Mary Bel is a single mom of 2 teenage kids, works full time, and finds a small glimpse of love, through self-portraiture.Bel lives in the Orlando/Kissimmee area of Florida where she is the subject of her work. Her self-portraits are a reflection of not only her growth in finding self-love after a divorce, but showing others a unique perspective on inner growth by placing visuals to her reflection, to solidify the significance and meaning behind her thoughts and experiences through the journey of self-discovery.
Bel’s photographic journey began while going through a divorce. She wanted to pick up photography as a hobby but felt she needed practice before working with models or families. She watched tutorials, read books, and attended workshops to increase her knowledge of photography. She started practicing the techniques she learned on herself. Mary wanted to escape the turmoil of her personal life by taking images. After a long day of work, cooking dinner, helping kids with homework, and putting them to bed, Bel locked herself in her bedroom, placed her camera on a tripod and used a remote to fire the trigger. She started experimented with speed lights, and gradually moved the lights off the camera. Then over time, added modifiers to mold the light.
Bel always desired to be a painter or illustrator but was never any good at physically drawing. So she used Photoshop as a way to digitally enhance herself into places and also turn her emotional feelings into something physical that others can also see. She started sharing these images on Facebook where it resonated with so many people. So she kept documenting her journey of self-discovery and healing through self-portraits. Today, her self-portraits fine art prints have been displayed in Miami Art Week, she has been a featured artist in Orlando art galleries, she has won a Photoshop Guru Award, and has received a mentoring session from Brooke Shaden.
Bel worked in the Art History department of Fordham University in New York as she pursued a Bachelors's and Master's degree in Arts. During her time there, she studied under distinct Art Historians, absorbing information from their speeches, syllabus, student interactions, and sorting through Art History slides in the department library. The university hosted weekly meet-ups where students and professors would visit art museums every week for “Art Fridays.”
Bel says that creating self-portraits is how she manifests what shes learned through her self-development, so others can learn from her. She hopes to inspire others to keep trying to achieve their heightened selves and go passionately and body into that self-awareness to help overcome internal demons and mental illness.
Bel has broken down the process for how she created her image “Freedom”. It is a self-portrait showing the gradual escape from being caged in your circumstances. Bel says the image demonstrates how we developing into our authentic self through being free from other truths and having the courage to walk away from conceptions passed down to us through the family. The image was shot in a photo studio against a white wall. She was renting space in the studio for a different project and decided to take a quick self-portrait in between clients. Bel used a black table cloth as a cape, and as the self-timer triggered the camera shutter, she flung the table cloth in the air behind her. I captured several images of the table cloth flying in the air behind me. This would come in helpful during post-processing. Bell used a Nikon D5300, 35mm lens, tripod, and shot against a white wall. But it is the editing that she loves.
"I love playing in Photoshop and I used a dispersion technique in Photoshop to give the illusion of the birds forming into human form. I created all the shadows using several curves layers. Bel changed the background from white (how it was originally shot) to a light yellow."
She added a subtle gradient to the background to give it a bit of dimension and interest. Bel says as an artist, we are often influenced by others. As humans, our subconscious is molded by our parents or adults in our lives who influenced us in so many ways. We grow up to be adults with the imposed perception of ourselves and the world engrained in us. This image is about breaking free from those imposed ideologies and being brave enough to embrace your freedom. It is about evolving into a person whose mind is open to embracing who you are. You discover who you are, because it makes you happy and brings peace, thus freeing yourself from those preconceived notions, customs, and habits.
All images used with permission of the artist, Mary Bel.