We are having a crush on Alina Lee alias ohthumbelina for a few years already. Her self-portraits are somehow different. Not smoothly polished, but multidimensional. Melancholic, profound, thoughtful and always simply beautiful. We are happy to see that she released her first self-portrait book and sat down with her to talk about true freedom, imperfections as another marketing tool and finding happiness and showcase some exclusive images out from her book.
You have been taking self-portraits now for several years. What still fascinates you about taking pictures of yourself, how have the images changed over time and what do you think about your old work nowadays?
I’ve changed so much over the last few years. I was only nineteen when I started doing self-portraits and now I’m just twenty three, but I think your early twenties are a time of tremendous growth. The photos I used to take were all with an old digital camera and they were straight forward, pretty & simple. There are a few in Hello Heartache that I still love. Looking at my old self-portraits always bring me back to the mental place I was in while shooting them which I find not exactly nostalgic, but endearing. Nowadays I use almost entirely film and I like making a character when I shoot or at least having some sort of strange element, I like things a little weird.
“Life feels like such an illusion sometimes. I feel like I could just slip out of it, it’s utterly elusive and impossible to make sense of. So true freedom for me is embracing that.”
In one of your instagram postings you said: “I don’t take any of the compliments personally on here in regards to my looks. I do not look like this. No one looks like their photos- not really. I see my photos on here as paintings maybe? A sliver of life captured, cleaned up, hopefully telling somewhat of a story but always glamorized, always in the best light, even when it’s sad or dark. I do hope we all grow sick of this pursuit of perfection, it’s incredibly depressing and dull.” I agree to it to some extend, however I think it´s also human nature to f.e. only select the beautiful moments in life for the photo album. It´s what we like to remember, the beautiful moments, right? And don´t you think that anyway there is already a lot happening out there promoting imperfection, including big companies, brands and celebrities, so “imperfection” has become just another marketing tool as well?
I love this question- I love discussing these kind of topics especially with people who don’t have the exact same perspective, it always makes for new revelations. I think you’re absolutely right, human beings (reasonably) only choose to highlight the best in life. I think, exactly like you said, imperfection is becoming a marketing tool and it has its positives, of course! But I think it’s also detrimental. This is maybe not the best example, but I think of those photos of Christina Aguilera “bare faced” for Paper magazine. It’s great that it’s showing a more natural beauty, you can see pores in the photos after all. But they’re still cleaned up, itty bitty pores on someone who has access to all the best beauty treatments. What I’m saying is that no matter the model, no matter the editing, no matter the message, it’s still marketing. And marketing isn’t real. What I should have said instead of “perfection” is that I’m sick of our society’s obsession with the surface level. IE anything appearance related- material possessions, maintaining an “image”. I think we’re all like the cartoon bunny with a contraption around it’s waist to dangle a carrot just out of reach. I believe even these big companies are in a way over their heads and don’t even know it, they don’t have any idea the implications this will have on the world in the next five, ten, twenty years. We’ve become hyper-consumers and we are rushing through life at top speed trying to get a fix. Trying to feel good. It’s really so sad because the only way to find real sustainable happiness is to slow down, it involves nothing but you. I went to a meditation retreat last year and it was complete ecstasy, another level of happiness that I’ve never felt before. But our society is so intoxicating, the highs and lows. I don’t blame us all for getting so wrapped up in it.
“The biggest thing I understood after finishing the book is that humans are multidimensional. It’s very easy to get stuck in patterns, to react the same way over and over.”
I agree with you and we could discuss even more about that. However, moving to another topic – you have just released your own book showing self-portraits and texts you wrote. Why did you name the book “Hello Heartache”?
The last three years while I’ve been working on Hello Heartache have been some of the hardest I’ve ever had because of so much growth, and hence, so much heartache. Like you mentioned, I decided to add some of my writing to the book and the last page has the words, “when my heart aches I know I have done something brave (like loved)” I don’t just mean romantic love, though it has been a big part of my life the last few years, but also self-love and love for the world around me. I’ve had to unravel a lot of false core beliefs, it’s been very humbling and freeing at the same time.
“The only way to find real sustainable happiness is to slow down.”
The design of the cover fits certain characteristics of a classic romance novel. Why did you go for that design?
I love romance novels! I’ve only read a few, as we all know they’re notoriously bad, but the covers are so beautiful. Most of the covers are painted so they portray this glimpse into another world that is utterly mysterious. Unlike a photograph you can’t really imagine this impossibly beautiful character in any other way than exactly how she is portrayed in the cover. Even though I chose a photo, I love the drama and mystery that comes from a romance novel cover and that’s what I wanted to portray. My friend Stefan Anderson did the graphic design, he isn’t even a graphic designer and he did a phenomenal job!
„I think we can all relate to taking ourselves too seriously and falling into the exhausting rules and games of, well, being human. Art is an escape from all of that.“ is your introduction to this book. And that working on it has been therapeutic. While creating the book did you find some answers or solutions for yourself, your life?
The biggest thing I understood after finishing the book is that humans are multidimensional. It’s very easy to get stuck in patterns, to react the same way over and over. Making art on my own, on my own terms, makes my personality melt away for a period of time. I‘m no longer my insecurities, my hopes, my beliefs, etc, I’m a spark of creative energy in perfect flow and the last thing on my mind is if anyone will like it. I think that approval is the creatives worst enemy. This definitely melted into all other parts of my life, as someone who dealt with being bullied while growing up and has always had a deep desire to be accepted (don’t we all!) finding my own unique energy and embracing it, fueling it, has been so rewarding.
“We’ve become hyper-consumers and we are rushing through life at top speed trying to get a fix. Trying to feel good.”
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I get asked this a lot and I think it’s one of the best questions you can ask someone. I want to keep growing as a person, I want to continue to nourish my friendships/relationship. I want to embrace failure and take more risks. More than anything creatively I want to do more acting. Acting is my absolute favorite creative outlet, I get so giddy whenever I get to act. I love being able to slip into another universe. I think that life is so utterly complex and magical, acting is like being able to go behind the curtain of it all.
What does true freedom mean to you?
I think true freedom is being able to live in total embrace of life. Embrace of failure, fear, joy, love. Being able to get onto the roller-coaster of life and enjoy the ride. Life feels like such an illusion sometimes. I feel like I could just slip out of it, it’s utterly elusive and impossible to make sense of. So true freedom for me is embracing that. I think of that part in Eternal Sunshine where Jim Carey and Kate Winslet are jumping through their memories together, and at first they’re devastated and clinging but eventually they get near the end and Kate Winslet’s character asked what should they do, and Jim Carey’s responds, “enjoy it.”
I also just want to say a quick thank-you to all my friends, especially Nicole Nygaard and my boyfriend, Raul Gonzo, for helping me take photos when a self-timer wasn’t an option and being so supportive.