spots in my vision. This decided the expression I wanted for the final shot. I ultimately failed to create a natural light flare. I think that my piercing metal is just not shiny enough and I didn’t have the set-up to get the light behind me to hit the lens in the way I wanted. So, yes, this is a post-production light flare filter that I added in photoshop, which let me place the flares exactly where I had hoped. I’m sure a professional can tell it’s artificial – but this is the image I had in my head. I consider this piece to be a draft and I think I’ll keep playing with light flares to see if I can eventually get this effect to happen naturally. 

Rain / Puddle Break

Artist Statement, Puddle Break

When I was in art school, one of my professors once lamented that rain wasn’t more of a topic or feature in local art. I know now that this was a very colonial and Eurocentric attitude as I have now had the privilege and taken the initiative to actually visit and see more Coast Salish artwork, but the comment has stayed with me, especially when I go and see artwork that challenges and discusses climate change and the environment. 

Rain has always been a part of my life having spent most of my life now on unceded Coast Salish Territory, specifically that of the Musqueam nations in so-called Richmond and Vancouver. Most recently, we’ve had flooding in the lower mainland, and it’s shaken up a lot of people especially as we approach the capitalist feeding frenzy that is the Christmas shopping season. People are raging online as they cannot get access to their goods, are scrambling to hoard resources before restrictions are put into place, and are screaming about the inefficiencies of the recovery systems as they are blocked from helping shore up the bloated Sto:lo waterways. 

While this subject matter may not be directly reflected in the image that it generated, as I stand on stolen land, on a colonial path forced into the land for settler efficiency, sheltered in a home built on unceded territory, this shadow shows an uninvited guest who has only recently thought about rain, waterways, and the land on which it falls, and I lament that it has taken this long for me to realize and consider my privilege while occupying land on the wet coast. 

Process and format, Puddle Break

I tried multiple indoor tests with water and reflection before going out and shooting in the rain. Hilariously, the light inside was never going to do what the diffused sunlight and clouds were going to so my tests were kinda useless. I wanted to catch the rain in my hands originally, and see if I could somehow angle my shot, using my stabilizing arm and a countdown on my camera, to catch my face within the reflection. 

This did not work. I didn’t get a single shot. 

However, when I was outside, there was a break in the rain. I was frustrated at first as the forecast had been at 100% rain all day, and it had only started to rain at 2PM as the pre-solstice light was starting to fade and I was finally able to go outside. After the initial downpour of 10 or so minutes, the roads were full of puddles and I started to try out some shots, but my boots didn’t even get a chance to get wet before the rain stopped. 

I got a few shots where my actual reflection was captured, but I ended up liking the challenge of getting my shadow such that you couldn’t see me holding my camera in the shot. I really like how the flecked pavement and dirt in this shot makes the sky look like the clouds are breaking up when in actual fact, the sky was an opaque blanket of white. 

Ritual / Tweezers

Artist Statement, Tweezers

Since I’ve been struggling to look at myself in the mirror recently, and this series of selfies is literally about our reflected images, I decided to frame myself in the one mirror that has been causing me the most anxiety in the previous few months. The act of capturing the artist in a mirror has a long standing, European tradition, and since most of the beauty rituals I follow are based in antiquated and gendered values, I wanted to do something framed and stylized for this shot. The idea of the witch and beauty is also a familiar and common trope, and so I considered what I would wish for if I could magically do away with one of my own beauty regimens. I have stopped caring about body hair in general as I honestly don’t mind my lip and chin hair – and have considered how I like it when I see it on other bodies. However, the one thing I have kept up is the plucking of my eyebrows. I can hear my mother’s voice in my head echoed by many teenage movies where one of the first things done to radically improve the aesthetics of any face, regardless of gender, is to remove hairs from between one’s eyebrows. All of a sudden, the homely, quiet, and usually studious nobody, becomes a gorgeous, slow-motion hair tossing, double-take of a character. And I’ll admit – I think my face has a more interesting and open shape when I pluck and tweeze the two caterpillars that take up space under my forehead. 

However, it’s not a pleasant thing – and it’s something that I forget to do, especially when self care takes a back seat during my depression and most recently in the pandemic days of social distancing where I can go weeks without seeing anyone except my partner and cat. In their honour, more than anything else, I light some magic incense and perform some black magic in anticipation that the next time I pluck away at my eyebrows, that it will be the last. 

Process and format, Tweezers

There is a very narrow space between my mirror and the hutch behind it, so I only had so much space to capture this shot. On top of that, I had the challenge of getting myself framed in the mirror so that I was centered, and be tall enough but no so tall as to expose my hand-held camera. In the end, I am standing on a dictionary, balanced against the hutch by my hips, leading forward, and using my night-mode of my camera which takes a few stable seconds to capture. I wanted there to be something artificial about this shot so I didn’t mind the graininess that happens when using this mode, and I isolated myself in the mirror using photoshop to apply the smoke and colour filters. 

Plenty / Unnecessary Plenty

Artist Statement, Unnecessary Plenty

I don’t buy new clothes. Even before I learned about the numbers concerning the landfill and water waste that is a part of the clothing industry both pre-and-post purchase, the act of shopping and wearing new clothes is not particularly appealing. In high school, I had a coterie that were particularly enamoured by second hand shops, and I learned that wearing odd-ball clothing was both freeing and appealing to my dramatic personality. My mother instilled in me that washing clothing everyday was extremely unnecessary for someone with a low-active lifestyle, especially as she taught us to do our own laundry and folding, and when I moved out, this behaviour was easy to embrace with the headaches around coin-operated washing machines and time wasted in laundromats. Before I moved into the arts, my career was very static and desk-based, so the idea of wearing the same pants and sometimes undershirt for days at a time seemed economical, and as I learned more about my environment footprint, it became essential to my own set of values. 

Today, I’ll wear the same t-shirt basically five days in a row, and my jeans for well past when I should. The pandemic hasn’t exactly helped me keep up a social level of laundry, but I was always straddling the line anyways. No one needs more than a few changes of clothing – and while I might not adhere to the minimum levels of laundry upkeep expected for my social class – we, myself included, westerners are so privileged, and wasteful. 

Skills like sewing and material repair are consisted a waste of time and money when new things can be bought. We value the act of buying new more than the value of long-term care and global effect – and our own capitalist structures would fall apart if we were to stop consuming and wasting. This photo was staged by going into a shop and while I grabbed multiple things, I was overwhelmed by the amount of choice, sales, materials, and shipping that were baked into the experience. I ended up getting a new pair of pajama pants, but now my old pair that I have had for 17 years that are falling apart and are threadbare are still in my drawer. I can’t bring myself to throw them out not knowing exactly where they will end up. 

Process and format, Unnecessary Plenty

The lighting in this shop was amazing. I don’t remember the lighting being that good in stores, but I was struck at how well the shot turned out from just a quick selfie in the mirror. It does make me wonder if these change rooms are now designed with the snapshot in mind and how much the selfie plays a part in a final sale these days. 

Process Photos

Photo Description: Black and white image made up of 8 square portraits of the same face, a white person in lipstick, with salt and pepper, shoulder length hair and dark eyebrows. Their nose is pierced twice with hoops on the left, and their lower lip is studded twice on the right. Each portrait is a different expression captured through a chew. The images are placed side-by-side in a long row.
Process photo, in photoshop
Image Description: colour work in progress of Mouth Shapes, where each composite photo is stacked together in 2 rows within photoshop.

Project Files

Exhibition Video Credits:

Photos and concepts by Kay Slater
Video Essay, Directed and Written by Kay Slater
Transcript, captions by Kay Slater, 2021


Sneaky Snitch by Kevin MacLeod

At Rest by Kevin MacLeod

Water Prelude by Kevin MacLeod

Dark Fog by Kevin MacLeod

Sidewalk Shade – slower by Kevin MacLeod

Photo credits:

Maky Orel, Oblečeni v second handu serazené podle barev, CC BY-SA 4.0
MPCA Photos, 1R1A2469 (photo of goodwill outlet warehouse), CC BY-NC 2.0
Sir William Orpen 1878-1931, The Mirror, Photo © Tate, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0
John William Waterhouse 1849-1917, The Magic Circle, Photo © Tate, CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0
Province of BC – Merritt area after BC Storm, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0
Province of BC – Abbotsford Flooding Tour, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0iwona_kellie, Cycling in the Rain, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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