Miss Aniela is a photographic self-portraitist, or as I keep hearing with unbelievable regularity, “One of those self-portrait artists who likes to take pictures of herself.” When I meet her, I’m struck by her personality. It’s almost antithetical to what you’d imagine it would be by looking at her pictures. The model in her images is confident, bold and daring. In person, Miss Aniela is well spoken, slightly shy and humbly grateful for all the attention she’s getting. My first question sounds like something you’d hear James Lipton ask a celebrity on his show Inside the Actors Studio: So who’s the girl in the photographs?
“Aniela is my middle name. It translates to Angela in English. I hated the Polish pronunciation growing up. But as I got older, I began to identify with it. So I used it as the name of my alter ego—the one you see in the photographs.”
Miss Aniela also is the name that Natalie Dybisz chose for her Flickr account. The photo-sharing website is partly responsible for Miss Aniela’s two international shows, an appearance at the Microsoft Pro Photo Summit, as well as a documentary about her and her work that will be in production by the time this article is published. All this for a young shooter who never intended to be famous; she just wanted to get away from herself.
Cheaper Than Being An Alcoholic
Miss Dybisz freely admits to having a phase in her life when she was mildly depressed. She was living alone as a student, writing daily in her diary as a way to deal with her feelings. Photography was a casual hobby, and Flickr was the public repository for her work. As she became more involved in the community at Flickr, she found that she was becoming increasingly motivated to shoot more images. Catalysts for career leaps are wholly unpredictable in their shape and timing. Miss Dybisz’s came in the form of a Flickr page layout. Her attraction to the site design made her want to produce a “proper body of work” to fill up her Flickr account. She started shooting images of herself, and Miss Aniela was born.
Along with her first self-portraits, Miss Dybisz was writing candidly about her depression. The people who stopped by to view her work responded with understanding comments about her despair and enthusiastic comments about her images. Encouraged by her new friends whom she never physically met, she assigned more alacrity to her photography. She quickly became totally immersed. Shoots became more conceptual, and the hours spent experimenting with Photoshop to finesse her images turned into days.
The more confident she became with her photography, the less despondent she felt about herself. Photography was the perfect obsession. She channeled her emotions into her work, and as a result, it became full of depth and emotion. She noticed a difference in herself, and the Flickr community noticed a difference in her photography.
The final day of her malaise came when she retired her diary. She was unwilling to write in it anymore because it would take time away from her image-creating. The last entry, significantly more upbeat than the rest of the pages, read, “I think my photographs are going to start selling.”
On This Site, You’re A Star
Miss Aniela is a smash hit on Flickr, and for good reason. The photographs are breathtaking. Miss Dybisz’s extraordinary use of cloning an image of herself several times in one photograph in varying poses is both technically flawless and strong on story. She doesn’t employ the effect to show off that she can execute it; she uses it as a tool to convey her narrative. This seamless integration makes for compelling images.
Relentless at producing new work, she says, “I like the digital technology because I can think of an idea and play it out immediately.” In an industry where digital workflow discussion has become dreadfully tedious and pedantic, Miss Dybisz’s perspective is fabulous in that it’s motivated purely by an inherent need to make pictures.
On Flickr, she’s part of a community that’s made up of other self-portrait photographers, an art form that’s evolving into a genre, in part because of Dybisz’s work and because of the massive exposure that only can come from the Internet. Beyond the self-portrait community, Miss Aniela is one of the most popular destinations on the photo-sharing site. She receives lots of unsolicited opinions on her technique and style—you know, jealous folks with too much free time on their hands. But lots of comments reveal which images are better received than others. These are the opinions Dybisz craves. They help inspire new concepts or sometimes they validate that an idea she’s toying with is a good one to pursue.
Yet in spite of the vast input of the crowds, Dybisz manages to keep her work wonderfully original—all the time ready to display her work online to be scrutinized by anyone and everyone, fans and detractors alike. It’s a courageous way to build a career.
The next evolutionary rung for Miss Aniela was a book. In spite of her significant Internet popularity, there weren’t any publishers knocking on her door offering her a deal. She turned to online self-publishing service Blurb. A San Francisco-based company, Blurb prints in the United States and Europe.
The Miss Aniela book has been selling, and because she can print as she needs, Miss Dybisz avoids the overhead maintaining a book inventory. Blurb tells me that they have focused a lot of attention on providing technology that will allow their customers to have consistent quality and color with each print run.
Individual print sales, book sales and growing popularity offered a traditional artist’s business plan with a do-it-yourself twist. But was there a place in the commercial world for Miss Dybisz’s evolving talent?
In Brighton, England, where Miss Dybisz is from, a local water company approached her about doing an advertising shoot. I ignorantly assumed that the ad would be capitalizing on the Miss Aniela phenomenon. What other direction could you pursue with a self-portrait? Then I saw the ad. It doesn’t remotely hint at Miss Aniela. It’s just a brilliantly shot image that happens to feature the woman who shot it.
Photo: Miss Aniella