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Photography vs. Depression: Interview with Conceptual Photographer Cheeky Ingelosi

personal photography project on depression - clothes hanging on a wire with headless woman

Powerful. Striking. Compelling. These are the first words that come to my mind when I look at Janelia Mould’s photographs. Operating under the pseudonym Cheeky Ingelosi, she is a self-taught conceptual photographer, who recently achieved the feat of turning a gloomy and taboo subject into a viral phenomenon on social media. In her latest project, Melancholy - a Girl Called Depression, Janelia faces her viewers with the inner and outer world of depression. Since the story is based on her own life experience, she decided to feature herself as the main character; not only exploiting the concept of self-portrait but redefining it, as the model appears... headless.

I was both touched and intrigued by Janelia’s work, and was very glad for the opportunity to interview her. What brought her into photography? What inspires her most? And what’s her message to photographers taking their first steps in defining themselves as artists? All the answers (and more) can be found here:

On becoming a photographer and being one

Hi Janelia, and welcome to the Wix Photography Blog. We’re super glad to have you with us today. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Thank you very much for this great opportunity. I am a fine art photographer and digital artist from South Africa. My main genre is conceptual photography, which consists mainly out of self-portraits and is inspired by either personal experiences or topics that intrigue me.

What inspired you to become a photographer?

I have been interested in photography since childhood and have always experimented with it on some level. I think the release of digital cameras and editing software is when it really peaked my interest.

Can you describe the moment you knew that you had found your calling?

It was about three years ago that I discovered the work of Brooke Shaden on Youtube. I was blown away and immediately felt so inspired. About a year before that, my husband gifted me with my first DSLR, but I was so overwhelmed with it that I just tucked it away for a rainy day. Well, with the inspiration I got from Brooke Shaden, I quickly took my camera out as I was now a woman on a mission!

woman reaching out to the sky with butterflies

You’re a completely self-taught photographer. Did you learn just by trial and error?

I am self-taught in the sense that I never went to photography school or received any professional training, but on the other hand, I must give credit to the many selfless people on Youtube that make thousands of free tutorials for people like me. I made use of those tutorials and taught myself through trial and error :)

Is photography a source of income for you? Do you think it’s possible to make a living out of your art?

Although it was never intended, it has become a source of income. Well you know what they say about artists, we are always broke! I feel like with any career it will take time and lots of dedication to make a proper living off my work.

What does your pseudonym, Cheeky Ingelosi, stand for? Is there a reason you chose to work under a pseudonym?

Cheeky Ingelosi is a contradictory title and I feel it’s a good metaphor to describe myself and my work. "Cheeky" in this sense means outspoken and "Ingelosi" is the Zulu word for angel. Zulu happens to be one of the eleven official languages of South Africa where I'm from. I am inspired by my passions and my personal journeys and always feel compelled to stand up for social injustices. To give you a good example: currently, I am working on a series about veganism. It's a controversial topic, and one I feel strongly about. My expression through my art may come across as cheeky but my intentions and messages come from a genuine and sincere place. Augusten Burroughs said it so well and I will leave you with that: “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

Do you remember the first time your photo was published in a prestigious magazine? How did it feel?

It is always nice to receive recognition for your work, but it isn’t something I like to ponder about too much, just enjoy the moment and move on to the next idea.

If you had to choose: Are you a photographer or digital artist?

Tricky one! I am a digital artist who uses her own photographs to make art.

Augusten Burroughs said it so well: “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.”

Touch, go and shoot

Your photos exhale a surreal look. What are your main sources of inspiration?

I have a very vivid and overactive imagination, so mixed with years of horror movies, paranormal interests, and esoteric life experiences, it brings an interesting subject matter to the table. I am also inspired by people, public figures or situations I can identify with. I love animals, I’m passionate about their cause. Poems inspire me. Old, pre-owned, antique treasures…. I can carry on for days!

You’re a passionate collector of antique items. What role do vintage objects play in your art?

I mainly collect vintage clothes, which I wear for my self-portraits. I feel they bring with them their own story. Who’s wedding dress was this? Maybe a lady gave birth to her first baby in this night gown or maybe she passed away in it? These are the things that make me wonder.

bride dress with legs in antique suitcase

On your blog, you share the actual photos that create the final image. Why did you choose to share that with your readers?

I personally find it very interesting to see other artists before and after pictures. In a way, it inspires me and I am hoping mine will do the same for others.

Can you describe the technical process you go through to create these unique photos, from the photo shoot to the final result?

I am a one-woman-show. The crew, cameraman, the model, the post processing, you name it. Once I have an idea for an image, I will firstly decide on what to wear, going through all the old gowns and dresses. Then, depending on the background I will either shoot on location or in front of a green screen in which case I will edit myself into a background I might have taken on an earlier occasion. I make I am a one-woman-show. The crew, cameraman, the model, the post processing, you name it.use of a tripod, a remote control, and Canon DSLR to take these self-portraits. Once I’m finished shooting, I transfer my photos into an editing software where I manipulate it to my heart’s content until I'm satisfied with the result. The post-processing can take anything from 5 hours to 2 days. Post-processing is my absolute favorite and I disappear into a dimension where there is no concept of time!

I am a one-woman-show. The crew, cameraman, the model, the post processing, you name it.

The vision you have of an image at the very beginning, and the final outcome - are they significantly different?

The funny thing is that I am never 100% sure that when I go and shoot the image, that it’s going to even come close to the idea I have in my head. It’s touch-and-go, and always a very interesting journey, to say the least.

What is your “I’d wish” moment, something that would make you feel extremely proud as a photographer?

To be honest with you, when someone looks at my work and just gets it. They can appreciate or identify or feel inspired by it, to me that means the world.

What would you say to someone who dreams of becoming a photographer, but is too afraid to “step into the darkroom”?

You must physically pick up your camera and just start to take pictures, the more you experiment the quicker you will find your niche. Watch tutorials on Youtube. Don’t compare your work with others. Do what makes you happy or keep on trying until you do!

What’s your advice to an artist who is struggling to define their own unique style?

You already have it within you. Just be yourself in the way that you express your creativity.

Photography as a therapy

Your series “A Girl Called Melancholy” recently made the headlines of major online publications and became viral on social channels. Can you tell us more about this project?

This series tells the story of a person who suffers from depression and how they might experience life while suffering from this debilitating condition. Once again, this was a very personal project for me because depression has touched my life, therefore it’s subjective to how I experienced it. You can say I was inspired by my own struggle and used my photography as a therapeutic outlet.

Why did you choose to display a headless woman to depict depression?

To show how some people suffering from depression experience life: feeling incomplete or empty. I left out the head of the subject because I thought others that suffer from this condition could perhaps identify with her and to somehow show that others go through the same thing.

You can say I was inspired by my own struggle and used my photography as a therapeutic outlet.

Do you feel that this series helped raise awareness about depression? What was the general reaction of people when they saw it?

I sincerely hope it did. I have received so much positive feedback and people thanking me and saying that they could identify or it helped them understand what a loved one might be going through. I think people either love it or were completely freaked out by it. Some said it was just downright creepy. It’s all good!

As a general statement, do you think that art can help cure disorders and illnesses?

In my personal opinion, I think it could be very therapeutic and a good emotional outlet.

headless woman in an antique dress looking into a mirror

Your website and the online world

I love your Welcome page. What did you envision for your website when you created it?

Thank you very much. I wanted a professional looking website, yet easy to navigate around, somewhere that I could show off my work.

Was there something specific that made you choose Wix to create your website?

Wix is great! There are many reasons: Firstly, when I started out, I was on a tight budget and Wix is completely free, so that was a huge bonus. Most importantly, Wix had hundreds of free templates which I could choose from, which makes it extremely user-friendly but also guarantees a professional result. It’s so easy to use, not only did it save me money, by not having to pay a graphic designer, but it also saved me time so that I can pour my energy into my main passion - which is photo-art. Wix gives me the peace of mind that I can log onto my website night or day, and update my website to my heart’s content. It is also super efficient: when my series Melancholy went viral, I had people from all over the world contacting me through my Wix website, without fail. I can highly recommend Wix for your business or personal endeavors.

Wix gives me the peace of mind that I can log onto my website night or day, and update my website to my heart’s content.

What are the necessary elements of a photographer’s website?

You need a portfolio, a collection of your best work and contact details where potential clients can get hold of you. It’s a good idea to have a blog in order to keep record of your journey.

What tips would you give to a photographer creating their website for the first time?

Keep it simple, pick your best images to show off, include your contact details... and choose Wix!

Thanks a lot for your time, Janelia. The final word is yours. A dazzling thought to share? A love declaration? An art manifesto? A quote to savor? You have ‘carte blanche’.

Thank you very much for being interested in my work and for providing me with a wonderful website to showcase my work.

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