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Dance Style Portraits

I love ballet. I love all things soft, delicate, and feminine.
I recently watched a video by Sue Bryce about shooting dance style portraits, and wanted to try it myself. I wanted to see if I can pose girls who aren’t dancers in a way that would make them look like they are. Because really, what girl doesn’t secretly want to be a ballerina?

For newsletter
For this shoot I bought lots and lots of tulle, both black and beige. I took it to a tailor and explained what I wanted to her and within two days I had two gorgeous skirts. I had an amazing makeup artist for the day, Rachida, who was introduced to me by another makeup artist I’ve worked with before.

I love making behind the scenes videos to show people what you usually happens during these shoots. Check it out here.

I’m going to start offering dance style portraits to my clients now because I just absolutely love it. Why not feel like a ballerina for a day and have it documented? Gimme a call, send me an email, let’s make it happen! 🙂

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The Storms That Rage Inside Us

Back in December, Hasselblad sent me a camera to try. I had the H5D-50C, and two lenses: HC 50II MM and HC 80MM. It was absolutely amazing to use. The sound of the shutter alone is just.. ahhh.

Okay I won’t gush too much. I planned out a series of images specifically to create with that camera, and it was inspired by a Haruki Murakami quote:
The storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. The storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it. There’s no sun, no moon, no direction, no sense of time.

Also, I was interviewed on the Hasselblad website! I talk about the camera, photography, and dealing with depression. Check it out here: http://www.hasselblad.com/our-world/feature/feeding-the-evil-wolf

I created the whole series with the lovely Line Van Zyl, one of my good friends’ sister. She’s a ballerina and working with her was just so much fun. I took a few pictures of her dancing that I’ll be releasing soon. We did the whole shoot in my office because I wanted to use the black wall that I have there. I also have a huge window so I thought I’d only use natural light, but so much happened and by the time we started shooting I was losing light. Thankfully, Issa was there to assist and he had lights with him, so I ended up using a 5′ Profoto Octabank which he set up for me. I also rented a fog machine and fell in love with it and now I want to own one.

Issa was kind enough to set up his GoPro so we filmed the WHOLE day. We were shooting from 12pm to 12am. It was crazy. My CF card failed halfway through, so I ended up having to redo some of the pictures. Here’s 12 hours reduced into 5 minutes:

This series is created around the idea of the internal storms that are constantly raging inside us. Sometime we see them coming, but there is no shelter. With dread in our eyes we watch as it drags in. There’s no stopping it. It hits so suddenly, and even though we saw it coming, it ruins all that is good in us. Nothing stays there. And as soon as it came, it disappears. Leaving only a cloud of fog. We’re lost and confused. We’re scared. We don’t know where to go or how to find our way back, nothing is clear anymore. And we lose hope. We lose hope and believe that nothing will ever be okay. Even the beauty that lived on in our minds is wilting.
But just as fast as the storm hit, and just as we’re ready to give in to despair, a ray of light appears. Flowers grow out of our cracks. We see beauty again and we’re ready to face the world.

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There are a few other images that I shot with the Hasselblad and have already shared on instagram, but take a look here:

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Wither

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Dissipate Into Clouds of Darkness

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If Tomorrow Never Comes

If tomorrow never comes, would I feel like I’ve lived my life the best way I can? Did I do enough? Did I tell people how much I love them, did I change someone’s life to the better, did I influence anyone.
Did I make a difference?

Today is one of those days where I feel like there’s so much that I want to do, it scares me. I wonder sometimes if what I’m doing is meaningful, if it’s necessary or important. Maybe I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. Maybe I’m a little lost. Maybe a part of me wants to give up. Maybe my monsters still need more training.

If Tomorrow Never Comes

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together.. there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart.. I’ll always be with you.”
– Winnie The Pooh

One thing that constantly pulls me through a time like this is the love of the people around me. Brooke always quoted Winnie The Pooh in her classes and she often talked about how Winnie The Pooh quotes lift her up. I remember her, her love and support. And every single person that believes in me and I just don’t want to let anyone, including myself, down.

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You don’t have to live the life of a tortured artist

We don’t have to be in a negative state of mind to be able to create.

Over the past few weeks, I struggled so much with that. I didn’t want to create something that doesn’t feel genuine or isn’t a part of me, but at the same time I was dying to create. I used to find a lot of inspiration in the negative thoughts and feelings I used to have, and in translating them into images I felt better. And without the negative thoughts and feelings I thought maybe I have nothing to release. And of course I went into the whole oh my god my fine art days are over I’ll never create anything meaningful again.
And then I thought – hold on. Just because I’m not in that mental state doesn’t mean I don’t know how it feels. I’ve lived through it, and I don’t have to put myself back into just to be able to create.
I was talking to my therapist the other day and I said something about how right now, I feel like I’m standing on the edge. I need to be really careful not to fall and relapse, but I also can’t run before I crawl. And when I said that, I imagined an image in my head and decided to create it.

Heard There’s Peace On The Other Side

Although after brainstorming the idea I decided to turn it into something kinda sad.. it still feels authentic. It still feels like me. I’ve missed creating fine art pieces.

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Confessions of a Former Depressive

A few days ago, my therapist told me that I am no longer considered clinically depressed.
I am a former depressive. I’m in remission. The medication and therapy is now only to prevent relapse.

I’ve been in therapy for exactly 11 months, on medication for 10. It’s been a long and exhausting journey, but a beautiful one. The ups and downs were, and still are, constant. But my monster is my friend now. Like a little child, he has his mood swings and some days he stomps and yells but that’s when I know that all he really wants is love. If I argue back, we won’t get anywhere and we’ll both be upset.

It’s almost scary in a way. My depression was a part of me for so long, and now I feel like I’m rediscovering who I am, or who I could be, without it. It’s so easy to slip into old habits when things aren’t great, and to think that I’m giving into it once again but that’s when I stop and reevaluate things. Mood swings are normal, everyone has them. Being sad doesn’t mean I’ve fallen into the pits of depression once again, it just means I’m human.

The Beautiful Darkside

My therapist joked about how I will have to start creating happy images now, and I said “never!”
But I kept thinking about it, fearing that without my depression I wouldn’t be able to create something meaningful, something that people can relate to. Is this it for me? Or is this another door then I’m stepping into? I know that I will never stop creating. I need to create. Every fiber of my being feels the need to create meaningful work. Maybe it won’t be as dark as what I used to create, maybe it’ll be darker. The possibilities are endless and I’m so excited for what’s to come.

Here are five things I’ve learned throughout these 11 months of therapy, hopefully they’ll help someone make the decision to seek help.

1. Therapy works – if you let it. 
I know there are a lot of people who are very skeptical about therapy. There are lots of different types of therapy. What I’m doing is called CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and it changed my life. CBT taught me how to deal with and treat my monster. But there were times where I was very resistant to it. I knew I wanted help, knew I needed it, but it just felt like too much work. Being aware of your thoughts and monitoring them 24/7 is exhausting.

2. Medication and therapy go hand in hand.
Trust me, if you take medication without going to therapy, there won’t be much change. And the change that might happen (maybe you sleep better with medication) won’t be worth the side effects that some medications cause. When I had to travel throughout the year and missed out on therapy sessions, I started feeling bad again despite being on medication.

3. Therapy is scary.
Sitting with a stranger and telling him or her your deepest, darkest secrets is one of the scariest things to do. Especially if you’re sometimes paranoid, because then you assume they’re judging you and they’re going to use everything you told them against you someday and your whole life will be over and you’ll lose all your friends and it’s almost like a Harriet The Spy kinda thing but on a more adult level. But that doesn’t happen and once you get over the fear and open up your heart, it is such a relief.

4. No one, and nothing, can help you if you don’t help yourself.
I learned that the hard way. I canceled sessions, made up excuses, and found myself in a dark place once again. No one’s going to force you to go to therapy or take your medication, especially if you’re doing this on your own. And even if you did have someone forcing you to do that, it just has to come from within. It has to be something you want with all your might.

5. People are more empathetic than you think. 
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I talked about my depression so many times on my blog and I do it in person too. I’m not ashamed of it. There’s a stigma around it, for sure, but I found that when I tell people about it in person, so many have been very kind and empathetic. I think the fear of being judged or criticized or ridiculed is what causes so many people to go through this alone and suffer in silence. They shouldn’t. You shouldn’t.

Talk about it. Call up a friend and tell them how you feel. Get help. Go to therapy. Send me a message. Even if you want to be anonymous. I promise I’ll be there.
Please, just don’t suffer in silence. 

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Damaged Goods

In our society, if you’re in your mid-twenties or older, and you’re not married yet, then you’re damaged goods.

Damaged Goods, I

My model wishes to remain anonymous, but she gave me permission to share her story:

She is almost 30 years old. She went through two engagements. She got divorced before she even started her marriage. To society, she is damaged, she is broken.
But to me, she’s beautiful. She’s independent, she has goals and dreams, she’s fearless. She doesn’t need a man to make her whole.

Damaged Goods, II

There’s so much pressure on her right now to “settle down” and start a family. She has to accept whoever comes and proposes to her because “she’s getting old” and “who would want to marry someone who’s in their thirties?” and “what are people going to say about you and about your family?”

Damaged Goods, III

It’s something that many Arabs need to come to terms with. So many women have the potential to do amazing things, but are held back by society’s rules and expectations.
I don’t care if I don’t get married anytime soon and I’m almost 25, but what matters is that when I do make that decision, it’s not because society forced it upon me, it’s because I found the right person.  Or if I don’t get married then there’s something wrong with me, or I wouldn’t make a good housewife.
You know what? I take that back. I wouldn’t make a good housewife. Because I can’t and won’t settle for that life. There’s so much that I want to do and so many places I want to see. And if I’m considered damaged goods, then so be it. I’ll wear it with pride. And I’ll keep talking about it till we’re no longer considered damaged goods.

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Broken is Beautiful

For Sara

Kintsugi
(noun) To repair with gold; The art of repairing metal with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

Kintsugi I

We are all imperfect. We are all flawed. We are, or were, broken in one way or another. Being human, we strive to live up to our expectations. Then we fall short. We make mistakes. No one is perfect. We are as we are. And there’s so much beauty in that. There’s beauty in our cracks, there’s beauty in our flaws.

This image is the first of the series of portraits I’m creating based on the Kintsugi concept. This was shot with the lovely Asma Al Aloosi.
I’ve decided to start taking bookings for portrait sessions because I absolutely love it. I already have two shoots booked and I’m super excited! If you’re interested in booking a shoot with me just send me an email at amanialshaali@gmail.com

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We Break Before We Shine

We Break Before We Shine

I read a beautiful quote the other day, but I can’t seem to find it. I’m paraphrasing but it was something like “if we weren’t cracked or broken, the light wouldn’t be able to shine through”. I think that we all have a light inside of us, and it shines so bright but there are times when we stifle the light to keep our hearts safe. We try to dim the darkness but in doing so we dim the light.

Lets not be afraid of breaking, for when we break our light shines through.

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Stepping Out of Comfort Zones

I did the unthinkable. I created an image.. that’s not a square.
– insert dramatic music –

It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but over the last two months I’ve been rethinking everything I do. I realized how much I like my comfort zone and how I’m kind of stuck in my ways. I had a conversation with Sara Lando while she was in Dubai and she killed my babies (kidding, kinda). We went over my work, she asked me some questions about what I’m trying to do with my photography and where I’m trying to go and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since then. I realized I’m heavily influenced by the conceptual world of photography, and we’re all kinda.. doing the same thing. I don’t mean that in a negative way and I don’t mean to demean anyone’s art or personal stories or anything, I just.. don’t want to do things for the sake of fitting in. And it’s not even about standing out, I don’t care if I don’t stand out, but I care about being authentic. I care about doing what feels right.. to me.

And that is why this image isn’t a square.

it won’t be far enough (with Raluca Coleasa)

I had a conversation with a friend about this image. I started editing it as a square, and I said that I think this image would look so much better if I had more of the ocean on both sides, and a square crop won’t give me that, unless I expand the frame more but if I do that, the girl would be too small.
So my friend said: “so.. don’t make it a square”.
Me: “but all my images are squares.. squares means consistency”.
Friend: “consistency means staying in a comfort zone”.

And that just made me decide that no, I don’t want to stay in my comfort zone. I’ve only been doing fine art photography for (almost) 3 years, I don’t need to follow the rules I set for myself when I first started, it’s way too soon for that. Maybe when I’m forty something I’ll feel the need to stay consistent, but that’s mainly going to be because I’ve developed a style over years and it’s exactly what I want to do.

But for now, I’m just going to experiment as much as possible. I’m rebel. Can’t stop won’t stop.

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Fiona

I recently got a chance to photograph Fiona again before she got married and moved to Canada. I worked with her a while back on a couple of images and we always said we’d do something again but it just never happened. We ran into each other at an event and she told me she’s moving and I knew I had to work with her at least once before she does. She’s such a wonderful person, so much fun to be around, and she’s just so kind. I’m sad that she’s gone, but she’s starting a new chapter in her life and I’m so happy for her.

I’ve had an idea in mind for over a year now, and when Fiona and I decided to create something together, I knew it had to be that idea. Fiona’s features just work so well with it.
The whole thing is based on a song that I heard on the show Nashville. It’s one of the most emotional songs on that show, sung by the character Scarlett (played by Clare Bowen) as a dedication to her mother. Scarlett’s relationship with her mother was a toxic one. She loved her mother dearly, but couldn’t get past the emotional and physical abuse she went through growing up.

I wanted to create a wall of black roses. And I started making some out of black crepe paper, but it took such a long time. I made a bunch of them but then decided to use fake flowers and paint them black. I was running out of time (because for some reason, I like to leave things till the last minute) so I only made one board that’s around the same size as A0 paper. I ended up compositing more of it into the background to make it look like an entire wall.

Lay Low

I can see your eyes staring into mine,
but it’s a battlefield and you’re on the other side.
You can throw your words, sharper than a knife,
and leave me cold in another house on fire.
I lay low, lay low and watch the bridges burn
I lay low, lay low. What more could I have done?
Now you only bring me black roses,
And they crumble into dust when they’re held.

I also wanted to have black roses falling all around her.. but I wanted them to be on fire. Which wasn’t doable because it was too windy.
Setting this up was hilarious. Issa assisted me on this shoot, and I’m so glad he did because he came up with awesome solutions and easier ways of doing things. This is our makeshift studio, and funny enough that wall that we used – it’s a cemetery wall. There’s a cemetery right behind where we shot. That’s not weird. Nope.

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We used Issa’s light stands to hang a net that I picked up from a halloween store in the US, and hung the flowers with thread. I so wanted to set them on fire though. I like setting things on fire. I’m not a pyromaniac, I swear.

I’m also making it a habit to shoot portraits of whoever I’m photographing for my conceptual images. I wanted to keep the paper flower theme going and I used a beautiful painting by Amy Judd as reference.
I’m falling in love with simple portraits.

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I also wanted to try something a little more experimental.

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And of course, silly pictures are a must.

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It was so awesome working with Fiona. I love this girl. I regret not photographing her more but I’m hoping our paths cross in the future and we can work together again. Fiona, I wish you the very best. You deserve it. You have such a kind heart and I so appreciate you letting me make you sit on mud and freezing water. You’re incredible.

p.s. I also did a spontaneous shoot with her on the same day, before we lost the natural light. Will share that one soon!