Urban Musings with an Amazing Storyteller
I’m Besides Myself, Urban Muser
Urban Muser by BP
There are so many talented photographers and artists out in mobile land. Its a beautiful thing to discover and be inspired by folks from around the world. This is one of them stories. I believe I found Christy aka Urban Muser via one of our 1000 Words Showcases. I was speechless by her image, “The Other Side.” She has been showcased on our site and I’m sure many others. Rebecca first showcased her for Sunday Blues Edit, then a few 1000 Words IPA 1/2 and Flickr (link above). Truth be told, “The Other Side” still lingers with me. I found it honest and compelling and was accompanied by text that rang for days. It truly resonated as its what I try to do with my own work, albeit our genres are different. She told a story and I watched and listened. SO…of course I asked her if we can have a dialogue and share it with you all. Through this interview, it got apparent that her artistry is brilliant and with our mutual love for music, I asked her to conceptualize an image based on one of my favorite songs, “Maybe, I’m Amazed” by Paul McCartney. Along with that, Christy also agreed to provide a techincial approach to her final image.
It’s an honor to present to you all, Christy Gibney aka Urban Muser.
B: BP C: Christy
B: Tell us about yourself.
C: I live in New York City with my husband and my dog Willow (who I am often accused of treating as if she is a human…I take it as a compliment). We also have a cat, but let’s just say I’m a dog-person and leave it at that. Our apartment is in northern Manhattan just off the Hudson River. It’s a little quieter up here and away from the hustle bustle of downtown where I used to live. Don’t get me wrong, I love the energy of the city, but it’s nice to still be in it without always being IN it.
I’m a former lawyer and a current non-profit consultant with a creative soul. My early career was spent working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and for the past 12 years my focus has been on emergency management and disaster planning and recovery with human service organizations–mostly here in the city, but in other parts of the country as well. I got into this work in the wake of 9/11, which was a real turning point in both my personal and professional lives.
Looking back, I don’t think the word “artist” was ever used in my family when I was growing up but my mom was an amateur painter and drawer. Unfortunately, none of that talent passed down to me, but I remember as a child how I loved to watch her set up her easel and canvas and her paints or charcoals and go to work. She did a lot of landscapes, still-lifes and some portraits of family members. I was in awe of how she could create something so beautiful and personal and I think that had an impact on me.
sleepwalking, urban muser
I’ve got several avid amateur photographers in the family and I quickly developed a love for the camera. My parents gave me a Kodak 110 camera was I was about 10 years old and you could say I was hooked after that. I have an aunt and uncle who always had the latest camera equipment and weren’t shy about pointing that lens in everyone’s faces at all times. They shot on slide film and we’d all sit together at night and watch slide shows from our vacations. Thirty years later I still can hear the tap, tap, click and whirling sound of the carousel as it advanced to the next photo. So, I guess you could say that the beauty of the ability to capture a moment in time and hold onto it was etched into me early on.
B: Where are you from? Where have you lived prior?
C: I’m originally from a small suburban town in northern New Jersey, about 20 miles west of New York City. I lived in NJ through most of my young adult life except for my time spent away at college just outside of Philadelphia. I was fortunate to be exposed to New York City and all it has to offer at a young age–my father worked as a film and video editor for over 40 years at NBC in Rockefeller Center and my mother was a big Broadway fan and often brought me along to shows as her sidekick. I marveled at the city streets, the people, the food, the sense of excitement and freedom, and I promised myself as a child that I would live here someday.
Dark Whisper Part One, Urban Muser
B: How does your answers above influence your work in mobile photography and mobile arts?
C: In the past few years I’ve really put a lot of my energy into self-portrait work, which is deeply personal and not really influenced much by my surroundings. But I also enjoy capturing the flow of characters and life in the city–both on the streets and even more so winding through the darkness underground on the almost 700 miles of subway tracks. I am always surreptitiously snapping candid photos of riders on the trains. I love to watch people and construct a narrative in my head about where they’re going and where they’ve been. I don’t always share the results of these photos online, but sometimes if one really speaks to me I’ll post it on one of the social media platforms.
B: Who are your main draws for inspirations in art in general – fine art, music etc? Do you have 1-2 photographs or art that you feel are main source/s of inspiration in your work currently?
C: I would definitely say self-portrait work is heavily influenced by music. I like all kinds of music and the inspiration it provides can come at any stage in my creative process. What I mean by that is sometimes I hear a song lyric and I start to envision a self-portrait that I could create to encapsulate how that lyric made me feel. Other times I can be playing music during a “shoot” and it will influence me that way, and still other times it doesn’t happen until the editing or post-processing stage–I might be listening to music as I edit or just use a song lyric or song title as the title for my finished piece. Besides music, my self-portraits are also a product of my love for antique and vintage things and I’ll sometimes use an old prop or a dress I pick up in a thrift store to try to give my work a timeless or ghostly feel.
As for who inspires me, there are so many photographers…Vivian Maier, Sally Mann, Julia Margaret Cameron, Bill Cunningham (he rode past me on his bicycle wearing his signature blue jacket near Columbus Circle last year and I wanted to tackle him!), Henri Cartier-Bresson, the list goes on. I am a huge fan of Francesa Woodman, especially her self-portrait work. Her exploration of the female body, decay and sadness through the use of long exposures is incredible. I can get lost in the imagined stories behind her transient figures and her use of light, space and mirrors to create such surreal and haunting scenes. It’s unfortunate that we lost her at such a young age—I was lucky to see an exhibition of her work at the Guggenheim last year. It’s not possible for me to choose a favorite of her images, but here are a couple that I admire:
B: When did you start in mobile photography/mobile artistry? Do you have your first shot and would you share?
C: I started shooting mobile with my first iPhone (3gs) in 2010. I had no idea when I pressed that shutter button on the screen for the first time what a lasting effect this photographic medium would have on me. I had gotten away from photography for several years and the iPhone with its endless combination of apps definitely reawakened my creative side. I spent a couple of weeks playing around with Hipstamatic and I was intrigued by the randomness of the colors and light leaks, and the vintage feel to the frames and “films.”
My first mobile shot was of the George Washington Bridge in May 2010. I live close to the spot where I took this photo and the GWB is a constant muse for me (actually, I love to shoot any bridge whenever I can). This is not a very good photo but I’m sharing ’cause you asked! In my defense it was taken before the availability of the “precision” viewfinder mode in Hipstamatic so it’s certainly not a lesson in composition. I’m still a fan of Hipstamatic to this day, but I’ve moved on to many other apps since then.
B: Can you explain the concept phase for you?
C: Most of my current work is about exploring the subject of self. I don’t have a set process for how I go about creating an image–an idea for a photo can hit at any time. This often happens when I’m riding on the subway or running with my headphones on, and a song lyric might strike a chord inside me creating the desire to try to capture the words or the mood in an image. Sometimes it can be a literal depiction of a song or quote and other times it can just be a feeling that I get from listening to the song. The seedlings for a photo can also spring up when I am walking through my favorite park. I’ll see a tree, a bench or a pathway and start to visualize what I could do if I inserted myself into the scene. I keep a list of these ideas because there are usually so many rolling around inside my head.
When I get some time to shoot and edit, it hopefully starts to come together. Once I have the image, it’s all about experimentation in the apping phase. I tend to gravitate towards black & whites, or soft muted tones if I use color. The figures in my photos are often moving or blurred. I sometimes have a vague idea in my mind of the direction in which I want to go but I don’t know what it will be until I have the final image in front of me. There are usually several versions with minor variations before I choose the final one. It’s a process I really enjoy–being able to take a blip of an idea in my head, create an alternate universe, and hopefully turn it into something that tells a story.
Journey, Urban Muser
B: If I was to provide you with a song, would you be able to post process/edit to it…would love to see the emotion that the song brings to you and how it would change the end result, if not totally cool. again so intriguing to me. If you’re up for it the song I’d like for you to consider is Paul Mcartney’s Maybe Im Amazed.
C: Let me start by saying that I’ve never been asked to do something like this and it was a REALLY hard assignment Brad! I can’t say I listen to a lot of Paul McCartney but I was familiar with this song so I decided to give it a go. The first thing I did was just listen to the song in its entirety. There were a couple of lines that I immediately thought could be the basis for a new image. To be sure, I looked up the lyrics to the song so I could read them and isolate the words. In the end I decided I could shoot and edit something based on the line: “maybe I’m amazed at the way you’re with me all the time; and maybe I’m afraid of the way I leave you.”
Although this is widely heralded as a love song, in my typical fashion I was pulled towards this line which is a little sad and made me feel a certain loneliness. Right away I thought I might want to show a woman (me, since this is a self-portrait) walking away from something–the chair idea didn’t come into the picture until about halfway through the shoot. In the final edit you see the woman leaving behind an empty chair, but looking back as if she’s unsure. She’s walking away from the light into the darkness, tentatively reaching back as if she might be leaving something good behind. The birds came in during the editing process, loosely inspired by the line “maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something that he doesn’t really understand.” I like to add a dream-like element to my images when I can, and the birds coming out of my stomach and through the border of the photo seemed to capture that feeling of bewilderment I was after. I don’t usually like to share that much of the backstory but would rather leave it up to the viewer to imagine their own story. Perhaps they can still wonder where I am going and why I am leaving?
I shot this self-portrait with the Slow Shutter app, a favorite of mine for when I want to capture blur and movement. I then took the photo into Snapseed for a little straightening and fine tuning–that’s pretty much a standard move for me. Next up, Vintage Scene, which a is great app for, well, giving photos a vintage look–no surprise there. I use this app often and just play around with the settings until I see something I like.
I added the birds using an app called Tapfx. This app has many different effects that you can add to photos but I’ve only ever used the birds. I actually have many of my own photos of birds that I usually layer into my photos for a bird effect but for this one I wanted to place the birds in somewhat of a line coming out of my body so it was easier to do this way.
Since Tapfx cropped the image square, I had to take it into Superimpose and lay the square version with the birds over the portrait version to bring it back to the right crop.
Next, a few minor edits in Retouch to fix some areas that had too much texture or a random scratch that I didn’t like.
At this point I thought it might be done but as I often do, I let it sit on my camera roll for a while. I like to take a fresh look at my images after a few days or a week, or even longer sometimes. When I came back to this one I felt that it needed more. I decided to experiment with Scratch Cam–a great app that allows you to play around with the color and apply scratches, textures, and borders–but I ended up not incorporating this version.
So I moved on to Noir Photo where you can choose different areas of the image and darken or lighten the surrounding area to create a vignette. I played around here a bit but settled on keeping the right side of the photo light and have her moving towards the darkness.
And finally, I pulled it into Square Ready, added a few more birds in Tapfx, save, and done!
B: What are some of your advice for readers who are looking to get more into mobile photography? We all started somewhere, for example your Hipstamatic bridge shot, and have gotten more comfortable…what would be your words be to someone who wants to engage and participate but are brand new to the art form or do not feel that they are “to the level” and are intimidated?
C: I think this is a great question, because to be honest I’m not sure any of us ever fully gets to the place where we are completely comfortable with our own work. Especially in this world where we all share so much through social media…with all the “likes” and favorites and comments…it can definitely be intimidating. What’s beautiful and at the same time overwhelming about mobile photography is that it is constantly evolving–there is always a new app or technique to learn, always someone else’s work to be awed and inspired by. So sure, I have some advice for the newbies to mobile photography but know that I still need to take some of this advice myself!
- Familiarize yourself with a few good apps and learn the finer points of how to use them instead of constantly jumping around from app to app. I have over 100 camera apps but honestly, I use about 6 of them on a regular basis.
- Resist the urge to over-process. It’s so fun in the beginning that sometimes it’s hard to know when enough is enough.
- Check out about mobile photography on blogs and websites like We Are Juxt, iPhoneArt, The App Whisperer and others. There’s so much out there; you can immerse yourself in the mobile arts–learn about apps, the latest gear and accessories, find inspiration in interviews and articles showcasing other artists’ work, it’s endless.
- Start slow and work your way into it. You’re not going to love every photo right off the bat and not every app is the most user-friendly. Be kind to yourself during the learning curve.
- Don’t delete every photo that you don’t like on the first pass. Sometimes I’ll go back through my camera roll months later, see an image in a whole new light, and turn it into something I love!
- You are the ultimate critic of your own work—–shoot for yourself and no one else.
- Photography is personal—–look around at other people’s work and see what you like, but then develop your own style.
Breathe, Urban Muser
B: Urban Muser – Can you please give the background on this name?
C: The name was randomly chosen when I started a now-dormant blog back in 2010. I live in NYC and the blog was just going to be a random collection of my thoughts and musings so wanted to call the blog “Urban Musings” but that name was taken so I went with “Urban Muser”. Then I started sharing images on flickr, IPA and other places, still using my alter ego Urban Muser instead of my real name and it kind of stuck. I’m incredibly shy about sharing my work with people I know; in fact, other than my husband, very few of my “real life” friends or family have ever seen any of my self-portraits (and the ones who have seen my work were just brought into the loop recently). I know that sounds crazy but when I started getting more serious about the photography hobby I didn’t expect it to become such a big part of my life. This year I promised myself I’d slowly start working to bring my two worlds together and let the cat out of the bag! In the last few months I’ve shown my work to a few friends and my brother…they’ve been shocked that I’ve been keeping this a secret for so long, but very encouraging.
Meet Christy below:
Tumblr // Twitter // Instagram // EyeEm // Flickr // Websites: Mortal Muses – Me & You: 52