photographing light

Heart Over Head, a Photographic Body of Work

This body of work was created as my Independent Project in my Photographing Light course at Truman...but quickly became much more than just an assignment. Like I usually do with my fine arts courses, I used this as an opportunity to explore my soul and gain a better understanding of myself and the universe - and ultimately created an extension of my printmaking body of work, Live Fearlessly. I found myself being compelled daily to make images and fell in love with this new outlet for visual self-expression. This body of work and the moments captured in its images are invaluable to me.

It's an odd thing when you go from "having" to make work to needing to make work, and I think this was the first time I experienced that shift - I was even compelled to create another body of work completely on my own, inspired by this body of work, that I call an "experience piece." 


Artist Statement 

The wounds carved into my psyche by anxiety had become so deep that I identified with them; I did not know myself without them. After 21 long years of fear spurred from the ridicule of my own ruthless mind, I discovered a way to help protect myself from its wrath, a way to strengthen my heart for the battle with my head: self compassion, a practice that I am slowly coming to understand. 

I learn through experiencing myself, steadily becoming attuned to my being’s natural rhythm and coming back to center, back to earth. The practice demands emotional, mental, and physical strength – but provides understanding and control in return. 

This series of images was a practice of understanding in itself, recording the stillness in the energy created throughout my observance and acceptance of my mind and self. 


Convey to other people (particularly those who may share this struggle) the ways in which I attain peace and inspire them to work towards their own self understanding and compassion.

Poem Meaning

The poem uses descriptive language and imagery in the first two stanzas describing the author hugging themselves in an act of self compassion, love and understanding. It goes on to state that no one knows them better than themselves, and implies that they have the ability to right their own world. The last stanza represents the separation between the self and the soul, the emotions from the awareness, and the desire to conquer the distinction. It also gives the method in which to do this: through stillness.


As our soul resides in these bodies, our consciousness is consistently threatened by our autonomic system’s response to fear. When a body perceives a threat, its mind is overtaken by only one idea: survival. Since we as humans have long evolved into intellectual beings with most of their physical needs comfortably tended to, we aren’t always able to identify when this response is being triggered within ourselves. Consequently, we don’t give it the attention it needs, causing tension to build within ourselves and disrupting our relationship with our true self and potential. Our limbic system, the primitive part of our brain that controls the “fight or flight” reaction, takes control and drags the mind through relentless thought, keeping us from purely experiencing the now. 

Every body carries with it some kind of fear, and mine has always been a brutal fear of judgment. I’ve never been one to think of myself as significant; I was always just there, trying my hardest to remain as unobtrusive as possible so that no one would ever even get the opportunity to judge me. When I would briefly emerge from my fears, I sought validation at every turn, something no one could ever adequately satisfy me with, leaving me running back to hide. Now, I have realized that you have to learn to love yourself before you can accept others’ love; true love can only come from within. 

To accomplish this, I am learning to become my own best friend through self compassion, a practice that allows you to separate your emotions from yourself and not be overcome by them. By showing kindness to yourself throughout your struggles, you become able to retain your consciousness and the awareness of your true self while experiencing your suffering. You also learn how to take care of your body by listening and then responding to its needs. 

Through starting this process for myself, I now recognize the depth of the wounds my anxiety carved into my psyche and so have begun various practices to strengthen and protect my body, mind and soul. As a supplement to my frequent energy medicine, meditation, ayurveda, and breathing routines intended to release energy tension within the body that has built up from day-to-day limbic threats, I practice inversion yoga to peak my consciousness and improve circulation, concentration, memory and processing abilities by reversing blood flow. The increased energy in the brain also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces balanced and calm feelings. Mentally, the practice requires concentration, forcing me to live in the moment and experience the now while enjoying myself with a whimsical yet challenging activity. 

Inversions require a lot of practice (particularly in my case, since I have never been athletically inclined), which serves as a humble reminder that the greatest things in life come slowly with enormous patience, perseverance, and practice. Metaphorically, inversions represent the mastery of balancing the heart over the head and finding your true self outside of the ruthless mind. They also represent the importance of knowing how to look at life and obstacles with a new and unexpected perspective, even though it may take more effort and time. The practice demands emotional, mental, and physical strength but provides understanding and control in return. 

How the Work is Meant to be Viewed

In the End

This body of work gave me an opportunity to bring my attention back to why I was doing what I was doing, as making images became a sort of meditation for me. The passion I have for self compassion and my daily interaction with my concept kept me inspired and motivated to create a solid and dynamic body of work. Through lots of experimentation, I found a harmony in the images I really love, including photos from around my disgusting house, inside my cozy haven of a bedroom, out on a beautiful farm on a still morning, and inside the studio in a building where I’ve spent the better part of my last four years. The variety is reflective of all the different practices I blend and the accessibility of a lot of them; they are all relatively easy - hell, I do them. These places are very personal and significant to me, and the environment is an important aspect to each individual photo and the energy practice being captured there. 

I had a lot of fun playing with long exposure photographs as well, and like that they add a fun, unexpected, and unique aspect to the body of work. What I really love about these, however, is the fact that they really do capture the movement and energy created through my meditations. I can see the movements in the blurs, and I am reminded of how I feel as I do those movements, and so the image is comforting to me. 

It was also interesting and challenging to try to work text, something I was having a lot of fun with in my Creative Writing class, into my work. I exhausted many options, never falling in love with anything. In the end, I decided on displaying a short poem that sets the mood for the body of work, tucked in at the bottom of the images. 

Final Four Shooters

The moment you've all (I'm sure!) been waiting for... The Final Four Shooters! This was a group assignment from my Photographing Light course that went all semester long. It began with one person's image, who then sent it to the next person. That person then responded to the image with another image, creating a sort of "visual telephone" with the body of work. The circle would then continue, but the image directly before you is the only one you would see to make your new image. When you received the image, you had 48 hours to create a new image and send it on. 

We strived for smooth yet bold transitions that carry a viewer through the entire body. Creating a visual conversation by communicating nonverbally was a challenge, but helped us break free from our comfort zones with photography and look at image making with a new perspective. 

Images were made in the following order: Kim Wronkiewicz, Sara Murillo, Marissa Billmeyer, Kristen Williams

Total Images: 50

Still Life Studio Shoot

These are the final images for my Photographing Light studio group's still life series. Now with more interesting compositions, more intentional application of paint both physically and symbolically, and more even lighting. Artist statement below. 

At first - no, the entire time - we were frustrated that we had to reshoot these images, particularly the one of the cigarettes. We were in love with the cigarette image from the first shoot and wanted to keep it, bad mouthing the cruel professor who would dare force us to push ourselves to make something better. I'll admit, I took part for a minute or two. But at the end of critique today, I was putting my notes away and came across the prints from the first critique and saw that cigarette image again. Guess what? The second one was better.

"Fine, Universe. Lesson learned." (...y lo siento a mi profesora.)

Artist Statement The significance of an object is unique to the hand that touches it. In this series of images gold paint is used to explore our connection to an item in a specific moment of time. While the objects in play are universal, they become idiosyncratic due to the nature of the person’s touch. Manipulations that occur at these impressions are represented by gold paint, creating a visual conversation with inanimate objects.

Lighting Statement Softer studio lighting was used here to create evenly, yet richly, lit scenes for our objects. Umbrellas and light covers acted to diffuse the light and give the image an overall subtle glow. At times, we enhanced this effect by using the gold reflector. These elements together set a transcendental tone which aids in conveying and translating our concept.

Collaboration By Marissa Billmeyer, Sara Murillo, Kristen Williams, Kimberly Wronkiewicz

Portrait Studio Shoot

The final images for my Photographing Light studio group's portrait series! Now crisper (due to our use of strobes instead of a high ISO) with more angle changes, better dress designs, and slightly less exorcist-y facial expressions. Artist statement below. 

Artist Statement A feeling of helplessness over the control of one’s mind or body can be debilitating, leaving the sufferer vulnerable and exposed. When a person falls victim to their life, a sense of self can appear distorted. These distortions prevent escape as a mind troubles reality. However, as control is reclaimed by its wearer, beauty is recognized in the strength being gained. It is through hope, represented by the gold cloth, that we can locate what originally seemed altogether lost.

Lighting Statement To help convey the concept, dramatic lighting was used with a back light and reflector when needed. In the final shoot, strobes were used to further increase the overall intensity of the mood we were intending to create. The light beautifully illuminates the plastic tarp in a dreamlike, almost fairy tale fashion; but this is offset by the intensity of light to eliminate any idea of fragility and convey strength. 

Collaboration By Marissa Billmeyer, Sara Murillo, Kristen Williams, Kimberly Wronkiewicz