And the River Will Rise Up
by Samantha Hulbert, a.k.a. God Volcano
It was in 2006 when I picked up my first camera, a Pentax
ZX-50, which was given to me by my father. The camera
was a second limb. And I took it everywhere with me, which in turn created a drive that would never truly subside. For about a year, I had a pile of prints depicting everything from portraits of my closest friends to the macros of the flowers outside in my backyard. It was until I got my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot S3IS, that I really started thriving, really wanting to learn how to better create an image. Yes, these were just the beginning stages of a long, fulfilling relationship with photography.
I was born in Ashtabula, Ohio and moved all around from there on out. My childhood was based in Florida; but from the ages of seven to twenty-one, I lived in North Carolina. Those last four years of living there, I could feel the drive that was all too prevalent from the years before had dwindled. Everything was a routine, and I became complacent, making no time for artistic expression. I was not growing anymore. I was stagnating, repressing the drive to create. In retrospect, I should’ve made the move far sooner, but I finally got out of the cesspool I was living in and made the long move from North Carolina to the beautiful West Coast.
Portland, Oregon was the air I needed to breathe in order to get back to where my mindset was so long ago. All of the new surroundings, the eclectic groups of people, the overall air of creativity that thrives here kick started a new era for me.
When I first started taking photographs, I now know I held back from what I was truly capable of showcasing. Perhaps it was out of fear of not truly being accepted, or perhaps it was something as simple as immaturity and lack of skill. I was in a shell. And slowly, day by day, I’d chip away the pieces, eventually breaking out of the constraints I’d given myself. The use of bold colors and shadows, self portraiture, and a fascination with nature have always been on-going components through out my portfolio. But with the progression of time brings change - with new experiences brings growth; styles are subsequently redefined. From naivety to bold defiance, my photography became not so much about taking photos, but creating (by any means necessary) a true representation of myself, what I love, and what I’ve been through.
As far as everything I’ve learned about techniques and aesthetic appeal, I’ve learned the majority of it on my own. And as hard as it is to admit, I would still have to consider myself an amateur because of that and the fact that I‘ve never had any real formal schooling. Personally and artistically, however, I’m always in the pursuit of knowledge. I’m constantly learning new things even after six years of photography. And I owe it partly to never sticking to one concept or the same subject matter. In doing so, it creates a lovely rift in an otherwise bland routine.
From the very beginning, I’ve used music as an inspiration. The first real self portrait I ever took (that I was genuinely proud of) was in 2007 entitled Go Back to Sleep (from A Perfect Circle’s The Thirteenth Step): a black and white piece with heavy shadows and bright highlights to outline skin and bone. I’m cradled in my favorite chair with my head buried down and my left hand resting at the very top. Regardless of how long ago it was taken or the amateurish editing, I still consider it to be perfect. It was a catalyst, a culmination of everything that I am, and, most importantly, a glimpse of what was to become of my photography.
God Volcano or Volcano is a pseudonym of mine that I coined after falling in love with the work of Pig (aka Raymond Watts). Not only does the name tie into my love of music and the song itself, but it has a bit of a deeper, more personal meaning - when speaking metaphorically, of course, I’m a volcano. I have emotions, some bottled up, some latent. It’s incredibly difficult to repress emotions for me; but when I do, it’s only a matter of time before I burst. And then there’s destruction and ending of relationships, bridges are burned, anger is at its peak. On the other hand, when I’m able to talk things out or speak freely without any fear of judgment or confrontation - I’m dormant. I’m solidified. I’m serene, beautiful, just as a volcano would be. As far as “God” Volcano, I liken it to audible confidence. For the majority of my schooling, I was the center for ridicule, so I never had any room to have self-confidence. I’ve always been that kind of person to retreat inward. But I’ve come such a long way in terms of, well, everything - photography, acquiring knowledge, learning to better myself as a human being. Photography itself gave me the confidence I’ve been looking for, made me realize things about myself and even others. It’s true - we are not all perfect. But the only thing we can do is accept, never dwell, and grow with it, always with confidence.
TTIDFL II: The Things I Do For Love, is a more recent portrait taken in October 2011. There’s a photo TTIDFL I that goes along with this, as well, which is a macro of my mouth housing copious amounts of dry dirt and debris.
While a photograph of a beautiful landscape is indeed beautiful, it still holds no substance. So I created this piece, something that can hopefully warrant an emotional response, something to make a person ask themselves, “Well, why? Why would you do that?” like creating something new, something no one else would think/want to do for a photograph. I take pride in the process, the pain, the time, and (in this case) the dry heaving it takes to have something turn out the way I envision it.
And all of that ties into the whole title: with love comes sacrifice. I sacrifice possible ridicule and judgment for the image, but I do it for the love of art and creation.
With some portraits, I do use a flash. But for the majority of the time (and in this case), I used natural light. With regards to editing - I used two filters, some mild retouching of the skin, and heavy use of the burn tool.
The black sclera look is a new addition to my self portraits. I’ve altered my eyes this way because, in reality, I have incredibly weak eye muscles, which causes one to drift.
In much older portraits, you would never find my face directed towards the camera; only a profile was visible or my hair would perfectly sweep across my face for concealment. With the black sclera, I open myself up to more ways to express an emotion; gaze can finally be achieved even with the lack of an iris.
SYMBOLS: My creative process varies. For instance, with TTIDFL, I knew what I wanted the final product to look like. So it’s as simple as taking about two dozen photographs,
then finishing off with proper editing. Symbols, however, I went in without anything specific in mind. I was just posing my body the way I saw fit, hoping I’d get the right shot. And
then came the editing - once I started to black out the entire image, I realized it wasn‘t strong enough on its own. So I was able to (visually) piece the photo with its mirror image in order to create something with far more depth. It’s as if my subconscious mind did the creating.
I’ve always been fascinated by double imagery, especially when coupled like this as it creates an entirely new image. The fact that this is reminiscent of an inkblot ties back loosely to the whole subconscious aspect. Of course, there was some thought behind the whole process because I know what poses and angles work for my body type; there was attention to lighting, etc. But, for the most part, I went in blindly. Yet, personal symbolism still seemed to manifest
itself, creating a concept I never knew could exist.
Symbols was just the catalyst for a new means of expression. Not all photographs can work perfectly in creating latent symbolism, but I started to become much more aware of the unique shapes that had the potential of creating such an image. Pieces such as Burn, When the Clouds Appeared, Lineage, and many other pieces were also created with this unique mindset.
Attention to every single detail, every angle, every flaw is pertinent to ensuring a worthwhile final product. I have the ability to erase and cover up superfluous, unwanted components, sure. But ultimately, the photograph will always be in it’s original form, the way it was meant to be. Each and every piece has a concept, a deeper meaning, whether it’s intentional or not.
WRECKED: I love Nature, Landscape, and Portrait photography, although I love capturing most of everything. Macro, however, is by far my favorite. I can’t help but finding pleasure in capturing the intricacies that people aren’t usually able to see. For example, the human eye - they’re expressive, a way to speak volumes without the mention of a single word. The iris alone is architectural, uniquely structured for the person housing them. The human body’s “window to the soul”, so beautiful crafted with its combinations of deep crevices and cracks, spots, and waves. Simply put, the human eye is a piece of artwork. And I look to capture it. I’ve always had an oral and ocular fixation, though I can’t truly explain why. I will say, however, that with childhood comes memories. And my memories of childhood comes with trauma: when I was about four years old, I had surgery on my eyes. Doctors had to literally pop them out of their sockets in order to twist the muscles together in hopes of strengthening them. Long story short, my eyes never strengthened, and I’ve been plagued with weak eye muscles for twenty years. Just as mentioned in the beginning, I’ve carried this stigma around with me. It’s been difficult in overcoming something I can’t change.
At an early age, I was self-conscious about my mouth, as well. I had a large gap in between my two front teeth that I thought I’d never outgrow. By the age of ten, give or take a few years, it started to close up. And it didn’t take long after that for the gap to be non-existent.
Wrecked was taken around early 2011, when my personal style truly started to form. It’s as if everything from the years before never mattered. I’d finally grown out of that shell and (to put it bluntly) said, “I don’t give a fuck anymore. This is who I am.” I started to embrace the shape of my body and everything I once thought was a flaw turned into significance. Wrecked is all about confronting my fears and memories head on through the use of a camera lens. I made myself vulnerable, to an extent, but I wasn’t afraid to showcase it - the eyes became a voice; the mouth became a symbol of power and strength.
DON’T LET IT GO: August, 2011 - At this point in time, I was in a creative rut: my camera was temporarily out of commission; my mind was scattered, unable to come up with any real concept or image that was truly genuine. It happens sometimes. I get to this point where I can’t
produce any more. And if I try to create in this stage, I’m dissatisfied with anything and everything. Photos will then start to look the same, and that’s something I try so desperately to avoid, especially with my self-portraiture.
I’ve learned to wait, to give myself some time to really come up with something unique and, most importantly, something that actually means something to me. However, I can only go so long before I start to feel this pressure build up in my chest. Emotions and thoughts start to build and build, and when I’m at the peak of it all - that’s when I know I‘m ready to create.
Music will always be incorporated in someway, somehow to most (if not all) of my self-portraits.
For this piece I knew I wanted color, as many of the portraits before this were mainly black and white. The blue tones, which are colors most prevalent within my body of work, were chosen for a few reasons: the song Blue from A Perfect Circle is forever circling in my mind. Along with that, the blue seamlessly goes hand in hand with the melancholic facial expressions.
A prominent component within my self portraits is movement. It not only adds more depth and substance, but visually, I find it more stimulating than just the static form of a body. I will say, however, that on a more cognitive level - movement is the only constant in life. I find myself dwelling on the fact that nothing lasts. People, relationships, the trees outside, even the largest rocks on Earth can’t stand the test of time. But by capturing this very moment of movement, I was able to create something that’s forever constant, never to change.
For six years now, I’ve been taking photographs - documenting as much of my life as possible. Capturing the highs, the lows, and the deep unforgiving lows. What better purpose would a camera have if you couldn’t create something tangible to keep with you until the day you die? To remember your youth and where you lived three years ago? To capture a moment you know you’d never see again?
Just in this past year alone, I’ve been through so much. I’m fortunate for the place I’m at right now, but it took me so long to get here. Really, though, whatever happens in life, it shapes you - living in a shit hole apartment with shit people; getting ridiculed for what you look like; moving to a completely new, foreign city; heartbreak, lies, and love. I’ve been through enough to know that anything can be overcome as long you have confidence, family, and good people in your life. And it always helps to have something you love doing, something that brings happiness to an otherwise dull life.
I was born to have a camera in my hand; I have too much to say and feel and think to really have it any other way. Whatever I have to do to keep learning, to keep pushing myself to work harder and out do myself - I’ll do it because I strive for something more. I want to go places, travel, meet new people, go on tour with a band to be their personal photographer, get my own studio, just experience new things. Twenty three years I’ve been on this Earth, and I’ve already learned so much, so I know I’ve got some time. And with time comes knowledge. And with knowledge comes success. And success is what I’m looking to achieve.