Kierstan Leigh | Photographer & Artist
Kierstan Leigh is a photographer living in Massachusetts, USA. We talk about her unpolished artistic voice, her obsession with Instagram (including being featured twice for her #WHP creations), and her hilarious adventures in hair-dyes! I was very excited to stumble across her Instagram account. I believe she is doing what a lot of creative people hope to do, expressing her uniqueness in a wonderful language of her own.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ARTISTIC VOICE?
I am still finding my artistic voice. But I think my artistic voice is honest (and probably a bit raw and unpolished). I often fall into the trap of comparing myself to other people’s work, and allowing the negative self-talk to creep in. I have been thinking a lot lately about what I have to offer. I believe I have a lot of room for growth, but I would hope that one day people can connect with my work. You know that one post you come across in your feed that just speaks to you. It encourages you, or makes you feel less alone. If an image of mine could have that impact on just one person, I would feel as though I have reached my goals.
YOU DO SOME PRETTY BOLD STUFF TO REALISE YOUR IDEAS - LIKE SWIMMING WITH A BED SHEET IN THE OCEAN WHILE A DRONE CAMERA CAPTURES YOUR MOVEMENTS FROM THE AIR. IS THE PROCESS OF CREATING AS IMPORTANT TO YOU AS THE PRODUCT?
It definitely is! Because I work a “9:00 - 5:00”, I feel this somewhat limits me to executing these crazy ideas I have in my head on the weekends. Therefore, a big part of my creative process is spending my evenings during the week coming up with ideas for an image. This is a big part of the fun for me. As someone who isn’t the best communicator, I find photography to be a way for me to express myself openly and honestly. I do definitely prefer to create in private. I think this is mostly because I feel more freedom to just be crazy and true to myself, but I also feel there is some lack of confidence there, where I am not yet ready to involve other people. Hence, you will find a lot of self portraits on my feed. From planning through execution, the process is very therapeutic for me. I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and anxiety can easily creep in for me. I find that the process really reduces my anxiety. Although, I have to admit, I sometimes get frustrated when things don’t come out how I had imagined them. There are definitely some epic failures sitting on my camera roll. Hmmm, maybe there’s a new series… sharing all of the ridiculous outtakes… ahahaha!
WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST ARTISTIC MEMORY?
My earliest artistic memory was only 4 years ago (almost to the day). I am a software engineer by day, and so I always use the old cliche “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”. But, and I remember this like it was yesterday, I was the maid of honor in my cousin’s wedding, so I went to one of those wedding expos with her. It was there that I happened across @michellegardella’s booth. I wasn’t getting married and I had no knowledge of photography, but I just knew I needed her in my life. So, I snuck one of her business cards into my pocket and, from that night on, I was hooked on her blog. I would religiously check in, eagerly anticipating her next post. Her words. Her imagery. Sigh. It was there that I saw her rave about her friend @carolyn_mara’s iPhoneography class offered through @thedefineschool. I can remember perfectly, laying on the couch, by myself, in my sweatpants and (even though I had no business doing so) signing up for Carolyn’s class. I have been hooked ever since, with photography turning into my favorite hobby and a great source of happiness for me.
YOUR WORK SEEMS TO HAVE NO BOUNDARIES. I IMAGINE YOU SEE EVERYTHING AROUND YOU AS A POTENTIAL ARTWORK. CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT HOW YOU THINK THESE THINGS UP?
Wow, this is a huge compliment to me because I actually see myself quite differently. I often get frustrated because I don’t think I have a very creative eye. I see it this way… I am not particularly good spatially. This translates into all aspects of life… I am not good at decorating my home, I wouldn’t be able to find my way across the street without google maps, and (in this case) I am not very strong with composition. In fact, for me, I find that I have to spend quite a bit of time creating mood boards and collecting inspiration from a number of sources for an idea to come to fruition. When I attempt to just take my camera on a walk on a whim, the results are never pretty… ha! But, now that I think of it (I love that your questions have me reflecting so much on my work), this might be another reason the process is so important to me, meaning I really need to work at it to capture an image I am confident enough to put out into the world. I am sure getting better at “seeing”. This also comes with more practice. I recently found myself becoming frustrated because I wasn’t happy with any of the images I had been taking. I would have 20 attempts at capturing an image I had in my head, and still nothing. So, I turned to my Lomography LOMO'INSTANT Wide camera. This allowed me to still have my creative outlet, but relieved a bit of the anxiety about getting the perfect shot because I only got one shot. It just felt so perfectly imperfect to me, so I decided to make it a series that I called #myinstantdevelopment.
WHAT IS LIFE LIKE IN MASSACHUSETTS, USA. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT THIS PART OF THE COUNTRY?
I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I moved to Rhode Island for my Undergraduate studies and NYC for my Graduate studies, but then moved back home. This is where my family was, and I have always found comfort in stability (and familiarity). I absolutely adore New England. I don’t feel like I always have to live in Massachusetts, but I can’t see myself leaving New England. I love the change of seasons (the cool, crisp, Autumn air is everything to me). Having said that, I have to admit, I often daydream of packing up only my necessities and moving to some lovely, quaint, foreign town and living off-the-grid. Maybe some day. Maybe the grass isn’t always greener.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO UNWIND AND RECHARGE?
Oh, I LOVE to dance! For me, exercise if very important for my anxiety. I make time for yoga, Pilates reformer, or Zumba 6 days a week. I have a very special Zumba instructor… the community, the music… dancing just makes me smile for the entire hour! I am also very introverted, so I need a lot of quiet, alone time. A hot bath and some time with my weekly planner usually do the trick.
I LOVE YOU RECENT PROJECT #MYANALOGMOTIONS, WHERE YOU REPLACE THOSE NAGGING POP-UP REMINDERS ON YOUR COMPUTER WITH THOUGHTFUL REMINDERS OF OUR HUMANNESS AND SOME OF THOSE NAGGING THOUGHTS IN OUR OWN HEADS. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS RESONATES WITH PEOPLE?
I am delighted you feel this resonates with people because this is my favorite series to create. I remember the very first time I created one of these. My boyfriend’s son had asked (given I work as a software engineer) if I would be able to write code for a game or app. One night, I was having a bit of trouble sleeping, so I thought I would investigate. With a bit of google searching, I stumbled across a simple AppleScript tutorial and from there the series was born. @carolyn_mara was actually the one to encourage me to create a hashtag for it. I think it resonates with people because the words always represent something I am feeling in that moment, and I like to believe that people recognize this honesty. I also think that a lot of what we see on social media are images of a so-called “perfect life”. People only show the pretty stuff, what they want you to see of their life. And, while this is lovely, it can also be easy to compare yourself to an unrealistic standard and, as a result, feel down. At least, I know I am guilty of the comparison game. It can be refreshing to stumble across something relatable and knowing you aren’t alone.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT INSTAGRAM AS A PLACE TO HANG OUT?ARE YOU INSPIRED BY ANY OTHER INSTAGRAMMERS?
Oh, instagram is my biggest source of inspiration! The community is amazing! The support system is second to none, and I have made connections that have turned into real life friendships. Being an introvert, I love that I can have meaningful, one-on-one engagement with like-minded people, and unplug when I need to recharge. I definitely have those instagrammers whose accounts really speak to me. Every single post blows me away. But, every account I follow inspires me in some way. I am also super excited about all of the amazing people I know are out there that I haven’t yet connected with. That’s the trick… finding your people.
WHAT COLOUR IS YOUR HAIR CURRENTLY, AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT IT?
Ha, I love this question! Until 8 months ago, I had never dyed my hair. Naturally, I have very dark hair. I don’t know why, but I just got it into my head that I wanted it to be pastel, specifically lavender. This was no easy feat. I think people must think I am crazy! Five, one hour sessions with actual bleach on my head in order to strip it from black to basically white. I lost about a foot of hair in the process. It literally broke off… eeek! It was on my third visit to the hairdresser. After she bleached it, she put a conditioner in it, braided it and sent me home with instructions to wash out the conditioner that night. When I got into the shower I was like “uuuum, I think something isn’t right”… ahahaha! I hopped out of the shower, looked in the mirror and (sure enough) my hair had literally disintegrated. It looked liked it had been randomly burned off, with some long pieces and some short pieces. The worst part was that I had to wait a week before I could see the hairdresser again. But, hey, it’s just hair! From there we cut it off and there was no turning back. After two months of prep, I was finally lavender. From there we went “sea glass” (i.e. teal), then a mix of “blush” and “cupid” (i.e. pink)… gotta love the names… how do I get the job of naming nail polish and these hair dyes? Wouldn’t that be the best job? The color is very temporary, so currently I am a very washed out purple (oh, I mean “velvet”) with some not so flattering roots. But, I am still very popular with the pre-teen girls! Most of the time I forget I am walking around with purple hair, but the color does make you rethink your wardrobe (I have definitely been spending some time with a color wheel). It will be time to change it up again soon and I am open to any and all suggestions!
WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU RIGHT NOW? HOW DO YOU HOPE TO BRING IT TO LIFE?
Honestly, I am in a creative rut right now. I am very much a girl who loves her routine and when life gets in the way, it really throws me off. When I don’t have the time to go through my entire creative process, I do nothing. And in creeps the guilt and anxiety for not creating. I just finished taking @me_and_orla’s “The Insta Retreat”. I was drawn to this class because I was really hoping to work on my curating skills. Sara is such a doll and a true Instagram expert. One of the biggest lessons I took away from her class was that my ego was hoping to learn how to gain more followers, but what my heart really wanted was more meaningful engagement. Creating and cultivating these relationships is my biggest inspiration at the moment. I hope to do this through spending more time on the #myanalogemotions series. A goal of mine is to collaborate with other artists and to get involved in projects that push me out of my comfort zone. You inviting me to be a part of your blog is a way of me realizing this goal… thank you! Also, when all else fails, the Instagram #WHP keeps me motivated. There is nothing quite like the high of being featured (I have had the honor of being features twice now). And you will always find me taking a new class. There is always something new to learn, and being on the hook to turn in my homework always keeps me motivated. My boyfriend jokes that I treat each of the photography classes I take with such seriousness you would think I was working towards my Master’s degree (OK, so maybe being laid back isn’t my strongest personality trait… ha!).
WHAT IS THE BEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN?
I am not very good at asserting myself. I am afraid of upsetting people, or feel that they should already know how I feel. Not expressing myself openly can lead me to feel anxious and resentful. I often feel like the people closest to me don’t really know me. I was recently challenged to look at it this way: not expressing myself directly shows a subtle lack of respect for the other person’s ability to take disappointments, shoulder some responsibility, or handle their own problems. I had never looked at it this way. Trying to please everyone might actually be doing just the opposite! This was a huge eye opener for me. I am actively working to be less driven by self-protection and less preoccupied with self-conscioussness because I can see the more I express myself the greater my self-esteem and my ability to feel closer to people.
Find Kierstan on Instagram @kierstan_leigh.