On December 25, 2010, I unwrapped the present I had been greatly anticipating: a Nikon 3100, the camera I had used during my brief high school photography class. It was not my first camera (that’s a story for another time) but it was my first dslr – my first nice camera.
Later that day, my father carried down a large bag from the attic, where it had been sitting unnoticed for who-knows-how-many years. It was the family heirloom camera equipment – my father’s lenses, my grandfather’s camera case – more than I knew what to do with. I was a complete beginner, still trying to understand what ISO is, and I had more equipment in that bag than I knew what to do with. This is the moment I often cite when asked how I got started in photography. I started because I was given the tools to begin.
I resolved to take one picture every day for the next year. I think it’s important to note here that I didn’t finish this project. I skipped days, and stopped entirely sometime in the fall of 2011. Despite never finishing the 365 project, it was the single best thing I have ever done to improve my photography. I learned to look for subjects in everyday places, even when I thought I’d exhausted the list of things I could photograph in my dorm room. I learned how to use photoshop to create the image I wanted, and I learned not to rely on photoshop to fix your problems. After a corrupted memory card lost almost a hundred pictures, I learned to back up my data. I also learned the importance of charging your camera battery before going to a photoshoot. The daily schedule of the project gave me routine where I often had none, and I learned to push myself to complete something even when I didn’t think I could. And, of course, by posting every image online, I learned what sort of pictures people like to look at, and what is going to get radio silence.
When I told my roommate about the 365 project, she volunteered as a subject. Neither of us knew where this would lead – she later became my most-frequently photographed model, and our collaborative projects have become some of my favorite pieces of my portfolio. After a few months with one model and innumerable pictures of campus, someone else volunteered. She was a dancer, and needed some pictures for auditions. I leaped at the opportunity, and soon I was planning shoots with her, with her friends, with the dance department at my school. The 365 project gained its own momentum, and soon I had a small but vocal group of people who would happily volunteer for any project I suggested. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
The 365 project eventually came to an end when I began to take on more ambitious shoots. I planned my “Seven Heavenly Sins” series, and the many moving parts of a complex artistic project (plus my overly ambitious course schedule) took over the time the 365 had occupied. The start of “Seven Heavenly Sins” is a pretty clear marker of when my ambitions in regard to photography took a step to the next level. I was no-longer photographing everything in my dorm room; I was creating conceptual images which connected to each other to tell a story.
Within one year of receiving my camera, I had taken the next big step toward becoming Annushka Munch Photography.
Of course, that year was not perfect – far from it. That was the year when I was (finally) diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, due in no small part to my first major panic attack at the end of spring semester. The diagnosis was a relief – it meant, in some way, that it was real – but it also required a shifting of my self-image. I had to re-define myself as someone with a mental illness.
When I talk about my art, I often talk about it, abstractly, in relation to my Anxiety. Photography is one of the ways that I can get my mind off of things when I am restless or upset. Without something creative to do, I become restless and self-destructive. Picking up a camera and going for a walk takes my mind off all sorts of things, and that was probably one of the ways I managed to get through the end of my sophomore year of college. I didn’t know it, but I was self-medicating Anxiety with art.