Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Luna Hao – “Moon Phase” Photography Series

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. Today, Lingxue (Luna) Hao (she/her) will be sharing several images from her project “Moon Phase: The Moments Between Wax and Wane.”

Before we delve into the art, a little more about Luna:

Photo of the artist, Luna Hao. Her art is inspired by her experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Lingxue (Luna) Hao

After working as a food photographer for two years, Luna turned her focus to telling stories through the camera. She prefers photographic books to display her work; she is very experienced in making handmade books. She is particularly interested in finding beauty from the ordinary and mundane and creating a virtual diary based on everyday love, loss, and reflection.

Luna’s work Moon Phase is split into chapters consisting of photographs.

Photography. A photo of the side of a house with vibrant primary colors - blue, red, yellow. 

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, It Seems Flat. Photograph.

She describes it as:

Moon Phase: The Moments Between Wax and Wane is an interpretation of depression through the art of photography. My photographs explore my own experiences with this invisible disease. They represent the torment and pain that I navigate with major depression. They also record my constant struggle with mental health. This body of work is a visual diary about a depressive patient I created as a photographer. The process of photographing and editing this project is also the process by which I find a productive way to communicate with the outside world. My work aims to help those who may be indirectly impacted by depression to understand mental illness more comprehensively and establish an accurate portrayal of this very real concern. We live in a society where people still hold prejudices against those with mental health issues and misunderstand them. My photos invite viewers to raise awareness and support for the people around them who struggle with this widespread issue.”

Luna participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the project:

What first drew you to art?

My answer may be disappointing…I never had a moment like: oh, I really want to be an artist. In college, my major was commercial photography, and I worked as a food photographer for almost two years. The two years’ experience made me HATE the commercial industry because I was just a copy machine…As a result, I decided to get an MFA degree to see if there is another possibility to take photos in a less painful way. So, I would describe my engagement with art as gradual. At the same time, to be honest, I never thought I would get to where I am today.

How would you describe your artistic style?

I think I would be thinking more about my artistic style as “old-fashioned,” but all my friends and classmates said that my work is contemporary. As a photographer, I almost only use film and other darkroom materials as my creative base. I’m pretty much adamant about just “taking pictures” without heavy-handed postproduction if there are no special needs so that our creative space itself is more narrow than other art media (In theory).

Photography. A photo strip roll of film of driving. Inspired by action to address mental health challenges and feelings.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, Run Away. Photograph.

This strip photo is actually part of one image. You may see a four-part on my website under the series “Run Away,” I use one roll of film as one image. One roll of film documents one driving experience. It’s 5 am in this one. When I feel really insecure and upset, I have a (dangerous) habit where I go out and drive randomly.

What is your favorite part about working with photography? What’s the most challenging part?

I guess it’s the part of freezing a moment and making it permanent, pausing. I always really like the idea of “When you take the next photo, you are recording the moment of death, but this action of yours makes that moment eternity.” As for the most challenging part, I think it’s the limitations inherent in the format of photography. Most photographers’ creations rely on cameras or other devices or materials that can respond to light. 

Can you tell us more about the Moon Phase project? What do the different chapters signify?

Moon Phase is documenting my struggle with major depression. It originated when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2017. My parents refused to accept that, even though they were well educated. They refused to believe that mental illness has a real need for medical treatment to help. I’ve always been tongue-tied, so I wanted to build a channel of communication using the methods and mediums I’m good at, to try and make them understand my pain. Later, through my own experience, I felt that I must not be in this predicament, so I began to think about developing it into a series to tell the public a complete story of a depressed patient from my perspective.

Later, it became a visual diary. During the shooting process, I found that my mental state had obvious staged changes, which is why I divided them into three chapters. The first chapter was created without any doctor or medication and was more simply showing my chaotic and disordered state of mind and life. The second chapter was shot while I was just officially receiving regular medical help, and its content shows my unstable and confused mental state that has been up and down during this time. The third chapter was shot in a relatively stable state of mind, more about a state in which I coexisted with depression and was relatively balanced.

When did you create this series?

It started in the fall of 2018, and I ended it in the spring of 2021.

Photography. A photo of tree branches with beautiful vivid red and white. Edited.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Luna Hao, Red Leaves. Photograph.

Your use of color is spectacular. How do you get the colors to stand out so boldly?

In fact, I really did not deliberately do systematic research and arrangement on color and color theory. However, I did deliberately look for some objects in my mind that better reflect my mental and psychological state during the shooting process. And one of the main things I use to judge whether it’s the subject I want is by its color. In my creations, I always feel that color is the main element, an element that I need to be very careful of and pay extra attention to. In addition, I think it has something to do with my former identity as a food photographer, which may have been tempered in my previous work.

The above photo is a special one. I used photoshop to change all the green leaves to red to recreate the view I saw when I was heavily sick. I found out that sometimes the color and view change for some depression patients. For me, it sometimes looks like this, so I created it to let others know about this symptom. 

Photography. An image of Luna's installation.

Art for mental health/ art and mental health. Mental health through the arts.

There was also an installation – what was it like to set that up? Was it interesting to see how people interacted with the work?

Honestly, when I set up my solo exhibition, it was a painful and tangled process, but I liked how it turned out. I didn’t want it to be presented in a traditional, framed, row-by-row format from the start, which I felt would kill the intimacy that this project has always had. I always want to leave some room for reflection and doubt for the audience, so rather than telling a story with a clear image, I wanted to create an atmosphere. While viewers understand the basic logic and premise, they can fill in their own experiences and thinking. 

As for whether it’s fun to watch people interact with the work, I’d say it’s more of a feeling of movement and satisfaction. Because this set of works was created during my entire MFA study, I went through countless critiques and questioning processes, including a lot about what this set of works really means and why people should care about someone getting sick unpleasant experience. So this project ended up in an exhibition format. When people tell me they find the set meaningful or they find it resonant; I feel like it’s not a waste of time and effort. 

Anything I missed asking that you would like to share?

I’m not sure if I’ve managed to do that, but in my creative process, I’ve been hoping and trying not to make the series feel like a pain to “stay away” from the audience. I understand that depression itself is painful and messy. Still, I was actually afraid that images like this would scare the audience away, so on balance, I chose to use another, milder style to show the disease. At the same time, I feel that this work itself has a self-healing effect for me that I did not expect. I felt that throughout the process of creating it, it seemed to separate out the pain in my head and give me an opportunity to look at my own situation objectively.

For those that read this blog regularly, you know I’m a fan of color. Luna’s colors stand out and draw me in. Thank you for sharing this series, Luna! You can see more of Luna’s work on her website.

Artist Spotlight Home Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Savannah Calhoun

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work. Artists with lived mental and emotional health challenges show the power of art for mental health. Their works range from short stories to visual art, music, poetry, photography, and more! This is art that explores mental health. In this post, we are featuring Savannah Calhoun (she/they).

Savannah uses different mediums and structures to play with photographs and infuse them with new context.

Photo of the artist, Savannah Calhoun. Her art is inspired by his experiences with mental health. Exploring mental health through the arts. Art for mental health.

Savannah Calhoun is an image-based artist residing in Cedar Rapids, IA, and from Indianapolis, IN. Her work playfully addresses image culture given the circumstances of the internet from a queer and feminist perspective. She received a BFA in Photography from Herron School of Art and Design in 2019 and an MFA from the University of Missouri in 2022. She currently teaches photography at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, IA.

Savannah did a Q&A with The Layered Onion (TLO), talking about her art:

How would you describe your artistic style?

I would say my style could be described as colorful and eccentric, but heavily borrows from cyber-based aesthetics as well as still life.

With what mediums do you work?

I work with photography, installation, new media, and digital collage.

You recently had a show called “cyber fantasy.” How did you get the idea for the show?

A photo of Savannah's gallery show - cyber fantasy. Plays with digital and electronics. Explores art and the internet.

Art for mental health/art and mental health.

Before this work, I was making still lifes and self portraits. I found ways to kind of cross those concepts over within this work by including objects, arms, and hands. It started mostly because I was visiting the University’s surplus warehouse where they place everything that they don’t use anymore/have replaced, etc. I found tons of old tech there and started photographing it, thinking about how the obsolescence of technology resembles Vanitas still life.

Photo from the installation in Iowa. Iowa artist. Overlapped images. Video and multimedia art. AI voice and AI vocals.

The show features some interesting layered works – super neat. What inspired you to use more of the walls in that way?

I got the opportunity to see Everywhere there is splendor” by Farah al-Qasimi at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis and see her artist talk. I was really stuck by something she said about the connections of the color pink between the mural photos and the framed photos that were superimposed on them, and how it was bodily, thus inherently, tied to identity. This then made me consider the connections of materiality and source material to photography, which led to those layered works.  

I also saw your video, Glitch, on Instagram – do you often work with videos? What led you to video? How did you generate the AI voice? 

I work with video and new media pretty frequently! I started making video art when I was an undergraduate because I enrolled in a video course. From there, I just really grew to love it as a second medium to work with. I generated the AI voice using an online text to speech generator, with the text from Glitch Feminism pasted in, and recorded the speaking with a microphone.

I’m drawn to this piece (below) where you mention “thinking about cameras as they relate to the body” and your inspiration for the future. What an interesting concept! What direction are you thinking about going in?

I think in Cyber Fantasy and the work I’ve made since, I have wanted to address photography itself. That includes all of the working parts of a photograph – the camera, the digital tools used in post production, etc. The working title of my current project is Portals & Hauntologies. I consider this piece a part of it, and in that work I’m thinking about transmission to the internet as well as nostalgia.

Photography. A camera and digital tools. Mental health through the arts. Work with Photoshop.
Savannah Calhoun, Camera Eye. Digital Collage, 2022.

You also teach – what kind of topics do you cover? Is it inspiring to work with students?

I teach Design and Photography courses. I really love teaching and working with students, it’s a pleasure to share what I love with others.

Any advice for fellow artists looking to get started with this type of art?

Allow yourself to spend some time in photoshop really just playing and being curious. 

The blend of future with past aesthetics and the play on size draws you into Savannah’s work – I’m excited to see where she goes from here.  Savannah’s work is also on display in TLO’s shows! You can see more of Savannah’s work on her website or her Instagram @sav.calhoun. Thanks, Savannah!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Lauren E. Allen’s “Multitudo”

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, and more! Today, Lauren E. Allen (she/her) will share her work “Multitudo,” a unique piece of layered photography.

Before we delve into the art, a little more about Lauren:

A photo of the artist, Lauren E. Allen, behind string. The artist works with photography and vintage cameras. 

She uses art to heal and process. Neurodivergent. Neurodivergence. Art to address mental health - art for mental health.

Currently residing in Denton, Texas, Lauren E. Allen graduated Cum Laude from Texas Woman’s University in 2014 with a concentration in photography before enrolling in the University of North Texas to pursue a master’s degree in 2021. 

Lauren’s work focuses on translating and reconstructing memories of their experiences as a neurodivergent person. She utilizes abstracted photographic imagery and fiber structures, and viewers are forced to confront ideas of weakness, fragility, and disposability while experiencing familiarity.

Lauren participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the work:

Layered photograph. Holga camera. Arrow camera.

Art for mental health. Mental health through the arts.
Lauren E. Allen, “Multitudo.” Photograph(s). Summer 2022.

What medium did you use? 

This piece is two photographs that were digitally manipulated and turned into one. I shot the original images on Cinestill 120 film. 

When you are photographing, what do you find most inspiring? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have two main streams of consciousness when shooting. The first one is a purely intuitive one, where I walk around with my camera and just fire. The other is specific imagery that my brain suggests to me when studying neurodivergence or recalling my experiences that I then recreate to be able to capture. 

How would you describe your artistic style (today)?

I always hesitate to assign words to my artistic style because I want the freedom to move between aesthetic choices. However, there are words I consistently chase when making art that I hope will come to people’s minds when they see my work. The words ethereal, dreamy, and surreal always float around during my process. 

How did you set up the overlay?

I use a third-party service that develops and scans all of my film. I then sort through the shots and pair up pieces that I think complement each other or would like to be together. They are then manipulated in photoshop to create a singular digital image. The digital manipulation of the film images lets me control what parts of the image are more apparent. Still, I am very dedicated to keeping what I like to call film surprises. 

I love that phrase “film surprises” – do you have an example of this, or can you elaborate on the concept?

Because I use vintage and toy cameras, there is a lot of variety of what can happen during the shooting process. Using double and sometimes triple exposures also heavily alters what the film can maintain, which can create a lot of really surreal imagery. I also love to use expired film when available, which physically alters the chemistry to be a bit unpredictable. 

Can you describe the camera you used and what period it is from? I don’t think I understood the full impact of vintage/toy cameras, and it sounds very cool!

The world of film photography is really diverse and rich, with a lot of people fighting to keep the processes alive. I use a variety of cameras, but my heavy hitters are below with a brief description: 

  • Holga camera: These are the cream of the crop toy cameras. They are inexpensive plastic cameras known for the inherent defects that become a part of them, like light leaks, etc. Mine is quite old and dying, so it gives me a lot of washy blurred imagery.  
  • Arrow camera: This is another plastic toy camera. I purchased mine from an estate sale. It’s probably from the 60s. 
  • I use a lot of Kodak Brownie six-20 cameras which were discontinued in 1956. I was able to score a large batch of these in an estate sale. 
  • My favorite camera is a 1947 Kodak Duaflex camera. It’s in amazing condition and takes just the most dreamy shots. 

“Multitudo” has one shot from the Holga and the other from the Arrow. 

I think the placement of the tree leaves over the eyes is quite powerful. Is there a message you were looking to convey?

Ideas of displacement within my life inspired this particular piece and its original two parts. Sometimes I feel like I’m experiencing two different realities that have been compacted together. The figure exists between that place of literal ground and sky and that mental grey area. 

Lauren’s work “Spiritus” was featured in The Shallot and The Layered Onion’s exhibition at Hodge Podge. You can see more of Lauren’s photography on her Instagram – @leallen_art!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: SILENTSTORYTELLER_ART – Dheeraj Kumar’s “Body Vases”

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works range from short stories to visual art, music, and more!

Today, Dheeraj Kumar (he/him) will share several images from his project “Body Vases.” Before we delve into the art, a little more about Dheeraj:

Born in 1991, Dheeraj hails from Muzaffarpur, Bihar; a trained fashion designer turned photographer and artist. Dheeraj is inspired by artists like Frida Kahlo, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Henry Moore. He aspires to define his approach toward life, beauty, and art with his lenses.

Dheeraj draws from his own experiences of the human body to represent it untethered by the burden of rigid gender conventions imposed by society and his own cultural upbringing. Anonymous male bodies are a constant motif in his art. He uses the body as a canvas over which he experiments by superimposing different styles of ornamentations – ranging from botanical floral drawings to masks and markings inspired by the art of Rangoli. Through elaborate staging and meticulous contortions, he exposes the landscapes of the human body and the many hidden nooks and crannies that carry traces of untapped and concealed emotions. The body becomes the subject and the object in his work – rendered into abstraction. Reminiscent of organic rocks and boulders but still retaining its ‘human-ness’ in an unsettlingly intimate way that provokes the viewer’s primal instinct to touch and experience the sensory pleasure of bare skin.

Dheeraj participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on his artistry and the work:

What first drew you to art?

Since childhood, as I remember during summertime, all the ladies in the family used to sit in a circle and work on different frames of bedsheets. I remember my mother buying a plain saree and then making flowers of her own choice in them. Henna (Mehandi) is a wonderful way to show creativity on your hands. So, I grew up seeing these things, and after a certain age, people used to ask me to make flowers for them or mehandi during their weddings.

How would you describe your artistic style?

My work is mostly around male bodies and botanical florals, taking inspiration from nature and describing them in my own way. My style of work is – mixed media. I would call it – PHOTO PAINT. So, as a photographer, I take pictures of the elements which inspire me. By painting subjects around them, I create my own world with it. You can also call it – PHOTO COLLAGE WORK.

What are your favorite materials and mediums to work with?

I work with photo prints of my photos, watercolors, and pencil colors. Recently, I started working with acrylics too. I Love to paint late at night when the whole world is sleeping. Usually, I already have my doodles ready in my diary, which I draw in instantly whenever new ideas or thoughts come to my mind. So, it becomes easy for me to choose my elements. Otherwise, most of the time, while working with collage, you put things in and see how it works. Sometimes, I leave them lying for sometimes a few days. I keep staring at them, and then I glue them unless I am super convinced about the placements and the whole composition.

What inspired your work on Body Vases?

So, flower vases are the most common motif in our society. We call it “GULDASTA.”

I remember loving them since my childhood. When I started working on the Anonymous body series, I wanted to create still life in my own contemporary form with Male nudes as a subject. While working with Male Nude bodies, my body of work went more and more abstract. After a point, they look like pieces of rocks or meat. So, to add value to them, I thought of adding nature elements – flowers, leaves, roots. Most of these have been collected during my photo walks.

Body Vases 3

Can you tell us more about Body Vases?

To me, the body is my main subject. Most of my artworks are about – gender, body, sexuality. Male bodies are the center of my work. When I started working on the Body vases series, I thought of adding both of my main subjects together as a single element. So that’s where –


Male nude bodies/anonymous bodies arranged with flowers on top look like flower vases. Some of these bodies have been painted with turmeric during the shoot to give an idea of painted body vases. Working on anonymous bodies was a self-exploring experience for me. It was an experiment of making STILL LIFE, where I tried to make bodies anonymous without faces. I realized the bodies were transforming and getting into abstract forms. I started playing, and I explored bodies in various forms and shapes. Once I place the dried leaves, flowers, and hand-painted botanical drawings on top of it, I started enjoying the process. Picking your favorite flowers from the garden and streets and arranging them into a flower vase. 

When did you create this series?

I have been working on this series for five years now. Lockdown gave me more time to collect, press, and dry flowers. The idea started with still life, adding bodies and flowers on top of them. During this process, I learned you could keep on adding flowers to vases. Sometimes you have to stop and say, this is a complete artwork now. While adding details to leaves and flowers, you keep on adding and adding more. Sometimes, it is not required. I also tried making the artworks more minimal, where just one big leaf gives the idea of a complete flower vase. Keeping body vases monochrome and adding colors to the flowers gives a clear picture of still life, empty vases filled with colorful flowers in them.

The contrast and color inform the pieces. You can check out more of Dheeraj’s work at @silentstoryteller_art on Instagram. He also has some works available in The Layered Onion shop and as part of The Shallot. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Dheeraj!

Artwork Spotlight

Art Spotlight: Gabriel G Torres’ Haus of Dust

Note: Be advised there is potentially triggering content in this piece on drugs and overdose.

In the Art Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art, music, and more!

Today, Gabriel G Torres (they/them) is sharing their show and game from their multi-faceted project Haus of Dust. Before we delve into the project, a little more about Gabriel in their own words:

“I am [a] community artist, catalyst, and interdisciplinary director from Colombia. I have engaged and created works in Colombia, Hong Kong, and New York City, where I live now. I am currently interested in the intersection of community-based practices and storytelling.  How can we create powerful stories that go beyond representation? And how do we use such stories as [a] catalyst to engage and aid the communities we represent?”  

Haus of Dust is a layered project with many elements. Check out this video from Gabriel to see part of the installation and learn more about the game. Gabriel gives more detail on the projects below as well.

Gabriel participated in a Q&A with The Layered Onion, expanding further on the installation and game:

Tell us a little about yourself. What first drew you to art?

One of my aunts is a musician. From an early age, I was taught violin. Nonetheless, I am very bad at it… I was always taught of art’s ability to transform the world and make it a better place. To me, culture has always been the only way I can express the weirdness, the oddness, the alienation I’ve felt. Over time, I’ve used it as a conduit to release and heal what I know I need to surrender to expand and grow as a human!

What is the background on the Haus of Dust project? What’s the story of the installation?

In the installation, we are invited to the Abysm, a bar between the living and the dead, where a goddess, MC, has curated an open mic with souls who died of “*Trigger Warning* overdose. These souls tell us their stories before they are able to transcend. A houseless man struggling with meth, an indigenous goddess who has been abducted, a Dominican shaman cleaning the coca leaves from the dust, and a young man who calls themself Dust, ephemeral and galactic. After we hear their stories, we find out they are written by a boy trying to cope with his trauma. Then, the souls tell us how they were created to be invited into a ritual for healing. 

What inspired you to create?

I had currently gone through an overdose… I had tried outpatient programs, and nothing was working for me. The only thing that was left (in my mind) was utilizing poetry and artistic expression to release what I didn’t know how to release.

What was it like to stage the installation?

God, this was… a journey. It was supposed to be a theatrical show, but covid-19 happened, and we had a residency, so we were like…. Hmmm, maybe we can explore this as an installation, and we did. It took us three days non-stop, four designers and myself, eating pizza and working.

The costumes and visuals are striking. What goal did you all have in mind?

An ethereal poetic morphing lyrical ghost story, flowers, symbols of the magical land where I come from, and the world within us all. Light as the essence that makes us who we are, galactic spatial magical dust shining through sharp light. 

Haus of Dust is also a game. Tell us more about the idea and game objectives.

Yes! As the project developed, we also wanted to deal with how to help people struggling with substances who [to give them an alternative to reaching out for] access the substance.

What’s the science behind the game and experience?

Joshua Friedman, a Ph.D. student and researcher from Columbia University, was talking to me one day about the wheel of awareness, a method Dan Siegel created for sensory learning. We took on the research and, with Raghav Bashyal (Developer) and Juan Daniel Velazques (Artist), created a series of mini-games with the prompt: “If you were about to reach out to your dealer, could you play something in your phone instead?” We conducted initial research as an improvement of the outpatient program at The LGBT Center with very positive results. 

You can find more on the science behind the game here.

What’s next for the game?

We are currently looking for support to itinerate and continue growing the project. Our dream is to create a game that goes to clinical trials and becomes an FDA non-invasive tool to treat people with addiction who are in recovery. 

Is there a meaning behind using the spelling “Haus?”

Haus as a way to honor the queer ball Culture in New York City.

The third part of the project involves a garden. What are the community and the space like?

This is in concept only at the moment, but we aim to build a garden with Loisaida INC, a Hispanic cultural center on The Lower East Side, to provide space for people struggling with substances to gather without stigma, grow veggies, and cook in Loisaida’s new commercial community kitchen! 

You can see more of Gabriel’s work on their website and view some photographic prints on The Layered Onion store. Thank you for sharing your story and work, Gabriel!

Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Mohammad Amin Nayebi

In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, the Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about them and their work.

In this post, we are featuring Mohammad Amin Nayebi. Amin is a photographer from Afghanistan. Amin’s work includes portraits, landscapes, candids and more. Amin worked closely with a Non Governmental Agency (NGO) in Afghanistan which teamed up with the Memory Project.  For many years the Memory Project organized youth arts activities in Kabul with the help of several Afghan youth leaders.  When the Taliban took over in August 2021, those youth leaders fled the country with their families.  Their story was covered by the New York Times.   

How did you get involved with the Memory Project?

I have done three projects for the International Program of the Memory Project in Afghanistan. The director of Memory Project, is Mr.  Benjamin Schumacker from USA, this project was amazing and I love it, not only me but all the kids benefited from this project were happy and smiling, the rest of children asked me to continue this project in Afghanistan but everyone know that the situation changed and we lost that happiness and smiles, during these projects in Afghanistan I have photographs thousands of Kids and will never forget the memories of the Memory Project.

How did you get your start in photography?

Since 2011, I started working in an Afghan American NGO to August 2021, I was working in many positions but because my photography vision was better than my other colleagues, I covered all events of this NGO. In 2016, a pregnant dog settled in our office area and She gave birth to 10 children, a few days later when she was playing with her children, I took pictures of them and posted on my Facebook page, my friends surprised and encouraged me by their messages and comments under that post, when I received that much love, I really encourage myself and I decided to continue on this path because I had the talent in it and love photography. This story was the beginning of my photography.

You do many kinds of photography, ranging from landscapes to portraits. What is your approach when you take a photo? Does your approach to taking a photo change depending on the subject?

I have studied photography in general and I have not chosen a specific style for myself, I like to take photos in any range and capture that moment, I know this is not right but I like every range and I want to photograph everything and keep it with me, but among all, I like most portrait and nature photography.

Band-e-Amir Different View

What do you like best about the medium of photography?

Photography is an art that every part of it is lovely and I cannot prefer one part than another part, but in photography I like humans and animals more and I want to capture a lot of photos of them, the style I like most is portraits and nature. And I love to capture real and documentary images of human and animal life. I love to have a professional camera and use it for my photography dreams.

Portrait, Kabul, Afghanistan

What kinds of challenges might you run into when taking a photo?

Photography in addition to being a beautiful art, is also a challenging art. In order to be able to take a lot of photos, we have to spend a lot of money on it. There are all kinds of dangers and challenges in photography and it can even endanger human lives, but the major challenges I may face. People’s actions and reactions can be, insults and humiliation can happen, they don’t have the photography documents and permissions, the camera may be broken or taken, and even the arrest of the photographer can be and dozens of other challenges that depend on the place and time to occur.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

During this period, I held photography classes for 25 girls and taught them basic photography. At the end of this course, we hosted an exhibition and the students printed and displayed their pictures in the Kabul university. It is very valuable for me to share my art with others.

Thank you for sharing and walking us through your love of photography!

Artwork Spotlight

Artwork Spotlight: Harper Hazelmare’s Current Dream

In the Artwork Spotlight series of blog posts, the Layered Onion highlights a specific work by an artist in the community. These works could range from short stories to visual art to music and more!

Today, Harper Hazelmare (she/they/y’all) will be sharing their piece Current Dream. Harper took the time to participate in a Q+A with The Layered Onion, but before we share the dialogue, here’s a little bit more about Harper:

Harper Hazelmare is a writer of cautionary tales and mental health articles, a professional Witch with her own company, and a keeper of a community apothecary. Their life in scenic painting took them into visual artistry with acrylics, watercolors, graphite, and a deep love of charcoal.

Harper is most influenced by the visual art of Kim Noble and Anders Zanichkowsky; with writing, their touchstones are Chuck Palahniuk and Shirley Jackson. She currently resides in the Midwest with her spouse and their two geriatric cats.

Now let’s get into the Q+A portion! Today, we’ll be discussing Current Dream. By way of introduction, Harper says “This piece has echoes of a Jennifer Dodson creation, Copy + Variant, coming from her series exploring neurology in transition.”

Harper Hazelmare, Current Dream, Charcoal and graphite.

What mediums did you use for this piece? I know you are a fan of multiple! 

Charcoal and graphite, my favorite combo!

When you look at this piece, what stands out most to you or draws you back in?  

I still see the face in it which I originally saw upon completion; this is a subconscious theme in my work. When making visual art, there are usually 2-5 alters present with us co-creating simultaneously or taking turns—something which lends itself to “hidden” discoveries within each piece, some of which are quite tiny. However, the main draw for me in Current Dream is the stark lines, like a person struggling to practice control and commitment.

You also write mental health articles—do your written and visual artwork play together and expand on each other?  

They tend to be miles apart, actually! I’ve gotten feedback on how approachable my written work is while our visual art is consistently intense and abstract. That said, I’m launching a new book project this month and considering a bookmaking side project to go with it. Stay tuned!

Neurology in transition is a complex and inspiring topic. You mention you have some background in science, was that part of the inspiration for this piece?  

Neurology in transition is ASTOUNDING. My background is in medicine plus I’ve been committed to recovering from two TIAs and the education/retraining that warrants; I’ve had a front row seat to my brain’s on-going evolution. But don’t we all? I applied this same methodology toward understanding our DID and life as a system, life as a multiple. Much like the evolution from TIAs, and being human in general, our system keeps expanding and contracting as well—we’re currently in our fifth generation.

Is there any website or social media page(s) you’d like us to share for folks interested in seeing more of your work?  People can find my writing online at Medium and other work at my company Brown Horse Herbal.

Thank you for your responses and sharing Current Dream!