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The Struggle and Duality of Artist Life + BTS Photos from Long Live the Queen!

When you surround yourself with creative people, amazing things can happen.

Someone once said to me that to be an artist is to have the ability to believe in two completely contradictory statements.  I am that walking contradiction.

On one hand, I find that I can be one of the most uplifting, positive, and socially adept persons I know.  Making friends and meeting new people has never really been a problem to me as an adult. I like trying new things and exploring new cities.  Getting out of my comfort zone is a pretty regular and welcomed occurrence. But on the other hand, there are days where I simply want to shut the world off and push a button that allows me to cease to exist.  To go back to a time where I wasn’t born yet.  Darkness.  Without getting too far into the concept of depression or various other psychological disorders – which impact about 40 million Americans, by the way – I think that this line of thinking is discouraged in our society and in many ways is seen as a weakness or an undiagnosed sickness .

The reality is that I think this helps me survive.

Growing up I was always taught “Do it your damn self because nobody will do it for you.”  And you know what? That’s absolutely true.  My family, having moved from Poland back in the 60’s, struggled for everything they had.  My grandfather (may he rest in peace), worked grueling jobs his entire life and spent about 30 years as a concrete worker here in Chicago just to make ends meet.  Every meal that was put on the table was provided through excruciating sacrifice and Hard. Fucking. Work.  Nothing came easy for my family, and because of that, I will never allow the opportunities they bestowed upon me to be pissed away.

Since turning my attention towards being a conceptual portrait artist a few years ago, in a lot of ways I feel like I’ve been in a hamster wheel:  Setup a time with a model.  Shoot. Fiddle with the photo in Photoshop. Post it online. Get some likes on social media. Repeat.  And like many of you out there, frustration and the inevitable “compare yourself to others” game kicks in.  It fucking sucks.  Why does so-and-so have so many followers? Why did my photo only get X amount of likes? My work isn’t as a good as so-and-so. If you’re a creator on social media, it’s easy for these thoughts to creep into your head  It’s incredible that a tool that awards you the opportunity to be seen by LITERALLY MILLIONS of people all over the world can have such an isolating effect. That is why I love AND hate social media.

About six months ago, I decided it was time for a change.  I began to open myself up to the idea of including others in my process:  Asking other artists who I admire for help with my work and  assisting others in trying to achieve their visions in their work.  The result is that after years of running in circles, I finally feel as though I’m moving in the direction I want to go.  Don’t get me wrong: This is not a linear trajectory and I still both simultaneously love AND hate my work – but I find myself being more proud of the result, even if the final product isn’t exactly what I wanted.   The truth on the matter is: Nobody will do the work for you.  But you also can’t do it alone.

For this piece – LONG LIVE THE QUEEN – I could have not done it without such an amazing team.  No, really.  My role was incredibly minimal.

The lighting setup: One umbrella overhead (about one foot in front of the model) was shooting straight down and there was a reflector at waist level bouncing back up.  The second light was behind the model to light the background.

Not seen in this photo: the light behind the model to light the background. (Spoiler alert: the color was added in post)


Makeup took over an hour (done by the awesome Karla Arias!)  The shoot lasted about 10 minutes.  Which means more time for goofing off!





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Steven Kowalski

About the author

Steven Kowalski: Portrait photographer based in Chicago. Teacher. NYU grad.

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