There is something about Lisa Visser's work that sets my soul on fire. She's been a creative heroine of mine for many years now, I feel blessed to have been influenced by her creative voice and her authentic self in my own work. It's that depth and connection. The energy ... the truth.
As I sit with Lisa's images, I feel the vulnerability that is met with boldness and courage impact me. Her images resonate with me at a level that asks me to dive boldly, deeply within myself, my creativity. Her work challenges me to sit in acceptance and peace with my own fragility. Her authenticity speaks to me and with each image I hear her whisper to my own heart "it's OK, wherever you are is OK."
Lisa has inspired photographers all over the world, her authenticity playing it's part in influencing the change to fine art portraiture as we see it today. Lisa's sheer honesty and vulnerability her greatest creative asset, her truth an inspiration.
Lisa's fierce courage and determination to keep forging ahead with her dreams, despite her anxiety, because of her anxiety is inspirational. As you read her words, connect to how Lisa continuously challenges herself to keep stepping up, to keep showing up, no matter what. Know that this in itself is a precious gift to each and every creative who reads this interview.
To Lisa -Thank you for being you.
Lisa Visser - The Courageous Creative
Tell me about your creativity – who and what inspires you? Photography is just one outlet I have that helps me to create. Ever since I was small I have loved to create things. The sense of satisfaction and joy I get from life comes from creating: it has always been that way. I find inspiration can come from anywhere – colour combinations, shapes, people, body language, emotions, atmospheres created in music or film, paintings, and attitudes. I try to think about what creates an atmosphere or a feeling so I can replicate that in a picture: I use my camera to capture emotion. For me it’s all about the eyes and intensity, and creating images that make you look more deeply at the individual.
What is the life experience that shaped your life the most? I don’t think one life experience has influenced me any more than any other. I believe I have been shaped into the person I am from a whole series of events and people that I have come into contact with, good or not so good.
How has this reflected in your creativity? I continue to develop and be influenced by those that I come into contact with. I often do wonder what I would be like if my life circumstances had been different; whether it would have affected my creativity.
What drives you to keep evolving creatively? I am a perfectionist so nothing I create feels like it has achieved it's full potential. I constantly want to create better images – images that are more meaningful and give me a greater sense of fulfillment when I look at them. I believe I have so much more to learn and that there is so much more inside of me that I want to express in my portraiture. I don’t like thinking about what will be my final portrait. I feel like I don’t ever want to stop and that maybe I will never take the ultimate image that will have fulfilled my full potential as a photographer. The journey is fun though and I get so much satisfaction from creating images that I am pleased with, even if I often think they could be better.
What are you really passionate about? The things that I am passionate about all really relate to art. Photography, interior design, and period architecture are the three things I am most passionate about. They take over any other interests that I have and are what I tend to focus on the most. I just love looking at beautiful, interesting things and I love transforming things to fulfill their potential.
What is an absolute no for you? I absolutely wouldn’t want to be a wedding photographer. I’d hate the idea of being rushed and put under so much pressure. I don’t know how wedding photographers are able to muster up so much creativity in such a high pressured environment.
What are you most curious about in life right now? I am most curious about life itself – what is it's purpose and how I can fulfill my potential in such a short space of time. I am very curious about what the future holds for me and where my photography will be in 10 years time.
What are your biggest life lessons to date? My biggest life lesson is trying to be more understanding, forgiving, and compassionate to others. Things sometimes happen in life that are very difficult and hurtful and I have learned that you cannot find the answers to everything. But you can move forward and find acceptance of difficult situations.
How did your parents help shape you? My parents played a large part in shaping me as a person. They are religious and so were strict with me as a child, which I didn’t like at the time. But I am grateful that they encouraged me to be a good and honest person and that they taught me the value of money, hard work and integrity. They always praised my creativity and encouraged me to do more.
Who was the one person that influenced you the most and how did they help shape who you are today? I cannot think of one person who has influenced me the most. I have certainly grown and developed as an individual though through the influence of my parents, my husband, my three sisters and my two children.
What one thing are you currently working on to try and improve? I am currently working on trying to improve my procrastination; putting things off that will benefit my business or me as a person. I have become increasingly aware that I will always find time to do the things that I enjoy, but ignore so many others because they give me a sense of fear and anxiety. I have so many goals I want to achieve but fear gets in the way. This is an area that I am determined to change, as I know it is halting my progression as a photographer and a business owner.
What has been your biggest obstacle in life and what did you learn from it? My biggest obstacle has been trying to deal with social anxiety – which I have had since I was a young girl – and still try to be a good portrait photographer. I realised when I was young that it was going to be really difficult to overcome this and be a photographer because of the need to interact with people. However, I am a very determined person and not easily defeated and so I made the conscious decision to follow my goal to be photographer and try to deal with my overwhelming fear of interacting with clients. Over the years it has become easier and I have found ways to become less anxious when I am around people. Thirty years on I still feel scared before every session and sometimes feel that I can’t do it, but somehow I always find a way. The anxiety I feel daily really frustrates me and I feel I have missed out on many opportunities to travel and speak to other photographers because of my fear of public speaking. However, I do try to turn it around and look at what I have achieved despite this, knowing the strain I feel most of the time.
How have you used challenging, emotional experiences to expand your creativity? Although I hate having anxiety, it has made me very sensitive and aware of my clients’ feelings and I can generally pick up if they are feeling uneasy by watching their body language. It also prompted me to create my style of portraiture by showing vulnerably and emotion in my images. I feel it was my own intense feelings of vulnerability that helped me draw upon these feeling to create my 2009 fellowship panel, which was semi-autobiographical. My images are very much a reflection of me.
What was your life defining moment that shaped you into the person/creative you are today? I think many events have made me the creative I am today. Failing my associate qualification was a big moment in my career as a photographer. At the time I was confident that I would pass and then when I didn’t I had to totally re-assess myself as a photographer. At the time I was convinced I had reached the pinnacle of what was possible for me to achieve. When I was told I wasn’t good enough I felt I probably wouldn’t be able to progress any further, as I had worked so hard and didn’t think I had it in me to improve. I cried, ripped up my panel of pictures, and felt sorry for myself for the next few days. Then I kept thinking about the words of the judges and the advice they gave me. I really thought hard about the things they had said about my work and took them on board. I started to feel like my eyes had truly been opened to really look at the image I was taking and how I was taking it. I started to really understand what I was doing wrong and how I could make changes in my work. It made me even more determined to succeed and get my associate qualification, which I went on to achieve six months later. I feel certain that had I not failed, my work would not have moved forward in the direction it did.
What is the one picture your heart is calling you to create? There is one particular image that I have been wanting to create for many years now. I have tried to capture it a couple of times but I haven’t quite succeeded yet. The image in my mind is inspired by the combination of a child I photographed in my fellowship panel and the atmosphere and feeling I got whilst watching a short film clip many years ago. Sometimes I get these ideas but translating them into a photograph is so difficult. This is one that has so far eluded me.
What is your vision for your future – your hopes, goals, and dreams? My main hope for the future is that I can continue to run a business that makes a successful revenue from children’s portraiture. I also really hope I can continue to develop and grow my style. My dream would be to have a beautiful studio – with an improved ceiling height so I can raise my lights high enough – rather than working from the ‘posh shed’ at the end of my garden! I would also love to create work that was good enough to be exhibited and to publish a book of my favorite images.
What do you want to be remembered for? Professionally, I would love to be remembered for creating soulful, thought-provoking images of children.
How has accessing your authentic creativity impacted your life? Creating images from your true authentic self is a very different feeling from selling images that are not. The first half of my career I worked for other people, creating images in the style of the different studios that I worked for. I still enjoyed creating nice images but they weren’t a reflection of me: it was like selling someone else rather than myself. I didn’t get the same sense of fulfillment being a photographer then as I do now. Since creating my associate and fellowship panels I have definitely worked from accessing my own authentic creativity. Now when I sell my work it’s like selling a little piece of me and I feel proud of the work that I am producing.
What were you most afraid of when you started following your passion and how did you overcome those fears? I was most afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pull off being a photographer. I was 17 years old at the time and my perception of portrait photographers was that they seemed to be confident and had excellent people skills. I looked at myself and all I could see was a very shy girl who wasn’t at all confident around people and not very good at making conversation with strangers, something I knew I had to overcome to be good at my job. I really wanted to be a portrait photographer though and I didn’t want my lack of confidence to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I was very driven to make it happen. Although I had a lot to learn technically, the thing I focused on the most was watching how other photographers worked, how they obtained expressions from their clients, how they spoke to them and the sort of things they would say to engage and connect with their subject. In the beginning I really had to put on an act every time I was with a client, even though inside I was often feeling quite panicked. But I found early on I was getting good results and this really spurred me on to keep trying to overcome my lack of confidence. I found if I concentrated on the children’s photography, especially on a one-to-one basis, I really wasn’t too bad. Then as time went on I really improved how I came across to my clients and my ability to draw out what I wanted from them became a lot easier.
Do those fears still show up today? How do you keep pushing through them? Yes, those fears are still there to a degree. You would think after thousands of photo sessions over many years that the anxiety surrounding my performance would have gone, but it still exists. I just manage it a lot better now. My anxiety to create images that my clients will love, that my clients will like me, and that I will be able to get the best out of them is still there. I just accept that this is part of who I am. But I also know that I always get through it. Now, the anxiety tends to disappear quickly once I start concentrating on photographing my client and getting the best out of them. All my focus tends to switch from how I am feeling to making sure my client is relaxed and that I am getting the very best images of them.
When was the last time you attended any kind of learning, development, or workshop programme and what was it? Actually, the last training/development programme I did was with you. The impact was huge. The way you made me look deep into myself and work out ways to improve how I felt and how my business functioned on a daily basis was incredible.
What impact has that had? I look at things very differently now; far more positively. I try and run my business how I want to, not how I think others want me too. I feel far more in control of everything.
How important has personal development been to your life, creativity, and business goals? Personal development is so important. How you feel on the inside really does reflect on how well you can function in your business and as a creative. Running a business is hard work so it is important to stay committed, focused, driven, positive, and calm. I have really been trying to focus on not getting overwhelmed by everything I have to do and the great expectations I feel my clients have of me to create incredible images. I try to set myself little goals each day of the things I want to achieve rather than becoming overwhelmed by thinking about too many things. That way I have a feeling of positivity and accomplishment each day. I am constantly working on my confidence and anxiety levels. These are the two areas that affect me the most and I am determined to keep them at a level where I can continue to work as a portrait photographer. If I have days where my anxiety overwhelms me, I try to focus on all the things I have achieved over the years rather than the things I haven’t been able to.
What are you celebrating right now? It will be thirty years this November since I first got paid for being a portrait photographer. I am celebrating the fact that I am still addicted to creating beautiful images for my clients and for my own personal satisfaction.
If you could speak to the heart and soul of all creatives, what would be the words you would want them to know? If I could speak to the heart of all creatives I would say, it’s OK to feel like you are not creative. I don’t think creativity necessarily comes naturally, certainly not to me. But there are things you can do to help yourself be able to create beautiful images. It’s good to have a notebook with you most of the time so that as you see things that inspire you, write them down or roughly sketch out your ideas, otherwise these fleeting thoughts can soon be forgotten. Picking out a theme or emotion you want to portray in an image and then writing down other words and ideas associated with this can help spark off other ideas in your mind for other concepts and images. Failure is OK. Failure makes you become better. It is frustrating when you have planned a concept for a shoot and you don’t quite pull it off. But you have to be honest with yourself and look and re-assess what it is you feel has failed and then next time work on that area. Some of my favorite images were never planned though. When you are really in tune with your subject and you watch them during the sitting, you can become inspired by them and their distinctive body language. Then, adapting what you see can create very special images unique to your client. The best photos can often be spontaneous rather than meticulously planned.
What is the one question I never asked that you really wanted to answer? Is your love of photography all about the final image or is it about the journey? Creativity is a process. Although it is sometimes the case, the fulfillment often isn’t just about getting to see that finished, beautiful photograph from the session. It’s also the accomplishment that I feel from conversation and interaction with the child and the parent(s). It is sometimes the little things they say to me that can really inspire me to make improvements and maybe see things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. This is one of the aspects of photography that keeps me motivated. It really is about the whole experience and not just the end product, satisfying though that can obviously be.