Learning from the Best; an Interview with Master Photographer Mandi Lynn.
I have been so excited to do this interview, and to share Mandi´s story with you guys!
Firstly I must apologize that this post is a week late - I have been so so busy planning towards my upcoming Kickstarter campaign.
But in return I promise it is going to be a post jam packed with inspiration and golden tips of the trade!
Mandi is in fact one of the amazing photographers
that have been a part of my Bodies of Art project.
We have collaborated many times,
and the stuff we come up with together are pretty magic.
Before Mandi became a photographer she was a nurse, and before that she was a farmer, and before that she was in the navy!
But really she was born to be an artist, and in 2009 she decided it was time to finally follow her dream.
When I call her a master photographer that is not a word I use lightly.
Mandi has won many awards with her images, most recently 3 gold medals at the 2016 Iris award.
Her unique take on Art Photography is like nothing you´ve seen before!
One of the things I admire most about Mandi is her incredible way of bringing out people´s inner beauty. In this interview I´m going to pick her brain about that, as well as many other things!
Whether you are a photographer, or any other kind of artist following their dream - this post is for you!
I hope you will find inspiration and motivation in Mandi´s story.
So lets get into it!
This is what Mandy had to say the other day, when we caught up for a creative jam:
Firstly Mandi, tell me where your Inspiration and your Art comes from?
For me its important to figure out what you are doing with your art, what your core message is.
And for me it´s always been about women, always about women´s health.
About women becoming "more".
The true Mojo runs through everything that I do. Its helping women to see that they are these gorgeous creatures - that they deserve to be seen.
Its scary to think about the fact that our self esteem peeks at the age of nine! When society and culture makes us worry about our lumpy asses rather than focus on what we were actually put on this earth to do, then we got problems.
Women have to get their mojo back. We have to try and reverse the body hate and all that has gone into surpressing femininity. If we get that positive feminine energy back into the world, we will have more balance.
So that is where my art comes from! Then its just about simplifying that message so it reads clearly.
Core message. Clarity. How you are able to express that.
Clarity is my catch-word for this year. Be clear, be simple, but still get the point across. That is a challenge for me as i tend to say too much haha.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I call myself a `Mojo Midwife´. Even though i´m not a midwife, I´m a mojo midwife. I am there holding space and witnessing people moving into their own mojo. Thats what i do, really.
I used to help women deliver their babies, and now i watch people let their energy out.
As an artist I have a much deeper purpose than just the art itself. Its that whole thing about bringing more feminine energy back into the world. Everything just kind of spins around that somehow.
I cant stand doing things the normal way. In my heart i´m a rebel. I even rebel against myself sometimes!
I´m not afraid to challenge myself, as well as others, challenging people to be more than they currently are.
Take for instance the project that I´m working on at the moment - "Every Body is a Treasure";
Its about rebelling against the culture that says only 1% of the population is worth looking at, and is worth seeing.
For me everybody is worth celebrating, every body is a treasure.
These sessions that I do with women, I´ve seen them change their lives.
Its like they are finally able to see that they have value.
Using something so superficial as makeup and photographs, actually symbolises something much deeper. Its this part of it, that makes me really happy with what i do. I love working with women, i love seeing them discover who they are.
We look at who you are, and what is your unique beauty and we get excited about that. That is what my studio `Ala Mojo´ does.
My other work, my fine art, is bigger than just the physicality, its more focusing on people´s souls.
Going back to when you first started - What encouraged you to pull the plug and make the decision to become a full time artist?
What encouraged me was that i was on my knees. My marriage had fallen to shit.
Through my whole marriage i kept making excuses not to be an artist.
When i was in the navy i couldn´t just drop it and go to art school, i had to finish my term of commitment.
Then i had a baby, so i couldn´t drop my responsibilities to my son.
I took an art class here and there, but that was as far as it got.
Then when my marriage fell apart, i thought "what I do from this point on, is nobodies business except my own". For too long I had made excuses not to follow through with my dream.
It was resistance manifesting.
I realized, looking at my son, that there was this battle. I was running a blueberry farm, I was working at the hospital as a nurse part time.
I was a photographer but I wasn´t a professional photographer.
I´d always taken photos but i hadn´t ever, at that point, considered that i could be a professional.
But I thought "fuck it, I´m going to do it". That was literally the conversation that went on in my head.
If I didn´t do it then i was going to be letting myself down.
And I would be letting my son down, because then my son would see an example of someone who didn´t live their dream, who didn´t have the courage to follow it, but instead caved themselves for something else.
How did you go about teaching yourself all that you needed to know?
I took care of my son, put him to bed at night. Then I´d get back up and study.
I had my camera with me all the time, i was constantly shooting.
I would go to conferences, experiment and do lots of collaborations.
Collaborations, collaborations, collaborations! When i really started jumping was when i was working with other people, it wasn´t when i was in my own little box.
I contacted people who were awesome photographers. There was this guy who had won photographer of the year, Tony Carter.
I asked him "Hey how do you get into this?", and Tony said "Oh go check out New Zealand Institute of Professional Photographers".
He was quite dismissive initially. Not in an insulting way, but just like he didn´t have time for me, probably because he had a lot of people contacting him.
But now we are really good mates, and i keep teasing him about it!
Anyway, i researched the NZIPP people and what they do is that they have a thing where you submit 10 images. If they are good enough, they will accept you at the institute as a provisional member.
So i picked my 10, but honestly i was still using the `running-man-function´ on my camera. I didn´t know how to use the manual settings yet or what the fuck i was doing.
But i had a good eye, and so I submitted the images i knew looked cool, even though I really didn´t have the technical expertise that would be expected of a professional photographer.
My thoughts were basically - if I submit these images they will give me feedback and i can use that instead of school. I couldn´t go to school cause i had my son. So i will just use this as a kind of free schooling.
I submitted my 10 favorites and got accepted!
And i was like "oh shit!". I really didn´t know my ass from a hole in the ground, photographically speaking, but they obviously saw that i had the potential to get there.
So I would go to any meeting they had, I´d go to every bit of training. I was online all the time, researching. Shooting shooting shooting, and getting critique from people. I met Gino Acevedo around that time and he brought me in as an intern at Weta in the Textures Department, so I got to experience that kind of behind the scenes stuff too.
Well, so I was basically teaching myself how to do all this, and how to do Photoshop. I didn´t have a clue, so it was all online.
I started going to the national photography award each year and I´d sit there with my laptop and take notes on what the judges were saying.
Like what did they think was needed in a great image.
I was there for the whole thing, it was the best education ever.
I did the same with the world bodyart festival before i competed myself.
I´d follow lots of different artist, see what score they´d get in different sections, and what the judges seemed to like.
Yea it blows my mind, because hardly anyone does that anymore.
They will happily pay big money to go to school but they won´t be there to see what is actually considered a decent image.
Non of them stick around for it. It´s free, you don´t even have to pay to be here!
Listening to these world class judges comment on these images, then go study them afterwards, that is the best education you can get.
The first time I submitted for the Iris Awards was in 2010.
I won a little bronze, and I was so over the moon!
Then the next year I kicked ass and got a whole bunch of silvers. But the illusive gold stayed away for another few years.
When i finally won gold I was an instant fellow, and when i got 3 golds i was an instant fellow times 3.
I´m now only 3 golds away from becoming a Grand Master in New Zealand.
That´s my goal in the photography world, to be a Grand Master.
And my goal is to pull it off this year!
I still remember when i met you a couple of years ago, and I came to your house.
Your goal was to win gold and you had post-it notes everywhere saying "gold".
Yeah haha. Even my screen saver on my computer said gold.
Every day l would look at it and remember what my focus was.
It´s almost like you are brainwashing yourself?
Well yeah thats basically what you do.
You are manifesting it. Its all about manifestation.
If I truly believe in my head that there is no other possible future, then the chances are so much higher.
It reminds me of this quote by Will Smith - "Once you decide on something - it has already happened. You´ve just got to wait for the rest of the world to catch up".
I find it incredibly powerful, thinking about it in that way.
yeah yeah exactly! And its amazing how you make these jumps.
For me, gold wasn´t there because i hadn´t achieved the technical expertise yet, not enough to pull it off.
Some people will randomly pull gold out of their ass like pure luck, but often they wont have the ability to do it consistently.
What was the biggest challenge in making the transition to becoming a full time artist?
Learning to run a business!
The art came naturally, that was just play and fun, but business - that was hard.
And learning what you really suck at, and what you need to get somebody else to do for you. Building your business up enough so you can actually afford to be able to pay somebody to do that other stuff.
I started taking business courses through the Chamber of Commerce, and i did something called Activate.
Then I joined Marie Forleo's B-School which is an online group of business women supporting each other.
I´ve now been on that for about 5 years. Its an real active community and i´ve learned so much about promoting online, running facebook ads, and all of that stuff.
It´s a supportive community on how to get out there. Plus I´ve made some brilliant friends that are all really switched-on business women. I can just call them and be like - "hey whats your thoughts on this".
They are from all around the world, and everybody has their hearts in their business so we are all kind of creating our own new world.
But actually, I think the biggest thing for me, the absolute hardest thing, was in fact figuring out what my point was.
What was my WHY, why am i doing all this? What is the common theme that runs through every single thing that i do, if i look back on everything.
Do you find yourself being more creative at certain times? For instance in the morning, or on specific days?
I´m actually trying to find that out at the moment.
I´m doing a moon cycle experiment. I´ve never done it this way before, but hey it makes sense using that energetic path. So ask me again in a year and i can tell you how it went.
It´s been great for me so far, because first of all it puts me in touch with what is outside of just me - with the earth, with whats happening. It is a way of becoming more aware of nature, and a way of grounding yourself.
The theory is that when its full moon its uptime. When its getting smaller its editing time. And half moon is when you have to deliver.
Everybody has different energies, different waves of creativity. Sometimes we need downtime.
A lot of people make stuff and fear it´s not good enough, so they hold on to it and it doesn´t end up out into the world. Thats what this moon cycle template is helping people get over.
Get over that idea of perfection where they feel it has to be perfect or it doesn´t deserve to be out in the world.
Do you have any tips or advice for artists of there, trying to make their passion a career?
Master your craft. Which they say takes you 10.000 hours of practice.
And understand that you cant stop and compare your middle to somebody elses end. Dont get obsessive about comparing yourself to others.
Is mastering your craft really enough?
I mean I´ve met photographers that have all the technical skills down-packed, but yet their images dont stand out like yours does.
You are so good at capturing the essence of a person, as opposed to just their physical appearance.
That´s because i do spiritual work, and have been through a lot of bad stuff.
To be completely honest i think a lot of artists have an advantage if they´ve had a rough up-bringing. Because you can turn it into a strength.
That is why a lot of really amazing artist have dyslexia or are colorblind. Some of the best photographers are color blind! They see things entirely different than anybody else.
Its not to say that if you have had a rosie childhood then you cant be an artist.
But if you have a tough upbringing you could argue that it is an incredible gift because it helps you to understand levels of human nature that if you had a rosie childhood you would never have been exposed to.
You might not have had the internal struggles that makes it nessecary for you to dive deep enough to actually work through those things.
I guess the keyword is empathy.
I didn´t have a tragic upbringing, it was hard, but i learned to forgive it and love it. Because of that i can pretty much see anything and have space for it, and it is probably my greatest strenght because I´m open to most things, and i see the beauty underneath it all.
These subjects intrigue me and I´m happy to dive into messier topics, but I do it from a place of love.
I think that is why my art resonates with people. It doesn´t come from a judgmental place, it comes from a place that say "lets unpack it and look at it and give it love".
A lot of art turns me off because it is really critical. Art can be really judgmental I find, especially a lot of modern art. I can´t resonate with it if its not coming from a place of love.
So would you say that even your darker images, they still have a positive message?
Absolutely! Because it comes from a place of understanding.
Take for instance my "addict" image. I´ve seen people go through stuff and I´ve had empathy for it.
It´s life for so many people.
For me that image was also about the fact that there is a denial about different forms of addiction that people aren´t aware of, like your cell phone.
It throws dopamine at you all the time and it screws with your mind. And you are not able to do good work if you are constantly playing on your phone.
Also I think you can get really lost in ego in art.
There is 2 sides of becoming an artist - you can become so lost in the egotic rip of it all, and if you do that it actually cheapens you as an artist and it also diminishes your creations.
Once you find that you get over your ego then you can open up to something much more powerful.
If your ego is still there then your work is always only going to be average, I think.
At least it wont have the power that it could have.
That is what happened with me and those golds. It wasn´t until i made an internal shift that I could actually channel the gold.
It was me saying, "actually this isn´t about me, its about what message i need to bring into the world".
Those 3 that won were all part of my chakral series. They all told a story.
So it´s about getting past your ego, mastering your craft, and once you´ve achieved those, then you can actually make good shit!
I hope you have enjoyed Mandi´s insights.
Feel free to leave a note or a question, for either Mandi or I, in the comment section below.
And if you would like to know more about Mandi and follow her work you can do so here:
facebook: The Mojo Midwife