Michelle Lynn Isle – The Dark Priestess of NOIR Photography
Michelle Lynn Isle
“The Dark Priestess of NOIR Photography”
Soft Screams Magazine’s Featured Photographer for March 2016
This is a dream come true for me. When Belladonna Del Rio promoted me to be the Editor-In-Chief of Soft Screams Magazine, one of the best parts about this promotion was my ability to choose artists to feature. The first person I have personally ever selected to be our featured photographer is Michelle Lynn Isle and she is one of the greatest all around artists I have ever known. Michelle Lynn Isle is pure creative talent incarnate and even though we rarely speak anymore, she will always be one of my greatest childhood friends.
Michelle Lynn Isle is the real deal when it comes to artistry. Like most artists, photography is just one of many different artistic expressions that she commands effortlessly. Michelle Lynn Isle is musically gifted, she composes songs and sings, she can write poetry, short stories, act, model, draw, paint, and save your life if you are injured since she is a highly experienced EMT. I know these things because she and I met in high school and we became thick as thieves all through-out high school. In many ways, I owe Michelle Lynn Isle my life, because her friendship and confidence empowered me to become the asshole I am today.
I could write an entire novel on Michelle Lynn Isle but like most real artist, I believe her artwork speaks silent roars of insight into who Michelle Lynn is as a person than anything I could ever say. Michelle’s artwork is an extension of what simmers beneath those dark and lushes eyes and becomes the definitive interpretation of juxtaposition when you are on the receiving end of one of her ear to ear trademark smiles. To meet her in person and laugh with her, you would never see the dark and visceral imagery that she creates coming from such an enlightened spirit. However, once you see her artwork you will never forget it or the person who created it ever again.
This collection is one of the first of its kind ever at Soft Screams Magazine. This collection features the technical brilliance of a photographer who also models in several pieces, and who edits her own pieces with the creative brilliance of a graphic illustrator. Every pixel is considered, contemplated and scrutinized by this artist so that every image is exactly how she envisions it. Creating artwork of this magnitude is painstakingly complicated, very involved, and takes pre-planning, execution, and post processing expertise. I have known Michelle Lynn Isle since we were kids which is over 30 years and this artist took very few things in her life as serious ( personal or professional) as she does her artistry.
I am writing this trying my best to hold back my tears (Because come on man? I’m a dude?) because I feel so happy and honored to show to the thousands and thousands of our Soft Scream Readers and subscribers my first little crush, one of my dearest friends, and personal muse for life, THE Michelle Lynn Isle! I will love you forever Michelle!
- What’s your background in Photography? When and why did you get started? Was it for the glamour? The money? Pure kicks?
I started with a Kodak Disk Camera in high school. I snapped pictures of everyone and anything believing all objects had artistic merit. I’d entertain myself for hours arranging and rearranging the photos into various visual novels. 24 pictures could produce many different themes when shuffled around. Eventually I started sharing the photo stories at school and found that I wasn’t the only one who appreciated photographs as a way of taking things in and out of context for different emotional reactions. At that time, I was after humor. Money never entered my mind.
- What is fun and rewarding about photography?
Brainstorming with funny and creative people. The trust developed between an artist and their models is fulfillment in itself… even for the roommate who’s in charge of standing on a ladder and sifting flour into a shower scene becomes part of the “voodoo”. Theses separate energies almost always give birth to something mind-blowingly unexpected and emotionally charged from strange places within the human condition. Working alone, the fun is in the editing; a place of solitude and creative engineering which is a completely different happiness.
- What do you dislike about photography?
While I can appreciate cameras having special setting for a reason, I seem completely unwilling, and therefore unable to fully grasp the operating skills which is a stubbornness that leaves me limited.
- How would you describe your style? Consider anything and everything from color to historical eras and more.
Contaminated. Illegible. Cathartic. Exhaustive.
- Who are some of your favorite photographers? Why?
Salvadore Dali demonstrated a sense of humor towards himself but took his art seriously. In some of his more complicated compositions (when there was no such thing as PhotoShop) he would go to lengths to stick to his initial vision. One famous capture took 28 takes of jumping up, throwing water, spinning a chair and tossing three cats into the frame before he was satisfied with the composition of the piece. Joel-Peter Witkin could summon the darkest of human emotion with what seemed to be an intent to mock it. He applied scientific approach toward capturing the beauty of mortality and the ravages of time. His art almost celebrated morbidity. Macabre still-life can sometimes be so repellent, we don’t give it room to reach us in the context of art and sensuality. J.P. Witkin made strides in that direction making use of some very unique props and rare opportunities.
There is darkness within your photographic composition and there is always the promise of pain either directly or abstractly.
Is there a real emotional connection with your work? Why or why not?
My work reflects weird logistics most people don’t typically explore without provocation. I prefer captures that focuses on the elusive, deeper levels of the human psyche. Pain is the most complicated catalyst of emotional development and it intrigues me to no end. My art tends to show how pain turns us into awkward creatures where the beauty is not lost but rather evolved.
Does your photography typically help you to remember any darkness or pain in the past or do you use it as a tool to assist you in dealing with any darkness and pain in the present?
I believe pain exists outside of time and memory – a quantum variable in the mind that influences the subject matter I choose and how I dramatize it. Forgetting and remembering is something I have almost no control over. I rationalize some pain, or even embrace it. Other times, I find I have developed aspects to my personality that protect myself from pain at all costs. I likely use art as a language or release valve for unidentified anxiety, anger and fear. When I complete a piece, I’m rarely able to reach back and discover the true origins of the emotions or why they surfaced.
What do you believe your deliciously dark artwork communicates to us viewers about you as the artist?
That I have issues with traditional ideals of beauty. My artwork probably says I have a lot of baggage and no way to verbalize it. There is sexual preoccupation and a fascination with destruction. It says that limited skills won’t stop me. I often hope some viewers will feel a sense of validation or at least experience another way of looking at their emotions. It’s obvious I seek validation myself.
In conducting our research about you, we came across your “Urban Decay” images within your website. We couldn’t help notice one strong characteristic about you and your photography and that is your ability and talents to tell overpowering stories in such a subtle and delicate way.
Do you have a preference for this type of creative expression? Why?
My exploration of structural decay is about capturing the ravages of time and celebrating Nature’s power over man-kind. I seek to demonstrate the integrity of human engineering only to prove Nature has the final say. Effortlessly, She is the ultimate control over all things and will inevitably destroy all that we create with a slow and calculated gentleness – Nature being stronger, more organized and more creative in beauty and survival than we will ever be. My Urban Decay work is more of a religion to be honest. I don’t prefer this medium over others. I just try to share this love in an artful way.
It looks dangerous; can you offer any advice to photographers who attempt this type of photographic expression? Any safety tips?
Try to get permission to explore the premisses. Take manual tools, rope, flashlights, safety equipment, drinking water and first aid. Bring a trusted partner and agree on methods of verbal and non-verbal communication. Listen for running water, electrical hums and observe all wires and where they lead. Note air quality and escape options before entering any space. Know something about dangerous plants and insects. Refer to blueprints and map out your routes. Don’t trust any floor, staircase or roof. Don’t disturb anything you don’t have to. Always look up. Timing can be crucial. Know how to take photos in pitch blackness. Recognize someone’s make-shift home when you see one. No alcohol or drugs.
We ask this question last in this section because we wanted you to forget for a second that you are Michelle Lynn Isle the artist.
How do you tell such powerful stories within your urban decay images?
Composition, space, and lighting. Capture need a dynamic, unexpected angle with focus on accentuating the best features. Taking macro shots can make the “bigger picture” more significant or justify its allure. In the editing stages, things like blurring the background, aging or tinting the photo can either add to the clarity of the subject or completely change the message all together. Careful exaggerations and distortion of reality helps to firmly direct the attention of the viewer and can make the image pop. Seeking out every day things like chairs, dishware, toys, shoes… in the context of abandonment, these objects always seem to have a high impact on viewers; comforts and familiarity gone wrong. Most of all it’s important to steer clear of cliches unless that’s what you’re after.
Most photographers’ loath being in front of a camera lens yet you bravely use yourself as the subject very often.
I’m a narcissist, unfortunately. I’m also bad at PR work and don’t go to too much trouble to find models. Much of my photography demands a lot from its human subjects. One model in particular was great to work with. An artist himself, he was more than willing to endure almost anything for the proper outcome of a capture. Without a studio, most of my photo shoots are done in awkward, inclement places. My visions could require a model to go through quite a lot for an un-discerned amount of time. Instead of searching for tough cookies with the right look, I default to using myself or building “human-esque” figures from clay and plastics.
You are in total control artistically, in shoots like this. Does the pressure ever get to you? Why?
I feel pressure when I need the sun in the right spot and we’re running out of time. Models arriving late or rescheduling. The stress of realizing the original idea won’t work and major components of the composition need readjusting. Sometimes the whole shoot unravels and ends up being a free style session. Usually, it’s a good thing but it’s pressure nonetheless.
Describe the atmosphere when you’re on a shoot. Do you play music? Do you talk with the models between shots?
Music and refreshments are a must. There is typically a lot of laughing and goofing around between shots. The more complicated the set-up, the more fun people end up having. All banter is welcome whether things are coming together or falling apart. If a photo shoot ever gets stoic or all-business, I believe it would have negative affects on the creative process.
- I know there are a lot of technical aspects, but personally, what distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one?
A good photographer knows their cameras and editing programs. He or she considers all physical and non-physical influences surrounding their subject and rolls with necessary changes. A good photographer is respectful and knows when not to snap the shot. A bad photographer doesn’t fully engage – simply points, clicks and moves on. A bad photographer doesn’t consider how a photo will be received by another viewer. A bad photographer exhibits sociopathic tendencies in their practice which are often obvious and distract from the content of their work.
- How do you communicate with people? Are you patient? Are you friendly? How open are you to clients’ requirements?
My communication skills are pretty weak. I can motivate a crowd, but the harder it is for me to explain something, the more worked up I get. Patience for others isn’t a problem. I enjoy trying out new suggestions and listen carefully to accommodate comfort and freedom. Talking and spontaneous movement is encouraged even while I’m clicking away.
Out of this collection, this image is my personal favorite.
In your opinion, why do I love this image so much? *Time to turn on the empathy skills*
It’s sexy while there is nothing overtly sexual about it. The composition is simple and minimalistic. Initially, the person appears to be vulnerable and suffering when suddenly, it becomes apparent that this character is not victim material. She could be a raging monster laying dormant or a crippled child inside a strong, healthy woman’s body. This room could be an institution, or a beloved personal space of safety. There is a duality in this photo which leads to more than a few questions and keeps reactions teetering, no?
I suck at empathy. I’m all projection.
Could you tell our readers the inspiration behind this artwork? Would you share with us, just a little technical information behind this gorgeous art piece?
The bed was found in that very spot in an abandoned mental institution. The set up was spontaneous. I had no specific message but I knew the stories would unfold themselves later. It was less than 40 degrees in there so the scene was rushed. In PhotoShop, I washed most of the color out with a few layers of black and white, darkened it a bit all over, bleached the mid-section of the wall for dramatics, and used the burn tool to exaggerated the shadows of the body. Some of the window gating was washed out by the sun so I went over that with a sharpening tool. Cropping this for balance was a bitch.
Let’s assume you can travel in time.
What advice would you give today, to Michelle Lynn Isle, the day before his first shoot?
Go to film school. Take a business course. Consider psych medications.
Where don’t you want to see Michelle Lynn Isle, five years from now?
Invisible, living without love. On a government black list, suffering from dementia. Blind and arthritic. Bathing with paper towels and hand soap in a public bathroom.
Michelle Lynn Isle