We explore how photographer Noa Mar finds inspiration in nature and the candid expressions she captures in her self-portraits.
It was late morning on a summer day when Noa Mar carried a mirror into the woods to create a series of monochromatic self-portraits. She visits these woods, located in Brandenburg, when she’s craving silence and an escape from the noise of the city. It’s so quiet, in fact, that on sunny days, she can even hear the sounds of the bright light as it streams in through the trees and hits the dry ground.
As a photographer, Mar does not particularly enjoy being in front of the camera herself. “For me, it’s just a matter of convenience, whereas finding a model takes time,” she says.
While Mar made self-portraits at the beginning of her career, she hadn’t photographed herself for over a year leading up to that day in the woods.
“I often experience it as exhausting and uncomfortable to capture myself,” the artist admits.
In these photographs, it’s as though Mar is playing hide-and-seek with herself. She’s never fully revealed, only peeking in and out of the frame.
In most of the pictures, she’s averting her eyes or casting them up or down. The single image where she’s staring directly at the camera and her reflection feels like a revelation.
“Making self-portraits can be challenging because it requires managing two jobs instead of one,” the artist says. “As with life in general, self-awareness is an important part of it.”
While creating these images, Mar thought mainly about the complex psychological phenomena known as “mirroring” or “the chameleon effect.” At its best, this kind of subconscious “mimicking” of other people’s gestures and mannerisms can be rooted in empathy and connection.
But, on the other hand, the desire to “fit in” can also foster self-consciousness and anxiety. In the age of social media, the desire for approval and validation from other people is a fact of life. We’re constantly seeing ourselves through the eyes of others—and adjusting our behaviors to match.
“There is a difference between healthy mirroring and narcissistic mirroring, which is becoming more prevalent in our society,” Mar says.
Through surreal framing and abstracted compositions, Mar manages to create the subtle illusion that perhaps she’s not entirely alone after all. The idea that someone else might be out there, watching her, adds an air of suspense and mystery to every scene.
These photographs are slippery and ambiguous; their meanings change depending on how you look at them.
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Mar’s choice of location, props, and wardrobe allow her portraits to exist outside of time. She could have made these images yesterday or decades ago.
For this series, she wore her everyday clothing: a classic vintage-style dress and comfortable shoes. “I’ve always favored second-hand clothing—not just because it’s more economical and environmentally friendly but also because I like things with a history or story behind them,” the artist says.
Mar happened upon the large mirror by chance while walking through the street of Berlin and brought it home with her. Mirrors have long been used by artists to bend the rules of space and time.
Almost a century ago, the photographer Florence Henri used mirrors to confuse and confound the eye. Mar’s work similarly blurs the line between reality and imagination, as if one could simply step into the mirror’s reflection and enter another world.
Other than the mirror and the clothes on her back, Mar brought very little with her into the woods that day. Her camera of choice is the Fujifilm XT-20. “Its lightweight, compact design allows me to be nimble and spontaneous in my work. It has become my trusted companion, as I can take it with me wherever I go.”
In this instance, she paired it with a Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens, a fast and versatile zoom. No tripod or accessories were required.
Unlike many photographers working in self-portraiture, Mar didn’t use a remote shutter release. Instead, she kept the camera in her hand and used it as a recurring motif.
In some ways, the presence of the camera serves as an expression of authorship—similar to an artist’s signature.
The beautiful light on that summer morning meant Mar got plenty of shades throughout every image, ranging from light to dark and all the grays in between. The trees served as a natural diffuser, allowing for lovely tones right out of the camera.
Mar usually shoots in color to retain all the details and then converts to black and white in post-production. After that, she only makes very minor adjustments to perfect the exposure.
In an increasingly crowded and noisy world, Mar’s work speaks to the power of slowing down and looking inward.
“When we look to external sources to fulfill our emotional needs and neglect the importance of introspection, we risk losing touch with our true selves,” Mar reflects. “As a result, the validation we desire can transform into a sense of emptiness, leaving us feeling bored and unfulfilled.
“Taking the time to nurture our own emotional well-being can help us find the balance we need to feel truly satisfied in our lives. This is a series about the desire for tranquility in a fast-paced world. It also speaks to the illusions and façades we construct around ourselves.”
These photographs were made—first and foremost—for the photographer herself, not for “likes” on social media. Self-portraits might require vulnerability, but they can imbue an artist’s practice with a new kind of strength.
Looking back at the pictures now, two and half years after she made them, Mar says she’s changed in many ways—but at her core, she’s remained the same. The artist grew up in the countryside and often ventured into the woods to play as a child. She was most at peace when she was allowed to be “free and wild in nature.”
Although she lives in the city now, Mar still finds herself making trips to the forest in search of adventure and a sense of belonging. When she needs to find herself, she heads back to the woods, where she can be alone amongst the endless rows of trees—and the thoughts running through her mind.
License these images via Noa Mar.
Browse more work by Noa Mar over at her Shutterstock portfolio. Or, check out her website for more inspiration and updates.
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