Most photographers prefer to be the maker rather than the subject of a photograph. But instead of relying on a model to convey her personal stories, Sharon Covert stepped in front of the camera herself. Her self-portrait series was originally borne from grief and loss; for Sharon, art became the upside of fear. Using masks and body positioning to portray herself as faceless, she found she could express herself and yet remain anonymous. Her goal is to get it right in camera; she doesn't do any compositing and rarely goes into Photoshop. What she reveals are frames of herself, one story at a time. And this week, she's taking over our Instagram feed.
Tell us who you are and what lights you up creatively.
For the longest time, I didn’t know exactly who I was. I’ve been on this journey of self-exploration through art for a few years now, and I can finally confidently say, “I’m Sharon Covert and I’m an Artist.” Once I gave myself permission to be myself, my creativity seemed to grow significantly. There are an endless amount of stories to be told through art and that excites me.
Who were your early influences? Outside of photography, what are your creative influences?
My father documented my family and friends my entire childhood and early adult years. His passion for photography had an influence on me. I always had a camera and followed in his footsteps in my own way as best as I could. Once I became seriously interested in the craft, he patiently helped me to understand the fundamentals.
Outside of photography, I’ve always been drawn to art and music. While I've played several different instruments, the piano has been my long time love. Before becoming serious about photography, I taught piano lessons to children for over 20 years. Art and music make me feel alive and inspired.
The photographs featured here are all self-portraits; what inspired this series?
I’ve had a strong focus on self-portraits for the past few years. I began using self-portraiture as a healing tool. I was suffering from loss and grief, and at the same time began losing my own identity as well. Putting my thoughts and emotions into self-portraits without having to say what I was going through really helped me to explore my feelings and began the healing process. Over time, I began to see a recurring theme within my self-portraits: many of them were faceless. I was comforted by having a certain anonymity while sharing such personal work.
How much planning goes into each photograph? Can you share conceptualization of one specific image in this portfolio and then walk us through the process from preparation to the shoot to the final image?
I rarely ever bring an image into Photoshop. The majority of my work is edited using Lightroom and Alien Skin’s Exposure software. I have so many ideas flooding my mind that would probably come much easier to bring to life for someone who is efficient in Photoshop through compositing. But if I want clouds or fog, I have to find a way to make it. I’ve found experimenting with long exposures to be effective in making two images of myself in one frame. There’s nothing I can really add in afterward except for maybe a small light flare or texture.
"Head in the Clouds" (below) is a fun story to share. I knew I wanted a dreamlike image involving a cloud. My initial vision was to have the cloud as my head. Easier said than done! I went to our local craft store and bought the stuffing to make the cloud, but it proved to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. I tried using hairspray to keep it together. It didn't work. I went to the home improvement store and bought a glue spray. That made it tacky and everything stuck to it including my hair. After several failed attempts and putting my cloud back together over and over again, I let my head fall down onto the cloud. That's how this image was born. I then grabbed a smoke bomb and attempted several times to flip my dress to capture some movement. I felt discouraged at first because I couldn't seem to make my initial vision come to life, but in the end, this self-portrait is at the top of my of favorites for 2016. It marked a defining moment for me with my self-portraits; it was a transition of sorts.
Why black and white?
It has always been black and white for me. Black and white is timeless. It helps to keep the focus on the main subject. It brings out emotion. It’s very rare that I edit an image in color. I’ve been editing in black and white before I even understood it. I just knew I was drawn to it. Now I can spot different scenes, light, and colors and know how they will convert to black and white. The very first thing I do once I load my images onto my computer is to convert them to black and white using a favorite preset as a base. I need to see them that way first and then go from there.
Where do you look for new sources of ideas for your work?
Years ago I would spend hours looking through images on social media or blog posts. I would want to create similar images. Once I gave myself permission to just be me and not worry what others would think I really began to take off with my own ideas. I know I’m not the first artist to use masks or vintage gowns, but I use them in my own way to tell my story. Now ideas come to me as I’m looking through a thrift store, or even browsing Etsy. They come to me in my dreams or as I’m out exploring local parks.
What has been the greatest struggle for you creatively?
I truly do enjoy the process I have developed for creating and editing my images, but over the past year, I have found myself feeling limited because I'm not experienced in Photoshop or compositing. I have so many growing ideas that I would love to see evolve and come to life, and sometimes I struggle with figuring out how to make that happen without compositing.
What do you think the photographic world needs more of right now?
Photographs have formed an iconic association with smartphones and social media throughout the last decade. With this rapidly growing trend of uploading daily selfies, one thing that I would like to see revitalized that is arguably declining is creativity and individual expression. I believe it's important to still appreciate and involve ourselves in the art of photography—something that may be lost behind the ease of modern technology.
Sharon Covert resides in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, not far from her hometown along the Jersey Shore. Brought up with a musical background she taught piano lessons for over 20 years before studying and practicing photography as an art. She has had a strong focus on conceptual fine art self-portraits. Sharon's work has been published in The Sun and Adore Noir, SHOTS, and F-Stop magazines, among others. She has been in numerous juried art shows and exhibitions across the U.S. and is affiliated with Arcangel Images. To see more or to connect with Sharon, go to her website, Instagram, or Facebook Page.