[A] teenage girl’s bedroom is a sacred place. Hours are spent in front of the mirror trying on different identities for size, in pursuit of figuring out who she wants to be in a world that often dictates what this should be. These hours are also witness to bursts of intense creativity. In New York City, a teenaged Flo Ngala took these solitary teenage hours a step further, using her self reflection to create multiple self portraits. She says, “The objective of this was never for egotistical purposes. I learned through shooting that the more I photographed myself, the more I understood how to tap into emotion.” The child of West African immigrants, this purposeful image making was a way for her to better understand herself. It was also a way to manifest the ideas she had in her head without needing to ask anyone for help. “Taking pictures of myself was my first exposure to what the creative process really was, and how I decided on what I want to do career wise.”
Looking back on this work now, produced between the ages of 15 and 19 years old, she can identify different themes or phases. The most prominent being a time where she’d only ever take photos of herself in black and white. In retrospect, she says, “A part of me feels as though that period of my work was subconsciously connected to [my father’s] death and the images expressed something I was feeling but at the time never verbally expressed.”
Today at 21 years old, Flo credits self portraiture as having the biggest influence on her work as an artist overall, “This work that I do in private has been a way for me to lay tracks for what I go on to do for other people when taking images. My craft is having ideas and these portraits have basically trained me to have good ideas.”
On selfie culture though, she is sceptical, “I think this generation is a little vain and phrases like “do it for the ‘gram” kind of say it all. I also feel like this comes from the fact that some of the most glorified people in society today and for the past few years are no longer the most talented, or hard working, but now tend to be the most attractive or the most scandalous. “But I’ve realised that I’m a bit of a hypocrite when it comes to this topic because I think people should be able to express themselves however they want to, and I’m kind of just a glorified selfie taker myself.”
Not surprisingly, Flo holds self expression in high regard, “My mom always says you never really know someone, you just know what they choose to show you. You can seriously control how the world sees you by how you choose to express yourself, what you wear, what you eat, what you do and that’s such an awesome thing.”
Here, she shares her favourite, and most recent, self-portraits with descriptions in her own words.
Self Portrait (2016)
So I go thrifting A LOT. I’ll admit I end up buying stuff I simply don’t need but it’s so cheap! So with these rubber band rings, I saw a bunch packaged at a local Goodwill and had a different idea for them but after a good few months I still hadn’t put them to use. I saw them laying in my room one day and was like: Okay, I gotta do something. I just put them on my fingers and then went up to my roof and took some pictures.
Now You See Us, Soon You Won’t (Red Silk Series)
So after hearing about the death of Alton Sterling I was really angry and emotional, this struck a different chord for me than the prior instances of police brutality that we unfortunately hear about way more than we should. Prior to this image, besides a retweet, share or like, I was not necessarily vocal about what I’d seen and heard in the news in regards to the deaths of innocent people of colour at the hands of police. I’d gone thrifting this day and bought this awesome red two piece. When I got home, I grabbed my mom’s slippers and started taking full body shots. Because it had rained earlier that day, when I was going to review an image on my camera, one of the slippers got stuck in a puddle. I then thought to do these two very similar images with me in one but absent from the other. While editing I thought about incorporating the Black Lives Matter aspect and decided to caption the image Now You See Us, Soon You Won’t. I’m in the process of turning this into a much bigger ongoing series.
Jump Around (Red Silk Series)
The idea for Jump Around randomly came to me. I was in my house and had about an hour before I had to get ready for work, I’d recently purchased these red pants and also had these red suede shoes. I put them on with a red silk shirt I had and took some pictures. I definitely knew that because red was such a bright colour that I wanted the photo to really strike with this pop of high contrast. I tend to buy oversized clothing so I started off just posing still and then realised I got cooler images when I started moving around.
Day 2 (Pinkeye Series)
So this image was inspired by me catching pinkeye. Inspiration can come from anywhere! My eyes were in pain because I was straining them with the light but I didn’t care. I asked my brother to help me with this so he was the camera man and I directed him. I draped this white sheet over us. It was actually really hard to get this shot but I loved what came out of these and they inspired my Red Silk Series.
This was another one of those images inspired by boredom, going into it I knew exactly what kind of picture I wanted to get and I’m really happy with the way it came out. It’s super simple the tiniest photoshopped detail which is really not that obvious so I like the double take aspect to it. Also I must say that all this self portraiture has definitely taught me how to become a model myself!
This is an image that will always be one of my favourites because I just think it’s super graphic and cool. I took it in my room. I’ve definitely seen images like this before and it is a pretty popular concept but I think one of the reasons it gained a lot of attention was because of the colours and the print. I shot it over a year ago and when I posted it on Tumblr it exploded, I still get notifications for it. It has close to 27,000 notes.